More people than ever before are tasking themselves with healing their gut. Why? Because the gut is the very nerve centre of human health – or so an increasing number of functional and naturopathic doctors tell us.
In this article, we’ll attempt to summarise the benefits of good bacteria for immunity, digestion and other facets of health; we’ll also look at the strongest probiotic sachets currently on the market and ask whether they’re a viable supplement for those looking to enhance the ecology of the gut.
Gut Microbes and Health: More Than Just a Link
It seems flippant to now talk about a ‘link’ between gut ecology and overall health, particularly given that 80% of your immune system is located in the digestive tract, in the form of ‘gut-associated lymphatic tissue’ (GALT). Just think about that for a second.
You might be wondering precisely how bacteria influences the immune system. Well, not only do gut bugs educate and support the immune system by regulating certain immune cells, but they also help control inflammatory pathways synonymous with virtually every chronic disease in existence.
It goes without saying that the immune system is our gateway to good health; without it, we are vulnerable to illness and infection. Managing our immune response, therefore, is critical – and this is where the microbiome comes in. Immune cells receive signals from resident gut bacteria, preventing them from initiating a persistent autoimmune response. By the same token, imbalances in gut flora can result in inflammatory molecules travelling through the bloodstream, damaging the mitochondria and fuelling inflammation.
The relevance of our bacterial community to immune health is perhaps best summed up by Dr. David Perlmutter, M.D., a board-certified neurologist who’s spent years researching the microbiome:
“If the events that take place in the gut weren’t so critical to life,” he writes in his best-selling book Brain Maker, “then the majority of your immune system wouldn’t have to be there to guard and protect it.”
Of course, the gut is linked with more than just the immune system.
How Probiotics Work in the Body
The healing benefits of probiotics are no secret – in fact, more come to light virtually every week. The microbiome might seem like a vogue topic, but the reason it’s in the news so much is precisely because we are uncovering more information as to the synergy between bacterial diversity and overall wellbeing.
Probiotics are invariably touted as a means of restoring balance to the microbiome, and many doctors have begun to prescribe probiotics for immune health and digestion specifically. It is worth examining how probiotics work in the body before we cover specific benefits, though.
Probiotics – defined by the World Health Organisation as “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” – are consumable bacteria which offer a solution to microbial imbalance in the gut (known as dysbiosis). These imbalances are most often caused by poor diet, stress and antibiotics, the latter of which wipes out huge volumes of good bacteria while destroying the bad bacteria for which they’re typically prescribed.
Probiotics work in the body by travelling through the digestive tract and communicating with resident bacteria and intestinal cells they encounter. The gut is evolutionarily adapted to deal with these microbial visitors and extracts benefits from their interaction with the permanent lodgers, increasing one’s ability to fight off cold, flu and diarrhoea, among other things.
Although probiotic supplements are a relatively recent innovation, the earliest record of fermented food consumption – associated with its own probiotic-rich bacteria – is over eight thousand years old. Yogurt is probably the best-known modern fermented food product, though sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are growing steadily in popularity.
Probiotics and Autism
We don’t yet know everything there is to know about the etiology of autism, but given that those suffering with the condition also experience gastrointestinal complaints, a link between autism and gut health has repeatedly been suggested. Time and again, studies have indicated that subjects with autism spectrum disorder have a microbiota which is markedly different from the norm.
While the studies have mainly been on mice, they have shown an association between alternations in the microbiome and autism-like behaviours including social avoidance and repetitive actions; probiotic bacteria – Bacteroides fragilis in particular – has proven to alleviate some of these behaviours, although in fairness results have been mixed.
One study, published in 2016 in the scientific journal Cell, also highlighted the strain L. reuteri – which occurs naturally in breastmilk and a healthy intestinal tract. Like Bacteroides fragilis, mice fed L. reuteri exhibited improved sociability and an increased number of oxytocin-producing neurons in the brain. Researchers learned that the microbiota was capable of synthesising specific chemicals within the gut which influence behaviour, hence why many now refer to the gut as ‘the Second Brain.’
The organisation Autism Speaks have pledged $2.3 billion to a Gut-Brain Research Initiative to establish precisely how gut bugs influence autism. We should certainly look out for their findings, though targeting the microbiome via probiotic-rich foods and supplements – and tracking the results – is not a bad idea in the meantime.
Which Probiotics Are Best for Candida?
Candida albicans is a fungus that can cause yeast infections, general gastrointestinal disruption and lowered immunity. C. albicans is triggered by a dysbiosis of beneficial and pathogenic gut bacteria, which itself is caused by factors such as poor diet, elevated stress, aggressive antibiotic treatment and lack of exercise.
The best way to deal with candida overgrowth is to address the factors causing the microbial imbalance and restore your intestinal system by replenishing good bacteria that has been lost.
You may be wondering which probiotics are best for candida, and it’s a natural question to ask. L. acidophilus is one strain you might want to look at, since its byproducts (hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid) kill candida yeast in the gut. In one study, a group of women with recurrent vaginal candidiasis ate yogurt containing L. acidophilus for six months; afterwards there was a three-fold lower level of infections compared to a control group.
Another study, this one on mice, showed that L. acidophilus and L. casei were the most helpful probiotics for controlling candida, suppressing the severity of symptoms and inhibiting the spread of the fungus.
Undoubtedly more work needs to be done to determine the very best probiotic for candida. However, L. acidophilus appears to be the frontrunner at this moment.
Probiotics and Weight Loss
Forget fat burners, the market for which is awash with synthetic and sometimes downright dangerous supplements; probiotics, on the other hand, could be one of the most effective (not to mention safest) natural supplements for weight loss.
The largest groups of bacteria (90%) within the human body are either Firmicutes or Bacteriodetes. The former are particularly efficient at extracting calories for food and increasing caloric absorption, while the latter specialise in breaking down starches and fibres into shorter fatty acids the body can use for energy. As such, the F/B ratio is widely viewed as an obesity biomarker: Western guts are largely dominated by Firmicutes while African guts house a greater percentage of Bacteriodetes.
Probably the most quoted study linking the microbiome and weight loss came in 2013, when Washington University scientists transferred gut bacteria from an obese human twin into the gastrointestinal tracts of slender mice; amazingly, the mice grew fat despite eating and exercising the same as before. Bacteria from the other, slimmer twin was also introduced into lean mice, who remained lean so long as they ate a healthy diet.
Several studies note that obese individuals harbour more Firmicutes than slim individuals, and far less Bacteroidetes. This may be because Firmicutes actually control genes that negatively impact our metabolism, creating a situation where our bodies erroneously believe that they must hold on to calories.
Ultimately this is an expanding field of research, but it’s clear that the way bacteria metabolise components of food and affect the regulation of energy storage impacts our weight. As such, consuming probiotics could reduce body weight and BMI, with one study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27149163) showing that the greatest potential effect comes when multiple species are consumed, the duration exceeds 8 weeks and when the objects are overweight.
Probiotics for Muscle Health
You’ve heard of the gut-brain axis but what about the gut-muscle axis? According to a recent study from Tufts University, microbes have a major effect on how skeletal muscle ages. To quote from the study,
“advancing age is characterised by a dysbiosis of gut microbiota that is associated with increased intestinal permeability, facilitating the passage of endotoxin and other microbial products into the circulation. Upon entering the circulation, LPS and other microbial factors promote inflammatory signalling and skeletal muscle changes that are hallmarks of the aging muscle phenotype.”
The T.U. researchers point out that “data supports the idea that pre- and probiotic supplementation may prophylactically moderate aging muscle loss” and cite evidence showing a lack of bacterial diversity among those who have undergone the most age-related changes. Their findings, they claim,
“lay a framework for strategic human interventions aiming to manipulate microbial ecology as a means to benefit skeletal muscle health and extend healthy life years in a rapidly expanding ageing population.”
And how do you manipulate microbial energy? By consuming powerful probiotic foods and supplements, exercising regularly, cutting out sugar and processed foods and limiting stress. These factors will ensure a healthier gastrointestinal tract, greater bacterial diversity and less inflammation/skeletal muscle damage over time.
When Probiotics Don’t Work
Sometimes probiotics don’t work, but there is a reason for this. Firstly, are your expectations realistic? A probiotic supplement is not a panacea. Secondly probiotics are often function-specific, meaning individual strains have shown to be beneficial for certain symptoms but not others. It is vital to do your research and know what probiotics to take for your own purposes.
People wondering why probiotics don’t work for them should also consider how many colony-forming units their product professes to contain. If it is a mere one or five billion, you must realise that this is a drop in the ocean given the vast volumes of native bacteria in the human body; more on this below.
Other factors (poor diet/sleep, inconsistent consumption, stress) can also undermine the therapy, particularly if the probiotics aren’t strong enough in the first place.
Probiotics: How Much Good Bacteria is Needed?
Any discussion of probiotics – how much bacteria is needed, which strains are best, the preferred source – cannot commence without reference to the sheer magnitude of bacteria residing in the human gut. The latest studies put this figure at 39 trillion for an average adult male and 30 trillion for an average female. These are approximate numbers: some people harbour more, some less.
With this in mind, it stands to reason that a significant number of bacteria is required to give a positive outcome. Particularly since the stomach is an especially hostile and acidic environment, able to kill off many microbes before they can properly converse with resident bacteria and cells in the intestines.
That being said, the vast majority of probiotic supplements contain just a few billion Colony-Forming Units. Introducing 5 or 10 billion bacteria into the human body, which is teeming with tens of trillions of native bacteria, is like dispatching a handful of soldiers to wage war with a nation. Outnumbered as they are, they do not stand a chance to properly and effectively do their job.
Even a probiotic containing 50 or 100 billion, which is classed as high-strength, might be inadequate given the resistance the non-native bacteria will meet in the gut. Remember, probiotic bacteria are mostly transient members of the microbiota, filtering into the GIT upon consumption before being excreted a short time after.
In The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, the problem is described thus:
“Many probiotic bacteria are not well suited for this environment, not equipped to consume the exotic foods found in our gut – like the dinner we ate or the mucus layer coating our intestine. Therefore these bacteria are only temporary residents that pass through our digestive tract.”
Since we want probiotics to not only survive but thrive and colonise, exerting their effects on digestion, immunity, muscles and the brain, this is not ideal. What we should expect from a probiotic supplement is that the bacteria will work its magic and give us genuine health benefits for as long as we take it – and if possible, for longer. That is, after all, the value of colonisation; bacteria beds in and continues to have a positive influence on our microbiome long after we have popped a pill or swallowed a probiotic sachet.
Strong Probiotic Sachets from Progurt and Why They’re Different
Progurt probiotics are different for several reasons. For one, they are super high-strength, with each sachet containing a 1 trillion megadose of probiotic bacteria. That’s twice as much as the next best supplement and ten times as much as most high-strength products. If any probiotic is going to work, it’s this one.
As well as being the world’s strongest probiotic, Progurt’s bacteria is entirely human-derived: the strains are isolated from a human source as opposed to most supplements which contain bacteria sourced from cows or soil. It stands to reason that native strains will colonise far better than those isolated from other organisms – not least because the body temperature of a cow is higher than that of a human. Native bovine bacteria is optimised to flourish at its native temperature.
It is the combination of Progurt’s strength and unique provenance that makes its probiotic sachets perfect for restoring gut harmony. Human probiotic sachets for human consumption – there’s no other product like it on the market today.
Progurt has won rave reviews from customers throughout the world, many of whom take sachets for issues as diverse as food sensitivity, digestion, gut inflammation, immunity, even fatigue and brain fog. It’s amazing to read stories by people whom probiotic sachets have helped.
Progurt’s probiotic strains, incidentally, comprise Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) and Bifidobacteria including beneficial strains of L. acidophilus, L. bifidus and S. thermophilus. There is significant scientific weight behind each of them, with L. acidophilus in particular being probably the most well-researched strain in existence.
Whether you’re recovering from heavy antibiotic usage and want to build up your good gut flora, or you just want to enhance digestion, you could benefit from regular or intermittent consumption of Progurt probiotic sachets. Simply disperse a sachet in pure water (non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated) and drink: it couldn’t be easier.
Look After Your Gut, and It Will Look After You
Hopefully this article has provided a little more food for thought. Although it’s lengthy, it’s certainly not as extensive as it might have been; there are many potential probiotic benefits not covered here but explored in detail in books such as the Sonnenburgs’ The Good Gut and Dr. David Perlmutter’s Brain Maker.
Though studies continue, the evidence we have currently seems to say: look after your gut and it’ll look after you. We would do well to heed it.
This guest blog was written by Ronnie McCluskey, of Water for Health, a health supplement company who believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life.