Tag Archives: probiotics

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Types of Digestive Enzymes and Benefits of Each

In this guide, we will answer all of your most common questions about digestive enzymes:

  • What are digestive enzymes, what do they do, and where do they come from?
  • Digestive enzymes vs probiotics: what’s the difference?
  • What do digestive enzymes help with?
  • Which enzyme should you take to break down carbs, fats, proteins, etc.?
  • What’s the best time to take digestive enzymes and probiotics? 
  • Do you need an enzyme supplement?

Let’s get started …

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes help break down food in your mouth and gut so nutrients are released and can be absorbed across the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream.

Therefore, one of the main things digestive enzymes do is to increase the bioavailability of nutrients. In other words, they help your body digest certain foods better

Where Do Digestive Enzymes Come From?

Our bodies make some types of digestive enzymes. They’re produced in your saliva and as exocrine secretions from the pancreas when you consume food.

Digestive enzyme supplements come from three different sources: animals, plants and microbes.

Animal-sourced

These include pancreatin, pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin. Pancreatin includes many of the enzymes necessary for digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates (proteases to break down proteins into amino acids; amylase to break down complex carbohydrate molecules into manageable sugars; and lipase to help break down fats).

Plant-sourced

Plant-sourced enzymes include bromelain (from pineapple), papain (from papaya), and gluten-specific proteases, which help break down proteins.

Microbial-sourced

These enzymes come from fungi and bacterial sources and can be used by vegetarians and vegans instead of animal-based enzymes. Common enzymes in this group include amylase, glucoamylase, proteases, lipase and multiple types of saccharidases including lactase (to digest lactose), alphagalactosidase (for digesting beans, legumes and cruciferous vegetables) and cellulase (to help digest cellulose in plants).

Are Digestive Enzymes the Same As Probiotics?

Digestive enzymes and probiotics can both help you improve digestion but they’re not the same. Probiotics are living microorganisms that may provide certain health benefits when ingested while digestive enzymes are non-living molecules that help you digest specific foods better.

Your body produces enzymes but does not produce probiotics, so they must be consumed through the diet or supplemented.

Who Should Take a Digestive Enzyme Supplement?

First, it’s important to understand that an enzyme will only help improve digestion of a food if it’s the right type of enzyme for the right type of food.

Second, digestive enzymes will also only help improve digestive symptoms if those symptoms are  related to poor digestion of particular nutrients or enzyme deficiency. 

What Causes Digestive Enzyme Deficiencies? 

There are many reasons why our bodies often don’t make enough digestive enzymes. One of the main reasons is poor exocrine pancreatic function. The causes of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) are quite diverse and include:

  • Problems with the endocrine part of the pancreas such as insulin dysregulation from diet high in refined carbohydrates and diabetes
  • Gall stones that block the bile duct and reduce/halt the flow of pancreatic juices (biliary stasis)
  • Poor function of the Sphincter of Oddi
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Micronutrient deficiency
  • Protein deficiency
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates causing hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and diabetes
  • High calorie intake
  • Too little or too much exercise

Other factors that also impact digestive enzyme output are:

  • Consuming foods or drinks that promote intestinal inflammation including coffee, alcohol, sugar, and highly processed foods
  • Individual food sensitivities like gluten, dairy, corn, soy etc.
  • Chronic GI infection or inflammation
  • Repeated antibiotic exposure, which affects gut microbiota, digestive and liver health
  • Physical, emotional or psychological stress
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Aging

Symptoms of Digestive Enzyme Insufficiency 

Symptoms of digestive enzyme insufficiency usually appear in the gut and may include:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Irritable bowel type symptoms
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gut microbiota dysbiosis
  • Undigested food in the stools
  • Stools that float (steatorrhea)
  • Feeling full after only a few mouthfuls
  • Food allergies and intolerances

And for some folks, the lack of enzymes can become a chronic insufficiency that may lead to obesity, allergies and poor immune function, depression and anxiety, premenstrual syndrome, fatigue, autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Types of Digestive Enzymes and Benefits of Each

Different types of enzymes have different benefits. Here are some of the most common ones:

ENZYME CLASS

TYPE / SOURCE

FUNCTION

LipasesLipase / humans, plants and microbes
Essential for digestion of fats.
ProteasesGluten proteases / microbes
Digest gluten and casein.
Alkali proteases / microbes
Digest proteins with pH 4.0-11.
Acid proteases / microbes
Digest proteins within pH 2.0-6.0.
Bromelain / pineapples
Digest proteins.
CarbohydrasesAmylase / humans and microbes
Digest starch and glycogen-specific enzymes and gluten.
Amyloglucosidase / plants and microbes
Digest amylase disaccharides into monosaccharides. Works best with amylase.
Lactase / humans (babies), plants and microbes
Digest the milk sugar lactose.
Alpha galactosidase / microbes
Digest raffinose, stachyose and verbascose in legumes, whole grains and some vegetables.
Invertase / humans, plants and microbes
Digest sucrose and maltose.
Fibrolytic EnzymesPhytase / plants and microbes
Digest phytic acid from nuts, seeds, and grains.
Cellulase / plants and microbes
Digest cellulose, a plant fibre found in fruit and vegetables.

What to Expect When Taking Digestive Enzymes and/or Probiotics

When introducing new bacteria and/or an enzyme supplement into your system, it’s common to experience a brief increase in GI activity like gas, bloating, etc. This normally lasts 1-2 weeks max and is your body’s way of acclimating to a shift in the balance of bacteria in your microbiome. If symptoms persist past this point, it’s probably a good idea to stop.

After a couple weeks, you should notice less of these types of symptoms, as long as you’re taking the supplements at the right times. Which leads to our next topic …

When Is the Best Time to Take Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?

It’s best to take digestive enzymes and probiotics either right before or with a meal to maximize their time of being in contact with food. Try taking them before or with your largest meal or two of the day to start, and then before/with other meals as-needed.

You should not take probiotic or enzyme supplements first thing in the morning or on an empty stomach because you will likely experience an increase in gas and bloating (note: per the section above, it’s normal to have some of these symptoms even if you take the supplements with food for the first couple weeks). Give your body time to adjust!

Do You Need Probiotics, Digestive Enzymes, or Both?

If you’re having gut issues, the first thing you should do is go visit a licensed healthcare provider who can help you determine if you have an enzyme deficiency. We also recommend scheduling an appointment with an allergist to see which foods, if any, you may be having adverse reactions to.

There does appear to be some benefit to taking a combination of probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes (this is called a synbiotic).

While digestive enzymes will help you break down food and absorb its nutrients, the probiotics will create a natural protective layer of bacteria and the prebiotic fiber will help “feed” the good bacteria.

What to Look for In a Digestive Enzyme / Probiotic / Synbiotic Supplement

Our criteria is admittedly more stringent than others but here’s the checklist we recommend using:

  1. Formulated by a doctor or credentialed healthcare expert.
  2. Contains multiple strains of probiotics and enzymes at safe, efficacious doses.
  3. Ingredients sourced from North America or Europe.
  4. Delayed release capsule or spore-forming probiotics used to ensure most probiotics reach your small intestine.
  5. Third party tested for pathogens and other contaminants and post-production testing done on each batch to ensure you’re getting what it says on the label.

About Our Probiotic / Digestive Enzyme Supplement, DIGEST

If you’re considering a supplement, here’s some more information about our product, Digest, and what sets it apart from other digestive health supplements:

pure food digestive enzymes plus probiotics ingredientscompare digestive enzyme probiotic supplements

Get Our Best Science-backed Tips to Improve Your GI Health

Grab our free gut health guide

How to Reduce Anxiety Naturally: Foods, Supplements, and Techniques That Actually Work

If you’ve ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” or “gone with your gut”, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source hidden in the walls of your digestive system.

Scientists call this “second brain” the enteric nervous system (ENS) and it’s made up of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from your esophagus to your rectum, connected by a giant nerve called the vagus nerve.

How, exactly, does this “gut-brain axis” affect your mental health? What role, if any, do microbes in our gut play in how we feel when we’re stressed and anxious? Can you reduce your anxiety levels just by changing the way you eat? What are some proven strategies you can use for reducing anxiety, starting right now?

We’ll answer all those questions and more in this article.

The Role of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)

how to reduce anxiety without medicationThe ENS controls digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination, according to Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. Pasricha states:

The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.

The ENS may trigger emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset. Dr. Pasricha noted:

For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.

This means that inflammation in your gut may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes.

But feelings like anger, anxiety, sadness, surprise—all of these (and others) can also be the cause of symptoms in the gut.

With that in mind, let’s explore some strategies proven by research to help you reduce inflammation in your gut, which can help you significantly reduce your stress and anxiety as a result.

What to Eat to Decrease Your Anxiety and Stress Levels

Food plays a vital role in helping to control anxiety and stress. Let’s look at what to eat and what not to eat if you want to reduce your anxiety.

What Not to Eat

  1. Sugar: A diet low in sugar can starve out undesirable bacteria in the gut, leading to a positive effect on the gut-brain axis. Also, anxiety is often associated with hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar drops to an abnormally low level a few hours after a sugary meal or drink. Balancing blood sugar is crucial to keeping symptoms of anxiety at bay.
  2. Saturated Fat: Diets higher in saturated fat and added sugars have been associated with higher anxiety levels.
  3. Alcohol: Drinking booze is also associated with higher levels of anxiety. Moderation is key.

What to Eat

  1. Vegetables and Whole Grains: Studies have found that people who eat more vegetables and non-refined grains are less likely to suffer from anxiety.
  2. Unsaturated fats: A meta-analysis of 14 studies found that people who suffer from depression and anxiety consumed lower levels of healthy monounsaturated fats (from olive oil, fish, and nuts).
  3. Fermented foods: Fermented foods like sauerkraut have beneficial microbes that may play a role in stress, anxiety, and depression. Aim to add a serving or two of fermented vegetables to your diet each day.

Specific diets, such as a low-FODMAP diet (a diet low in carbs and sugars), eliminate certain foods that can produce gas and bloating in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) patients. But this diet is hard to adhere to and may not be healthy in the long run because you’re forced to eliminate so many beneficial foods.

Supplements That May Help Improve Your Mood and Decrease Feelings of Anxiety

By now, you know that a healthy diet is crucial for physical well-being. Researchers in recent years have also begun to study whether certain supplements can improve gastrointestinal health and your mood.

Here are some of the most promising ones:

1. Probiotics

Probiotics have been shown to help improve the overall balance of your gut flora, leading to a “broad healing effect” in multiple body systems.

Researchers have found that manipulating the gut microbiota with probiotics may help manage symptoms of mental disorders.

And a 2019 review study published in the journal General Psychiatry revealed that over half of the 21 clinical studies included in the review showed positive results in treating anxiety symptoms through regulation of intestinal microbiota.

The review looked at two kinds of interventions (probiotic and non-probiotic interventions). Both probiotic and non-probiotic (diet and exercise) interventions were found to be effective.

It’s important to note that multiple probiotic strains across varying studies were used and contributed to positive outcomes in improving gut-brain connectivity and, hence, anxiety. Diversity is key.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown in small studies to have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms. More research is needed but because of its other many benefits, we highly recommend magnesium as a front-line supplement for most adults.

3. CBD

While human-based research on CBD and anxiety is fairly limited at this point, there are several small studies that have been conducted:

  1. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology followed four groups of 10 people. Groups were given either CBD, Valium, ipsapirone, or placebo. The results suggested that ipsapirone and CBD have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties in stressful situations.
  2. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “CBD reduces anxiety in social anxiety disorder (SAD).”
  3. A 2015 review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may help improve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. L-lysine and L-arginine

A double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study showed that taking a combination of the amino acids L-lysine and L-arginine can help reduce mental stress and anxiety.

5. Kava

Kava is a plant extract made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands. There is evidence that suggests kava may be a useful way to treat mild anxiety.

How I Have Personally Reduced My Anxiety Dramatically

These are the strategies I have personally used that have been most impactful for reducing and controlling my stress and anxiety:

best sleep dietResearch shows eating a diet high in certain foods (like sugar) is associated with higher anxiety levels. So how do you know what the “right” foods for you are?

My advice: avoid fad diets and one-size-fits-all approaches to nutrition. Different foods affect people different ways and I think we’re entering a very exciting new chapter of personalized nutrition.

To that end, I highly recommend getting a microbiome test from Viome and an allergy test at a physician’s office. These two tests will tell you exactly what foods to eat more of and which ones to avoid based on your unique gut bacteria.

how drinking impacts sleepHaving a drink or two a day may have some longevity benefits … but the problem with drinking alcohol to help ease anxiety is people who do so are more likely to develop a dependence to booze.

Let the record show I still enjoy my glass or two of wine each night but my days of hard drinking are long gone, thankfully, and it has definitely made a difference in my quality of sleep.

You sleep much worse when you’re drunk, by the way, for those of you who still have friends who think they sleep better when they’re inebriated.

sleep gratitude connectionExpressing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to feel better. It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re writing down things you’re grateful for. It’ll help shift your thoughts away from what’s not going well for you now so you can focus more on what is. 

how exercise affects sleepExercise is a “keystone habit,” which means it leads to other healthy habits. When I feel stressed and anxious, working out always helps me feel better (I’m partial to strength training and playing basketball).

It’s no secret that taking care of your body is one of the best ways to quell anxiety and feel better about yourself.

deep breathing for sleep

Your brain may control your body, but the body can also control the brain. Deep breathing is a powerful tool that can be used to shift your brain-state and the stress response quickly.

Research shows deep breathing can help lower cortisol, a stress hormone your body produces when you’re anxious. It can even reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.  There are many different deep breathing techniques you can.

To learn some tools and techniques we recommend for using your breath as a weapon to stop anxiety in its tracks, check out our article How to Breathe Better

creativity for insomniaWhat’s your creative outlet? I love cooking, playing guitar, writing, and gardening. Doing these things makes me happy because I get to create, learn, and improve every single day.

I recommend scheduling time every day (even 5-10 minutes!) to work on something creative. Doing this every day significantly reduced my anxiety.

Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing.

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH

best sleep tips for insomniaIf you’re sleep-deprived, you are likely exacerbating your anxiety. Make sleep a priority.

See this guide for details on how to do it: How to Sleep Better.

nature sleep impactStudies show that spending time outside in nature can reduce anxiety and stress levels. So whenever you’re feeling anxious, go take a walk … preferably somewhere with trees and/or green space.

best expert sleep advice everThere’s no better way to feel better, in my humble opinion, than spending quality time with family and friends and bringing your full attention to being with them. That’s the real “secret sauce” to kicking your anxiety to the curb (at least temporarily).

A proactive approach focused on diet, supplements like probiotics, and breathwork may be a good place to start in controlling anxiety. But you should always consult a healthcare professional if you’re dealing with chronic anxiety or depression.

Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says

Do probiotics work? If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, the media clearly thinks they don’t:

  • Probiotics Are Mostly Useless and Can Actually Hurt You
  • Do You Buy Probiotics? New Study Says They May Not Work For You And May Even Be Harmful
  • Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics
  • Probiotics Found To Be Ineffective For Easing Symptoms Of Kids’ Stomach Bugs

In light of all these news stories, I’ve received many emails asking if you should avoid probiotics altogether.

So in this article, I’m going to explain what these studies really mean (based on the latest and greatest research) and clear up some confusion around probiotics in general. After reading this, I’m confident you’ll feel a little more confident about your knowledge of probiotics.

Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

Probiotics: What They Are and How They Work

Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide certain health benefits when ingested.

How probiotics work inside your body is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Evidence suggest that probiotics communicate with your body through “toll-like” pattern recognition receptors … but more research is needed to understand their specific mechanism of action in humans.

Why Should You Care About Probiotics?

You have around 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, or “microbiome”. Your microbiome is now considered an organ that serves many important functions:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Breaking down potentially toxic food compounds
  • Synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids
  • Providing protection from pathogenic organisms that enter the body
  • Controlling and/or producing neurotransmitters like serotonin (your body’s chemical messengers that contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness)

The exciting part is, we’re in the very early stages of research about the microbiome and its potential impact on your health. The evidence as a whole is promising but of course there are exceptions …

Which Probiotics May Not Work, According to Research Studies

Let’s look at some published studies that show which probiotics don’t appear to work for specific conditions:

Strain

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*

Conclusion

Many people’s digestive tracts prevent certain probiotics from successfully colonizing them.

Discussion

Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario who did not participate in the studies, questions the results and urges caution in interpreting data from just 15 people.

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*
Many people can’t successfully colonize standard probiotics in their gut. The probiotic strains tested may not be helpful and actually may harm the gut microbiome following a course of antibiotics.

Lactobacillus strains, in particular, appeared to inhibit the “normal” commensal microbiota. However, several studies suggest that using certain strains of probiotics during antibiotic treatment does confer some benefit.

Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis

Lactobacillus and/or bifidobacterium species

The use of probiotics could lead to a build-up of bacteria in the gut causing brain fogginess. 

“Brain fogginess is very subjective, and different criteria are used to assess this. I don’t believe that SIBO has any relationship to what they are calling brain fogginess.” –Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine at UCLA. 
Lactobacillus rhammosus
There was no meaningful difference in how long parents said their kids’ vomiting and diarrhea lasted.
This was a well-designed study that seems to show the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhammosus (commercially sold as Culturelle) does not help with acute gastroenteritis (specifically, symptoms of stomach flu) in children.

My Interpretation of These Study Results

What you see above is just a small sampling of studies done recently. “Probiotics” are mentioned nearly 20,000 times on PubMed. There’s been a lot of research done showing the benefits (or lack thereof) of many probiotic strains.

If you’re considering a probiotic supplement, it’s up to you to do your own research and talk to your doctor about the effectiveness and safety of the strain you’re considering for your condition.

While probiotics are largely unregulated and definitely controversial, there are now hundreds of peer-reviewed, randomized, placebo-controlled trials that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of a variety of probiotic strains.

You can find a decent list of peer-reviewed studies done on probiotics in this article or this one.

Probiotics are not, in the words of the BBC, “useless.” This is the age of sensationalist journalism, folks. Don’t believe every headline you read!

Let’s clear up a few more misconceptions while we’re at it …

Just Because One Study Found One or More Strains Don’t Work Doesn’t Mean ALL Probiotics Don’t Work

Remember, hundreds of human clinical trials have shown that probiotics can help you if you suffer from conditions like IBS, skin disorders, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and more.

Probiotics May Not Always Colonize In Your Gut, But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Work

Some studies suggest that probiotic strains that are able to survive the harsh conditions in your stomach and make it into your intestinal tract are the ones that convey the most benefit.

However, even when probiotics do not colonize in your gut, they still may have an impact on your gut and immune health.

Are Fermented Foods the Same as Probiotics?

No. I personally love fermented foods. I use sauerkraut, drink kombucha, and make my own pickles. And those foods are definitely good for you. But they’re not the same as probiotics. Here’s how the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics explains it:

do probiotics really work

More Strains Is Not Always Better

What’s more important is the type of strains, and making sure you’re choosing products with the correct amount of probiotic strains. Unfortunately, “50 billion CFUs” doesn’t mean anything if the strains haven’t been studied for safety and efficacy at that dose (most supplements have not).

This 2017 study found that the amount of probiotic bacteria contained in foods is often much lower than the effective dose shown in studies.

Probiotics Can Be Dangerous

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events may be underreported in clinical trials.

That’s why’s it’s so important to choose make sure the strain(s) you’re taking has been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

There is likely a huge difference between the probiotic strains tested and validated in human clinical trials and the ones found on the average grocery store shelf.

Lucy Mailing, an MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and a staff research associate for Kresser Institute.

Probiotics Are NOT a Replacement for a Nutrient-dense Diet

What we eat is still the primary determinant of a diverse microbiota composition, which has been shown to be a key factor in people with “healthy” microbiomes.

Exercise may also promote healthy gut flora.

Key Takeaways

To recap:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better.
    • What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve (IBS, IBD, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, to name a few.
    • Taking probiotics that haven’t been studied for safety can do more harm than good.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
    • Do your homework: make sure the strains have been studied for safety and efficacy too.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

And if you’re going to use a probiotic supplement, here’s another resource that may help you:

The Best Probiotics, According to Science

 

*The 11 strains listed in studies #1 and 2 above were Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus casei subsp. paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

How to Find the Best Probiotics for YOU, According to Science

In this guide, we’ll help you navigate the fascinating yet complex world of probiotics.

We’ll talk about the benefits and risks of probiotics. The best food sources of probiotics. The myths and misconceptions. And what to look for if you decide to take a probiotic supplement.

Away we go …

Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

What Are Probiotics and Why Are They So Popular Right Now?

best vegan probiotics

There are 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of neurons known as your “microbiome”.

The densest part of your microbiome is in your gut, where about 1,000 species of bacteria feast on complex carbohydrates and fibers you eat.

The microbiome plays an important role in your body …

Scientists have discovered that 70-80 percent of your immune system is controlled by your microbiome and 95 percent of your body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter that’s the main contributor to your well-being and happiness—is made in your gut, not your brain.

The gut microbiome is largely shaped by what we eat and drink. And the Western diet, with its heavy use of heavily processed foods like refined flour and sugar, actually starves your microbiota, leading to a plethora of health conditions.

That’s why probiotics, these “good”, “friendly” or “healthy” bacteria you can take in supplement form, are so popular now.

The Best Food and Drink Sources of Naturally-Occurring Probiotics

1. Fermented vegetables 

Sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are among the most popular natural sources of vegan probiotics. But most of the store brands contain vinegar and preservatives, which kill the beneficial bacteria.

So look for pickled vegetables that are naturally fermented using salt.

Or just make your own.

Personal note: I was inspired to start fermenting vegetables after reading Michael Pollan’s fantastic book, Cooked. All you need is vegetables/fruit, salt, and a fermentation vessel. This is the crock I use if you get serious but when you’re first starting out, any large container will work).

Also, the cellular structure of certain foods makes them act as “superfoods” for good microbes to feed on. These include onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, jicama, and peas.

2. Fermented tea 
Kombucha is black tea that’s fermented with sugar. Some store-bought brands also add sugar, which can strengthen harmful microbes like E. coli.

Personal note: I got this kombucha kit and use it to make a fermented tea called Jun that uses green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar. Here’s how to make it.

3. Sourdough bread

There is not a more delicious way to enjoy the benefits of probiotics than eating a warm, crusty slice of sourdough bread (assuming you don’t have a gluten sensitivity).

Personal note: I also start making sourdough bread after reading Cooked. Seriously, read the book! Then pick up a sourdough starter and some flour and make this no-knead Cast Iron Sourdough Bread recipe. from the New York Times.

4. Fermented soy

Soy has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so much in processed foods and is one of the top 8 allergens. However, fermented soy products like organic miso, tofu, and soy sauce may actually have some health benefits.

5. Plants … lots of plants

Simple sugars cause conflict between our microbes and cells, but eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains encourages cooperation between them. Gregory Plotnifkoff, MD, coauthor of Trust Your Gut recommends adhering to the old Japanese adage of eating at least 30 different whole foods per day!

6. Supplements

Eating 30 different foods can be a challenge for time-strapped folks though. That’s where probiotic supplements may help.

How to Find the Best Probiotic Supplements for Your Health Needs

healthiest probiotics for vegansNot all probiotics strains are the same. Different strains offer different benefits and some probiotic strains survive manufacturing processes, shelf life and digestive transit better than others. When choosing a probiotic consider the following questions:

  1. Is it derived from dairy? 4 out of every 5 probiotic supplements contain dairy-based derivatives. This isn’t just bad news for vegans. Why Because up to 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, which means milk-based probiotics can make things worse for those with dairy sensitivities. On top of that, dairy-based probiotics are often only shelf stable for a few days. After this, the bacteria start to die. So, you have to take more of them to feel any effect. Choose “plant-based” or vegan probiotics instead. The product packaging or company website should tell you if the probiotic supplement you’re considering is from vegan / plant based sources.
  2. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid and/or manufacturing? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others. Always ask the manufacturer of your probiotic if they have any clinical research to support their product. Just because they sell a popular strain, doesn’t mean their probiotic are live and active.
  3. Is your probiotic tested for safety and potency? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, most don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. And, many of these beneficial bacteria die during processing because of the harsh processing methods most manufacturers use. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics for safety and potency and can provide documentation to prove it.
  4. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data large probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by randomized, double-blind, peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) whenever possible if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  5. Does your probiotic contain artificial fillers, preservatives, allergens, and other junk? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask them what “excipients” are in it and what purpose those serve.
  6. Does your probiotic contain prebiotic fiber and digestive enzymes? Prebiotics are essentially “food” that probiotics feast on. They help make probiotics more effective once they reach your intestines and colon. Digestive enzymes can help you digest all foods better, so often times you’ll see supplements that contain these as well.
  7. What health challenges are you facing? Different strains of probiotics offer different types of benefits. Don’t just buy a probiotic without understanding the type or types of strains it contains—otherwise you’re very likely wasting your money. For example, I suffer from GI issues, so I make sure I take strains that help me with those.

The Number One Myth About Probiotics

If you’ve shopped for probiotics before, you’ve probably noticed one statistic that all probiotics emphasize on the bottle, the CFU count. CFUs, or colony forming units, are the number of live probiotic bacteria that are supposed to be in each serving.

Some companies pack tens or even hundreds of billions of CFUs per dose. But what they don’t tell you is that most of these bacteria are going to die before they ever reach your small intestine (where they exert  the most benefits).

Probiotic companies have pushed CFU count as the singular point of comparison for the uninformed. In a way, this makes sense because it gives buyers an easy number that they can use to compare competing products.

But more CFUs does not always mean more effective! And in some cases, more can be worse.

The National Institutes of Health states:

Many probiotic supplements contain 1 to 10 billion CFU per dose, but some products contain up to 50 billion CFU or more. However, higher CFU counts do not necessarily improve the product’s health effects.

How Many CFUs Do You Really Need?

CFU numbers on probiotic supplements can vary anywhere from several million to 50 billion, but  research has shown that effective probiotic dosage for general gut health seems to be in the range of 10 million to one billion CFUs per day in humans.

Another thing to keep in mind is that multi-strain probiotics will help you achieve better results than single-strain probiotics. Different probiotic strains excel at different mechanisms, so diversified collection of strains is ideal for overall health.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics

Research shows you can take probiotics before, during, or after meals. However, you may experience additional benefits if you take your probiotics with some form of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, etc.).

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Let’s look at some of the strain-specific benefits of probiotics …

Sleep Benefits of Probiotics

We spend almost a third of our lives asleep. Researchers are discovering that the duration and quality of our sleep affect everything from our cognitive performance, mood, and memory to the health of our immune and endocrine systems.

It’s widely known that quality sleep can improve your memory, reduce inflammation (the pre-cursor to most disease), sharpen your mental focus, help you control your weight, and lower your stress levels.

Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) produce and regulate a number of neurotransmitters and hormones that impact our sleep:

Tryptophan and Melatonin: Probiotics can increase blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin and then into melatonin, the hormone that regulates how sleepy you feel.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and plays a significant role in sleep quality. Researchers found that serotonin deficiency in rats led to disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Most serotonin is made in the gut.

GABA: Beneficial bacteria help produce GABA, the calming brain chemical, as well as enhance its brain receptors.

Cortisol: If temporary stress and anxiety are the cause of your sleepless nights, rest assured that probiotics may even lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that becomes elevated during times of stress.

So what probiotic strains have been shown to be effective for sleep? Not many, just yet.

A small study showed that the probiotic Streptococcus can help improve sleep outcomes.

Mental Health Benefits of Probiotics

The relationship between the microbiota and anxiety/depression has been studied mainly in animals … but preliminary research is promising.

Your gut microbiota plays a major role in the communication between the gut and the brain.

A review of several research studies showed that certain probiotics have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. The researchers concluded:

Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT (fecal microbiota transplantation) may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression.

Weight Loss Benefits of Probiotics

In a metaanalysis of over 800 studies, researchers found that:

Administration of probiotics resulted in a significantly larger reduction in body weight and fat percentage compared with placebo; however, the effect sizes were small.

Immunity Benefits

Research is still emerging in this area but it appears probiotics may be able to help you keep your immune system functioning at a higher level.

New research has shown that certain strains can activate health immune cells and decrease inflammation.

Gut Health Benefits

Several probiotic strains have been shown to help those suffering from GI issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowl disease (IBD), and food allergies.

Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

According to the National Institutes of Health, the safety of probiotics depends on the state of your health and the strain you’re using.

In people who are generally healthy, probiotics have a solid safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms such as gas.

On the other hand, there have been reports linking some probiotics to severe side effects, such as dangerous infections, in people with serious underlying medical problems. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects include critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

Do your homework and ask your doctor about any certain strains so she/he can tell you whether it’s safe for you.

Bottom Line About Probiotics

the best probioticsFrom the day you were born, your digestive tract has been exposed to a steady stream of bacteria–some helpful, some harmful. One key to gastrointestinal (GI) health is maintaining a balance of these “good” and “bad” bacteria.

Over time, diet, aging, antibiotic use, travel, medications, illness, stress, and hormonal changes can disrupt your intestinal balance.

Keeping a healthy level of these “good” bacteria is key to maintaining your digestive and immune health.

To help level the playing field of good and bad bacteria, many people find it helpful to add a daily supplement or eat more probiotic fortified foods and beverages.

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to answer the 7 questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing the right probiotic supplement for you.

Learn More About Pure Food DIGEST (Probiotics + Prebiotics + Digestive Enzymes

Sources Not Linked to Above/Further Reading:

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-humans-carry-more-bacterial-cells-than-human-ones/

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10564096

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204468004577164732944974356

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

https://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/1386089/The_Microbiome.html

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gut-week-do-probiotics-work-are-they-good-for-me/ 

https://experiencelife.com/article/how-to-heal-a-leaky-gut/

Is This “The Secret” to Optimal Health and Happiness?

You are only 10 percent human.

As crazy as it sounds, our bodies have only 10 percent human cells. The other 90 percent are bacterial.

Most of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of 100 million neurons known as your “microbiome”.

Your gut—which includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines—actually has its own nervous system that allows it to operate independently from the brain, which is why it’s often called the “second brain.”

Ever felt butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech? Or had a “gut feeling” about something that turned out to be right?

That’s the second brain at work.

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

probiotics health benefits

So how do you improve your gut health?

The best way to get more good bacteria in your body is to eat whole, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and miso.

The second best way is to take a supplement or eat foods with added “probiotics,” a term used to describe health-promoting bacterial species.

However, 94% of probiotics added to food products are completely ineffective.

That’s because they either:

  1. Have a short shelf life
  2. Get killed by your stomach acid, or
  3. Don’t stay in your digestive tract long enough to provide any health benefit

It doesn’t matter how many “billion CFUs” your probiotic has if none of those good bacteria survive through your digestive system!

How do you find a good probiotic that actually works?

Start by finding out the answers to these questions:

  1. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others (like Bacillus coagulans). And some manufacturers (like Hyperbiotics) have developed proprietary processes that time-release the delivery of the bacteria until it reaches your intestine.
  2. Is your probiotic lab tested for safety? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, they don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics and can prove it to you.
  3. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  4. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask.
  5. Is your probiotic dairy-free? Many probiotics use a milk-based medium to help the bacteria grow. However, the people who probiotics tend to benefit most are those with digestive or immune problems … and dairy can trigger a whole host of issues.

The bottom line

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to find out the answers to the five questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing a healthy probiotic supplement.

Don’t roll the dice with your health.

If you want to try a probiotic that actually works, grab a sample bag of Pure Food Probiotic Protein Powder for just 5 bucks (you just pay shipping).