Friendly aliens

26-06-2016
by Yvana van den Hork

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Probiotics help move food through your gut, and ease symptoms of (antibiotic-related or spontaneous) diarrhea and bowel diseases.
Furthermore probiotics can improve skin conditions like eczema, improve urinary and vaginal health. Probiotics are vital for our immunity as they are solely responsible for keeping the gut healthy.

No less than 80% of your entire immune system is located in the digestive tract! Probiotics stimulate the production of immunity enhancing substances as immunoglobulins, B- and T-cells, by which they indirectly are able to prevent allergies and colds. Probiotics are also responsible for producing vitamin K2 and B12 as well as butyrate.

It is less known how important gut health is for other health issues like thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, and autism. These diseases have all been linked to poor gut health.

The reason why brain health and gut health are linked is that the gut also has an enteric nervous system of its own, called 'enteric nervous system (ENS). This nervous system contains no less than 100.000 neurons, which makes it the second largest part of our neurological system and is why it is called the 'second brain'.

Your gut bacteria are responsible for making over 30 neurotransmitters including the 'happy' molecule serotonin. A dysfunctional microbiome can be the root cause of numerous brain-related conditions including ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, carb cravings, memory loss, concentration problems, chronic inflammation, and more.

There are several important ways probiotics work to protect the brain. Bacterial strains act as antioxidants, protecting your brain cells from free radical damage. These good bacteria also protect the brain by keeping damaging cytokines and lipopolysaccharides in check. Cytokines are pro-inflammatory chemical messengers that regulate the intensity of your immune response. High cytokine levels have been linked to mood disorders, depression, anxiety, memory loss, and cognitive disorders.

Lipopolysaccharides have numerous negative effects on your brain including: lowering levels of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, damaging the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory), increasing levels of cortisol, increasing inflammation, and increasing free radical damage to brain cells.

You can encourage a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria with probiotic supplements or by adding probiotic-rich fermented foods to your diet. As just one example of the power of probiotics, only 30 days of probiotic supplementation can reduce stress-related depression and anxiety.

Natural good probiotics are fermented dairy products and kefir with LIVE cultures and NO added sugar. The other large group is from fermented soy foods as miso, tempeh and tamari, but these are not frequently consumed in our part of the world. Sauerkraut and other traditional pickled vegetables (including the Korean kimchi) should become a staple in your diet, provided they are not pasteurized.

If you don't regularly include probiotic foods in your diet, you can take a probiotic supplement. A good probiotic supplement can be a good way to jumpstart your digestive health, but you must also make your gut a fertile field for the good bacteria by taking prebiotics, or plant fibers. Foods high in these prebiotic fibers include asparagus, artichokes, bamboo shoots, bananas, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, onions, tomatoes and... dark chocolate or cocoa powder.

Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are two of the most prevalent families of bacteria in your gut.

Both families have many different species and subspecies, among which Bifidobacterium longum. Apart from the general benefits of promoting immunity and intestinal health, Bifidobacterium longum is best known to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort caused by stress. It may also attenuate anxiety and possibly reduce the risk for colon cancer. The best feature of this particular probiotic is its ability to soothe irritation in the body.