Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD
What is gut health?
Gut health has become a buzzword over the past decade. Over the years, recognizing the importance of gut health has gone from simply focusing on what we eat and digestion to its impact on overall wellness.
But let’s back up a bit to understand why. The gastrointestinal tract (or GI tract) is essential for moving food from the mouth throughout the body, converting that food into nutrients our body can absorb, and eliminating waste.1 However, the GI tract is more than a pathway for absorbing nutrients. Its health can impact the entire body.
Growing research suggests that gut health goes well beyond good digestion.2 It may have an impact on the immune system and mood.3-5 Research on gut bacteria continues to grow and may be a key factor in understanding and maintaining gut health.
Disruptions to the GI Tract
Dietary and lifestyle patterns can affect the GI tract.
Gut microbiota—the microbe population living in the intestines—is sensitive to a variety of factors including lifestyle, dietary patterns, environmental factors and aging.6 Temporary changes like travel can have an impact. But daily habits have the greatest influence over time. Changes in what you eat—particularly food quality and excessive alcohol intake—significantly affect gut symbiosis7; that is, how your gut bacteria get along and maintain balance.
Skimping on fruits and vegetables may starve gut bacteria and affect their ability to thrive. As such it’s important to provide gut bacteria with a constant supply of fuel for optimal balance and health.
There’s now evidence that the Western-type diet—higher in fat and lower in fiber—can result in a shift in the microbial balance of the gut. Researchers are also studying how ultra-processed foods might affect gut. On the other hand, a diet high in sources of complex carbohydrates and fiber, such as legumes, fruits and vegetables and whole grains, can support the growth of healthy microbial populations.8,9
Further, there’s some evidence that our gut microbes affect sleep and might influence our circadian rhythm. The gut microbiome plays a key role in many different body systems. When it’s out of balance, we might experience sleep disturbances and become more susceptible to stress. Evidence suggests that the relationship between circadian rhythm and the gut microbiome may be bidirectional. 10 Though research exploring the gut-brain connection is in its infancy and largely based on animal models, it may shed light on how an imbalance in the microbiome might impact our mood, sleep, and mental health.11
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide a health benefit upon ingestion. These beneficial bacteria help us absorb nutrients and fight off unwanted bacteria in the gut. You can get probiotics from food or supplements.12
Getting probiotics regularly may help you establish more healthy bacteria in the gut. And that comes with benefits. Research suggests that probiotics offer strain-specific health benefits. These include a potential positive impact on the immune system, bowel regularity, mood and more.2
That’s probiotics. But what about prebiotics?
Prebiotics help feed gut bacteria. Prebiotics are largely indigestible carbohydrates or fibers found naturally in certain foods including chicory root, sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes), bananas, garlic, onions, asparagus and oats. Prebiotics are fermented in the gut to help gut bacteria thrive.
An easy way to remember the difference is that prebiotics are food for the friendly bacteria in the gut.13,14
Probiotics and Nutrition
Yogurt, kefir and pickled vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut are a few top food sources of probiotics. For a daily dose of probiotics, you might enjoy Greek yogurt and fresh fruit for a snack or try kefir in a breakfast smoothie to effortlessly add probiotics to your morning routine.
If you’re curious about how to get the most bang for your bite, there are a few things to consider.
- Look for yogurt and kefir with live and active cultures. It’s often noted on the packaging. And try to eat the yogurt sooner than later since the number of cultures may decline over time depending on storage conditions and packaging.15
- Though pickled vegetables contain some probiotics, it’s often difficult to determine just how much. Plus, pasteurized fermented foods may not have as many probiotics as those that are not.
Healthful diet with probiotic supplementation
Different probiotic supplements offer different potential benefits.
Benefits may be strain-specific. That is, the type of probiotic supplement you take should contain strains supported by research.
Remember that not all probiotics are created equal. This means that one Lactobacillus supplement is not necessarily like another. From differences in potency to manufacturing practices and storage, and the research backing up the specific strains they use, supplements vary. Choose products supported by clinical research and opt for a high-quality supplement brand you trust.
FLORASSIST® GI with Phage Technology
Studies show that gut health is influenced by a number of factors. Probiotic supplements may help to have a healthy and protective balance. Technological innovations are making this even easier.
You have to do your research to find the right products. And since you’re here, you’ve already taken the first step.
Life Extension offers several
Here are the top benefits at a glance:
- Probiotic blend with 15 billion colony forming units (CFU)
- Innovative TetraPhage Blend affects unwanted bacteria
- Supports the growth of probiotic bacteria
- Promotes digestion and stomach health
You can take comfort in knowing that the Phage technology is designed to only affect undesirable bacteria, leaving your existing good bacteria to thrive and create the ideal balance in your gut.
Synergy: supplements and a healthy diet
We know that a healthy diet is a key to lifelong health. But sometimes you need a little help. And some strains can help support the immune system from seasonal immune challenges.19 These are a few ways to use supplements to complement a healthy diet. And eating probiotic-rich foods doesn’t keep you from also incorporating supplements.
When transitioning from a heavily processed diet to incorporate more whole foods, take a small step approach. Going too fast can be overwhelming and may lead you to just give up. Think about what you can add to make it easier. Try pre-chopped or frozen vegetables for a dinnertime shortcut. Add big handfuls of spinach to a pasta dish or try healthy dishes when you’re out to eat. If, for example, you’re a big macaroni and cheese fan, add in some chopped cauliflower for a vegetable boost.
The Bottom Line
The best way to maintain a healthy gut microbiome is through a healthy whole foods diet including plenty of probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods. Probiotic supplements can help complement this diet to improve gut health and other parts of the body as well.
About the Author: Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist and communications and culinary nutrition expert. Her integrative and practical approach to providing healthy and delicious recipes coupled with science-based nutrition advice is regularly featured in the nation’s leading media outlets including CNN, the TODAY Show, Dr. Oz. Show, Women’s Health, Prevention, and many more. She is a consultant to food and nutrition companies, contributing editor for Food and Nutrition Magazine, contributor to People magazine and other national publications. Before launching her consultancy, Marisa worked as an outpatient dietitian, corporate nutritionist for a restaurant chain, and she managed the employee worksite nutrition program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Connect with Marisa at https://marisamoore.com.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Digestive System & How it Works. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works. Updated 12/2017. Accessed 10/8/2019.
- Khanna S, Tosh PK. A clinician’s primer on the role of the microbiome in human health and disease. Mayo Clin Proc. 2014;89(1):107-114.
- Hemarajata P, Versalovic J. Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation. Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology. 2013;6(1):39-51.
- Huang TT, Lai JB, Du YL, Xu Y, Ruan LM, Hu SH. Current Understanding of Gut Microbiota in Mood Disorders: An Update of Human Studies. Front Genet. 2019;10:98.
- Liu L, Zhu G. Gut-Brain Axis and Mood Disorder. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2018;9:223.
- Hasan N, Yang H. Factors affecting the composition of the gut microbiota, and its modulation. PeerJ. 2019;7:e7502.
- Mutlu EA, Gillevet PM, Rangwala H, et al. Colonic microbiome is altered in alcoholism. American journal of physiology Gastrointestinal and liver physiology. 2012;302(9):G966-978.
- Martinez KB, Leone V, Chang EB. Western diets, gut dysbiosis, and metabolic diseases: Are they linked? Gut Microbes. 2017;8(2):130-142.
- Zinocker MK, Lindseth IA. The Western Diet-Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(3).
- Li Y, Hao Y, Fan F, Zhang B. The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2018;9:669.
- Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiology of stress. 2017;7:124-136.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Probiotics: What You Need To Know. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm. Updated 8/2019. Accessed 10/8/2019.
- Ferrario C, Statello R, Carnevali L, et al. How to Feed the Mammalian Gut Microbiota: Bacterial and Metabolic Modulation by Dietary Fibers. Front Microbiol. 2017;8:1749.
- Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, et al. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods. 2019;8(3).
- Ferdousi R, Rouhi M, Mohammadi R, Mortazavian AM, Khosravi-Darani K, Homayouni Rad A. Evaluation of probiotic survivability in yogurt exposed to cold chain interruption. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR. 2013;12(Suppl):139-144.
- McFarland LV, Evans CT, Goldstein EJC. Strain-Specificity and Disease-Specificity of Probiotic Efficacy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Med (Lausanne). 2018;5:124.
- Issa I, Moucari R. Probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhea: do we have a verdict? World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(47):17788-17795.
- McFarland LV. Meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of antibiotic associated diarrhea and the treatment of Clostridium difficile disease. The American journal of gastroenterology. 2006;101(4):812-822.
- Yang G, Liu ZQ, Yang PC. Treatment of allergic rhinitis with probiotics: an alternative approach. North American journal of medical sciences. 2013;5(8):465-468.