What Is the Gut Microbiome?
Did you know that your gut has a mind of its own?
Inside your gut (gastrointestinal tract) resides vast arrays of microorganisms that collectively make up the human microbiome. The microbiome, which consists of bacteria, fungi, archaea, and viruses, assists with a variety of essential bodily functions, such as:
- Promoting healthy digestion
- Regulating the immune system
- Guarding against disease-causing bacteria
- Synthesizing crucial amino acids and vitamins
A well-functioning, diverse microbiome is one of the pillars of healthy living. Conversely, many autoimmune disorders like diabetes, fibromyalgia, and muscular dystrophy stem from problems within the microbiome, often caused by an imbalance in beneficial (symbiotic) and harmful (pathogenic) species of microbes.
This gut flora imbalance has many causes, including infectious diseases, the extended use of antibiotics, and unhealthy diets.
What Is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The microbiome is connected to the brain through the autonomous nervous system, opening two-way communication between intestinal functions and the emotional and cognitive areas of the mind. This link is called the gut-brain connection or gut-brain axis.
The enteric nervous system encompasses the entire GI tract. It is often called the “second brain” because it uses similar cells, chemicals, and systems to regulate bodily functions and sends warning signals to the brain.
The communication between the brain and gut, or central nervous system to enteric, presents a host of holistic health implications because they each influence the health and function of the other.
This sensitive relationship between seemingly disparate body parts adds importance to maintaining and prioritizing gut health.
This 2015 study from the National Library of Medicine offers an illuminating, technical description of the gut-brain relationship:
“The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent advances in research have described the importance of gut microbiota in influencing these interactions. This interaction between microbiota and GBA appears to be bidirectional, namely through signaling from gut-microbiota to brain and from brain to gut-microbiota by means of neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links.”
What Do Probiotics Do?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that foster the cultivation of favorable microbiota throughout the GI tract. In other words, probiotics are good bacteria that help maintain the balance of harmful bacteria.
Some of the most common types of bacteria found in probiotics are:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Probiotics are a great way to strengthen the microbiome because they ensure that your gut gets a regular supply of beneficial bacteria. This is no secret - an extensive 2021 survey found that one in four global consumers used probiotics in the previous six months.
For millions, taking probiotics is a daily regime on par with taking daily vitamins or brushing your teeth. The mountains of research illuminating the impact of gut health on overall health offer numerous compelling reasons to consider upping your intake of probiotics, whether through dietary shifts or supplementation.
What Gastrointestinal Issues Can Probiotics Support?
Before moving into how probiotics affect overall health, let’s address a handful of gastrointestinal issues that probiotics can help manage, alleviate, and/or resolve:
- Upset stomach
- Infectious Diarrhea
- Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
GI issues associated with antibiotic treatment exemplify the immediate benefits of probiotics. While antibiotics diligently destroy the harmful bacteria in your gut, they simultaneously wipe out your symbiotic bacterial partners. And that’s where probiotics are beneficial, helping your GI tract to hold the line for the beneficial bacteria as you progress through antibiotic treatment.
How Can Probiotics Help with Overall Health?
This is where the gut-brain connection comes back into play.
Remember, the happenings of the gut and the brain directly influence one another, so maintaining the health of one promotes the health of the other.
A series of 2015 studies on the gut-brain connection drew two important conclusions about the gut-brain connection and probiotics:
- “The microbiota affects anxiety and HPA system by influencing brain neurochemistry.”
“Probiotics reduced stress-induced release of cortisol, anxiety- and depression-related behavior.
These conclusions indicate that probiotics help treat gastrointestinal issues and positively influence overall health. The expanding body of research suggests that emotional states and cognitive functions are inextricably linked to the health and status of the microbiome.
The implications of these findings go both ways. Probiotics can cure your queasy stomach while also improving your sense of well-being emotionally and cognitively. In that case, a healthy, balanced mind can have positive ripple effects for gut-related illnesses.
Thus, probiotics benefit overall health because the direct and indirect benefits promote overarching homeostasis and balance.
This excerpt from a Harvard Medical School article, Probiotics May Help Boost Mood and Cognitive Function, offers an intriguing example of the inherent health implications of the gut-brain connection:
“How might probiotics fit in the gut-brain axis? Some research has found that probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function and lower stress and anxiety. For example, a study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that Alzheimer's patients who drank milk made with four probiotic bacteria species for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment than those who drank regular milk.
What Are Good Sources of Probiotics?
High concentrations of probiotics can be found in various foods, such as sauerkraut or yogurt, and are also available as supplements. Fermented food is the predominant source of dietary probiotics, including:
Incorporating probiotics into your diet is a straightforward way to improve your overall health, from your gut to your brain and all your body’s interconnected systems. Finding probiotic-rich foods you enjoy will help set the new habit in stone.
What's a Good Starting Probiotic Supplement?
Probiotic supplements are another popular choice for daily use. Consider Body Kitchen’s Gut Balance support as a great go-to probiotic option. While probiotics are generally suitable for most people, the quality of probiotic supplements varies wildly. That’s why Body Kitchen’s Gut Balance support guarantees:
- Smooth digestion: Reduces gas, bloating, and constipation, promoting optimal absorption of nutrients and elimination of harmful toxins and waste.
- Double the benefits: Resets the ratio of good to harmful bacteria to boost GI and immune system health, while supporting the gut’s response to inflammation, in just 12 weeks.
- Citrus probiotics: Clinically studied orange and grapefruit flavonoids can resist stomach acid and reach the colon, where healthy bacteria thrive.
- Complementary ingredient: 6 billion colony-forming units (CFU) from 3 live strains help repopulate good gut bacteria in the colon, where healthy immunity starts.
- Clinically effective doses: Experience the real benefits of scientifically studied ingredients at amounts that are shown to work.