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I have read somewhere that the live culture added to yogurt acting as "healthy" gut bacteria are actually synthetic and harmful.
Any truth to this? If so, what are some alternatives to getting good gut bacteria?
I'm not sure what you mean by 'synthetic' gut bacteria, so I can't address that. is yogurt harmful to the gut? I believe the answer is no.
Women (and their doctors) have long known that taking antibiotics can result in Candidia (a yeast infection). Physicians have been advising women taking antibiotics to eat yogurt with live cultures, including lactobacillus spp. and bifidus spp. In keeping with today's movement towards evidence based medicine, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for (just) LACTOBACILLUS are as follows:
Likely effective for:
Diarrhea in children caused by a certain virus (rotavirus). Children with rotaviral diarrhea who are being treated with lactobacillus seem to get over their diarrhea about a half day earlier than they would without this treatment. Larger doses of lactobacillus are more effective than smaller ones. At least 10 billion colony-forming units during the first 48 hours should be used.
Possibly effective for…
- Preventing diarrhea in children caused by antibiotics.
- Preventing diarrhea in hospitalized adults. Drinking a specific beverage containing Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus (Actimel, Danone) twice daily during antibiotic treatment and for a week afterwards significantly decreases the risk of developing diarrhea.
-Preventing diarrhea due to traveling. Taking a specific strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus GG (Culturelle) seems to help prevent diarrhea in travelers.
- Preventing diarrhea due to cancer treatment (chemotherapy). There is some evidence that patients with cancer of the colon or rectum have less severe diarrhea, less stomach discomfort, shorter hospital care, and require fewer chemotherapy dose reductions due to GI side effects when they take a particular strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus GG (Culturelle).
- Colic in babies. Taking a specific Lactobacillus reuteri product seems to be more effective than using the drug simethicone.
- Lung infections. Children ages 1 to 6 years who attend daycare centers seem to get fewer and less severe lung infections when given milk containing lactobacillus GG or a specific combination product containing both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium (HOWARU Protect).
- Treating a bowel condition called ulcerative colitis. Some research suggests that taking a specific combination product containing lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, and streptococcus might improve symptoms.
- Treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is some research showing that certain strains of lactobacillus, but not others, can improve symptoms of IBS such as bloating, and stomach pain.
- Treating vaginal infections caused by bacteria (bacterial vaginosis).
- Treating and preventing eczema (atopic dermatitis) in infants and children who are allergic to cow's milk.
- Helping prescription medications treat Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection, which causes stomach ulcers.
- Treating diarrhea caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile.
Though some of the recommendations are for specific probiotic formulations, one can achieve similar results by reading yogurt packages and mixing types to assure coverage with the proper bacterial spp.
National Institutes of Health
Should you use probiotics for your vagina?
You know probiotics can be good for your gut, but does your vagina need one too? You might think so, based on probiotic marketing these days. Probiotics are in everything from drinks to pills and powders, and in many cases, are being promoted as a means of improving your vaginal health.
Women seem to be listening, says Dr. Caroline Mitchell, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. Vaginal probiotic supplements are hugely popular. This includes both probiotic pills and suppository capsules that are inserted into the vagina using an applicator.
But evidence of effectiveness is scant. “There is almost no evidence that these have benefit for vaginal health. The studies are mostly poorly done and don’t adhere to rigorous reporting standards, even if they are randomized trials,” says Dr. Mitchell. But that hasn’t stopped companies from promoting products for that purpose.
However, while today’s vaginal probiotic products should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, that may change as scientific knowledge builds. Meanwhile, here’s what’s known — and unknown — about probiotics and your vaginal health.
Sorting facts about probiotics from fiction
Vaginal probiotics are touted as a way to introduce live microorganisms into your vagina to improve health. It’s true that your vagina, like your digestive tract, is teeming with beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. When it comes to vaginal health, some common gynecological conditions are thought to be caused by an imbalance of bacteria inside the vagina. More often than not, when women seek out probiotics, they’re doing it in an attempt to ease discomfort caused by two of them: bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection, says Dr. Mitchell.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. There’s still a lot that experts don’t understand about the condition, but it is associated with an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms (such as Gardnerella vaginalis or Prevotella), which outnumber healthier types of vaginal bacteria, including a common organism called Lactobacillus.
Vaginal yeast infection also stems from an imbalance in the vagina. But in this condition, the problem is a fungus called Candida, which overcomes healthy bacteria. Candida can exist normally in the vagina without any problem, but may cause trouble if it outnumbers other microorganisms.
“There are some women who could benefit from probiotics — at least in theory,” says Dr. Mitchell. Among them are women with bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection. For example, when it comes to recurrent bacterial vaginosis, the thinking is that introducing more of the helpful lactobacilli might protect against that overgrowth of harmful organisms, and consequently reduce recurrent infections. However, proof is lacking, says Dr. Mitchell. If that theory is shown to be true, a probiotic could be beneficial, but no one is sure. And it’s not at all clear that taking a probiotic orally will help the vagina.
There are also unknowns related to vaginal yeast infection. “In the vagina, yeast and lactobacilli coexist quite happily, while in the laboratory, lactobacilli can kill yeast,” says Dr. Mitchell. So, taking probiotics isn’t a scientifically based strategy, because real-life circumstances don’t match what happens in the laboratory.
For now, the only proven treatments for bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection are antibiotic or antifungal treatments, says Dr. Mitchell.
A solution springs from frustration
But sometimes women don’t respond to the standard treatments and experience recurrent problems that leave them searching for solutions. Dr. Mitchell says that some women she’s encountered are trying not only probiotic supplements, but also alternative treatments they’ve found on the Internet. These include putting yogurt-soaked tampons, tea tree oil, and even garlic cloves into their vaginas in an effort to introduce beneficial bacteria. These solutions, she says, are not only ineffective but highly inadvisable.
“It’s true that a compound in garlic, allicin, has been shown to kill yeast in a laboratory. But you cannot put enough cloves of garlic in your vagina — or take enough oral garlic capsules — to achieve the same effect,” says Dr. Mitchell. Tea tree oil also has no demonstrated benefit and can cause irritation. Yogurt-infused tampons don’t work either. Many probiotic supplements and most yogurts do contain Lactobacillus bacteria, but it’s generally not the same type of Lactobacillus found in your vagina. L. crispatus and L. iners are the most common species found in the vagina. Most probiotics and yogurt contain other species, such as L. rhamnosus or L. acidophilus, which are more common in the gut.
Benefit or harm?
There also isn’t enough information to determine if introducing new bacteria using probiotics might do more harm than good. One study published in September 2018 in the journal Cell found that when people were given a probiotic after antibiotic treatment, their natural gut bacteria actually took longer to recover than did the gut bacteria of people who didn’t take the probiotic.
What I tell people is that over all, vaginal probiotics are probably a waste of money,” says Dr. Mitchell. “But if you are going to pick one and you really want to try one, the probiotics that seem to show some benefit in studies are ones containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1.”
Keep in mind that supplements, unlike medications, are not FDA-regulated. “Studies have shown that when these products are cultured, they often don’t have as much of what is on the label as promised, or don’t even contain what is on the label,” says Dr. Mitchell. The FDA has also found that some supplements contain potentially dangerous contaminants.
Yogurt is a yummy treat, but how is it made? With the help of microorganisms called bacteria, milk is turned into yogurt. Do not freak out though, these are not the kind of bacteria that cause you to get sick. The bacteria in yogurt are good bacteria that can actually help you! There are certain species of bacteria that are commonly used to make yogurt. If you look at the ingredients listed on the yogurt product's packaging, you can often figure out the exact species of bacteria that it contains. Some species you might find listed include: Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus) Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus) L. acidophilus L. casei L. rhamnosus Bifidobacterium animalis (B. animalis, or sometimes just "Bifidus") and B. bifidum.
To turn milk into yogurt, these bacteria ferment the milk. Fermentation is when a substance gets broken down and turned into another substance. During fermentation to make yogurt from milk, small sugars in the milk (specifically lactose sugars) get turned into a different chemical, specifically lactic acid. The lactic acid is what causes the milk, as it ferments, to thicken and taste tart. Because the bacteria have partially broken down the milk already, it is thought to make yogurt easier for us to digest. Additionally, eating yogurt can help restore the good bacteria that normally lives in your stomach and intestines (your gastrointestinal tract) after they have been lost from, for example, taking antibiotics or having an upset stomach.
In this microbiology science project, you will investigate how using different types of yogurt to make your own yogurt cultures affects how those cultures turn out. You will try different yogurt products as starter cultures to test which factors are important to the fermentation process and how the yogurt you make smells, feels, and tastes. Do you think yogurts that use different bacteria will be different? What about other factors in the yogurt that might affect the resultant yogurt culture, such as food coloring or added sugar? You will also learn how to culture (grow) microorganisms, and how to use sterile techniques so that you will not contaminate your cultures.
Good Culture Cottage Cheese
To be clear: Not all cottage cheeses contain probiotics, but Good Culture's tubs are packed with live and active cultures, and they come in a variety of sweet flavors like blueberry açaí, strawberry chia, and pineapple. Though dairy products are packed with slow-digesting protein and have been shown to enhance probiotic absorption, that doesn't make this product a clear cut winner or loser. "Cottage cheese is generally high in sodium—and this line is no different—so people with elevated blood pressure may want to skip it. People who bloat easily and those with lactose intolerance should also pass on it," advises Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, founder of Family. Food. Fiesta.
The Bottom Line: This is definitely healthy enough to be an Eat This!, but don't make it your go-to source of probiotics unless the rest of your diet is relatively low in salt. (Salt, by the way, is lurking in some surprising places—like these restaurant desserts with more salt than a bag of pretzels!)
Yogurt: Not As Healthy As We Thought?
All that yogurt you’ve been eating for years because you thought it was so healthy? A study published in theJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsis saying eating yogurt shows no significant differences in our overall health.
After following over 4,000 Spanish adults for nearly four years, researchers determined that regularly consuming yogurt “did not show an association with improved health-related quality of life,” according to the article. Conflicting health reports are nothing new, of course, but this one seems particularly maddening—come on, could yogurt really have such a minimal impact on our health?
What about the calcium, the probiotics, the reduced disk of diabetes? Before you go and chuck all those cups of yogurt ____ out the window, hear what dietitians had to say about the news.
“First of all, this study was measuring 'individual perception'____ of yogurt consumption on quality of life. The study does not measure actual bone density over time, nor does the study measure the probiotic effect of yogurt consumption on an individual’s intestinal bacterial flora,” says Vashti Verbowski, registered dietitian and founder of Your Kitchen Dietitian. “All this study seems to tell us is that yogurt consumption does not impact a person’sperceived quality of life.”
The type of yogurt is another significant____variable—the researchers were focused on whether the yogurt was full or reduced fat, but not sweetened versus unsweetened. Sugar content could be a likely reason that this study seems to go against some previous findings. Researchers stated in the report that they “were unable to evaluate sugary and non-sugary yogurt separately,” therefore “any yogurt-related health claim should account for the detrimental health effects of added sugars.” Pretty major distinction, right?
Now considering the fact that sugar content was not factored in, the results aren’t actually that startling. “The majority of yogurt available in the grocery store is flavored, which means full of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners,” says Cassie Bjork, registereddietitian and founder of Healthy Simple Life. “These additives feed the bad bacteria in the gut, which basically negates the benefits of the probiotics.”
So what’s the bottom line here? We hear the wake-up call loud and clear—take this as a reminder to forgo the flavored yogurts (we’re looking at you, chocolate and caramel toppings), for the plain (protein- and probiotic-packed) tangy version we know we’re supposed to be eating. Besides, don’t DIY toppings like unsweetened coconut, mango or cinnamon sound so much better than the sugary stuff?
Greek Yogurt Nutrition Information
The vast majority of commercial yogurt products you'll find sold in supermarkets are very sweet. If you're looking to reap the health benefits of yogurt, stay away from products with added sugars and opt for more natural products, like Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt has a variety of nutrients and is generally considered one of the healthiest types of yogurt you can buy. In every 100 grams of Greek yogurt, you can find:
- 8 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium
- 11 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 18 percent of the DV for selenium
- 5 percent of the DV for zinc
- 21 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
- 31 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
Greek yogurt has 9 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrates, none of which come from fiber. It also has 5 grams of fat, half of which come from saturated fat.
The Man Who Drank Cholera and Launched the Yogurt Craze
W hen Ilya Metchnikoff was 8 and running around on his parents’ Panassovka estate in Little Russia, now Ukraine, he was making notes on the local flora like a junior botanist. He gave science lectures to his older brothers and local kids whose attendance he assured by paying them from his pocket money. Metchnikoff earned the nickname “Quicksilver” because he was in constant motion, always wanting to see, taste, and try everything, from studying how his father played card games to learning to sew and embroider with the maids. His wife later wrote in The Life of Ellie Metchnikoff that Metchnikoff asked the “queerest” questions, often exasperating his caretakers. “He could only be kept quiet when his curiosity was awakened by observation of some natural objects such as an insect or a butterfly.”
At 16, Metchnikoff borrowed a microscope from a university professor to study the lower organisms. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species shaped his comparative approach to science during his university years—he viewed all organisms, and physiological processes that took place in them, as interconnected and related.
The proper alteration of the intestinal flora could help battle diseases that had plagued humans for centuries.
That ability led him to the discovery of a particular cell and enabled him to link digestive processes in primitive creatures to the human body’s immune defenses. In lower organisms, which lack the abdominal cavity and intestines, digestion is accomplished by a particular type of cells—mobile mesodermal cells—that move around engulfing and dissolving food particles. While staring at mesodermal cells inside transparent starfish larvae, Metchnikoff, 37 at the time, had a thought. “It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defense of the organisms against intruders,” he wrote. He fetched a few rose thorns from the garden and stuck them into the larvae. If his hypothesis was correct, the larva’s body would recognize thorns as intruders and mesodermal cells would aggregate around the thorns in an attempt to gobble them up. As Metchnikoff expected, the mesodermal cells surrounded the thorns, proving his theory. He named his cells phagocytes, which in Greek means “devouring cells,” and likened them to an “army hurling itself upon the enemy.”
In 1888, Louis Pasteur invited Metchnikoff to join the Pasteur Institute in France, where Metchnikoff continued his research. He reasoned that if in simpler organisms mesodermal cells attack and digest invaders, then in humans, leucocytes—the white blood cells that make up pus—must attack and digest microbes. Therefore inflammation was merely a cellular response to an external agent, a body’s curative reaction. These ideas were completely contradictory to the established theory of inflammation, which stated leucocytes form a medium favorable to microbes’ growth and spread them around. But after researchers repeated Metchnikoff’s experiments, leucocytes were established as bacteria-fighting cells. In 1908, Metchnikoff won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering phagocytic cells and their role in the human immune system.
AHEAD OF HIS TIME: “A lot of the things he did were very prescient,” says Siamon Gordon, professor emeritus of cellular pathology at the University of Oxford, who studied Ilya Metchnikoff’s work. Metchnikoff may have been viewed as a crank by some of his contemporaries, but “right now several of his ‘crazy’ ideas are absolutely mainstream.” Wikimedia
A fter Metchnikoff discovered phagocytes, he plunged into researching human immunity, hopeful to find ways to extend lives. He was motivated by his own grim experiences with disease. When his first wife died from tuberculosis, despite his zealous efforts to save her, a grievous Metchnikoff took an overdose of opium, but lived. When his second wife, Olga, battled typhoid fever, he inoculated himself with a tick-borne disease to die with her—but they both lived. But having discovered the body’s natural defense system, Metchnikoff grew optimistic. “With the help of science,” he wrote, “man can correct the imperfections of his nature.”
As part of his immunity quest, Metchnikoff experimented on himself. During the 1892 cholera epidemic in France, he drank Cholera vibrio, a bacteria that causes the disease. Cholera vibrio had a peculiar modus operandi. Within the same community, some people contracted it while others seemed immune. An understanding of how such immunity develops could lead to a vaccine.
The cholera drink didn’t sicken Metchnikoff, so he let a volunteer from his lab repeat the test. When the first volunteer didn’t contract cholera either, Metchnikoff didn’t hesitate to accept an offer from a second one. To his horror, the young man fell ill and nearly died. When Metchnikoff took his experiments into the petri dish to find out what caused such a marked difference, he discovered that some microbes hindered the cholera growth while others stimulated it. He then proposed that the bacteria of the human intestinal flora played a part in disease prevention. And, he reasoned, if swallowing a pathogenic bacterial culture sickened you, then swallowing a beneficial one would make you healthier. Therefore, he decided, the proper alteration of the intestinal flora could help battle diseases that had plagued humans for centuries.
At the same time that Metchnikoff’s ideas about rebalancing the microbes in the gut were taking hold, a powerful current in medicine was running against them.
Intestinal flora was a hot topic in the late 19th century. One prominent theory viewed the human large intestine as a noxious reservoir of toxins, some of which resulted from bacteria breaking down food, the so-called “putrefaction” process. Medics hypothesized that the large intestine was a visceral leftover from the time when our ancestors had to run from predators and often didn’t have time to stop long enough to empty their bowels. As a result, humans kept the products of bacterial putrefaction in their intestines for too long and they became toxic. This intestinal putrefaction theory gained such prominence that British surgeon William Lane advocated the removal of the entire large intestine to remediate digestive disorders.
But Metchnikoff believed it was possible to achieve a microbial balance in the gut without surgery, and began a quest for beneficial bacteria. From food-preserving experiments at the Pasteur Institute, he knew that lactic acid can prevent milk from spoiling, turning it into a yogurt-like product. “As lactic fermentation serves so well to arrest putrefaction in general, why should it not be used for the same purpose within the digestive tube?” he questioned. After studying various suitable cultures, he zeroed in on Bulgarian bacilli, widely used in Eastern Europe to make yogurt. This boded well with his studies of European centenarians, who consumed a lot of sour milk products in their diet. He also suggested that the culture could be taken in the form of a pill. Unfortunately, Metchnikoff didn’t get to see the world benefiting from his insights. In 1916, he died from a heart attack. Minutes before his passing, he reminded his fellow Pasteur researcher Alexandre Salimbeni to “carefully” look into his intestines after his death.
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Metchnikoff believed his sour-milk therapies could also help arrest aging. When his view was made public, one French cartoon, titled Manufacture de Centenaires, seen here, poked fun at the rebel scientist, portraying him as one who would manufacture centenarians. Courtesy of Pasteur Institute
A s the 20th century unreeled, Metchnikoff’s ideas took hold. In Europe, doctors prescribed sour milk to treat intestinal maladies. Then in the 1910s, Isaac Carasso, a Balkan industrialist, learned that many children suffered from intestinal disorders. In 1919, inspired by Metchnikoff’s work, he started a yogurt company in Barcelona, Spain, and marketed his yogurt as medicine, sold in pharmacies. He named the company Danone, a Catalan variation on his son’s nickname, “Little Daniel.” After Carasso’s death, Daniel took over the company and expanded it into the United States, where it was branded Dannon.
The truth is, yogurt does contain beneficial organisms that help replenish our own bacteria.
At the same time that Metchnikoff’s ideas about rebalancing the microbes in the gut were taking hold, a powerful current in medicine was running against them: the development of antibiotics. The new medicines, notably penicillin, eradicated pathogens and bacterial infections far more quickly than sour milk products, which replenished the body’s acidophilus bacteria, helping balance the microbes in the gut. Scott Podolsky, the director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Medical Library in Boston, says the transition was epitomized by Lederle Laboratories, which manufactured acidophilus products in the U.S., and switched to making antibiotics in the 1930s.
Yet just as antibiotics seemed to spell the end for Metchnikoff’s breakthrough, their overuse managed to revive it. “From the early 1950s, medical scientists became increasingly aware of the potentially negative impact of antibiotic administration in humans,” Podolsky says. Antibiotics had side effects. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs began to emerge. The autoimmune diseases surged. Studies in non-medical areas of microbiology also recognized that microbes played important roles in ecosystems such as oceans, forests, or soils, according to Lita Proctor, program coordinator at the Human Microbiome Project. Researchers were finding that microbes produced vitamins, nutrients, and growth factors, vital to ecosystems’ health. Eventually scientists began to view the human body as an ecosystem that depended on its microbes for proper nutrients.
Natural Selection in an Outbreak
Ebola doesn’t select people. We haven’t figured out what Ebola virus selects as its natural host, but it’s definitely not humans. Every once in a while, Ebola stumbles upon a human host, which ends up being a fatal mistake. When. READ MORE
In 2001, Joshua Lederberg, who won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1958 for his research in microbiology, coined the term microbiome. The term described the “ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms” that live in and on our body. Today, microbiome studies, notably the Human Microbiome Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, are underway, investigating our bodies’ microorganisms, and their relation to health and disease. Fortune recently called 2015 the year of microbiome. Meanwhile, the term “probiotics,” coined around the 1950s, is used to describe “organisms contributing beneficially to host microbial balance,” Podolsky says. Probiotics represent a growing research field and a multibillion-dollar industry. Yogurts, kefirs, and other fermented dairy products can be found in every supermarket.
So perhaps the next time you buy yogurt at your corner store, you will think of Metchnikoff, the boy who loved butterflies, who saw the future of health and strove to improve it for us all.
Lina Zeldovich grew up in a family of Russian scientists, listening to bedtime stories about volcanoes, black holes, and intrepid explorers. She has written for The New York Times, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, and Popular Science, among other publications, and won four awards for covering the science of poop. Her book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth and Health, will be released in November 2021 by Chicago University Press, just in time for the World Toilet Day. You can find her at LinaZeldovich.com and @LinaZeldovich.
A slightly different version of this article first appeared online in our “Dominoes” issue in April, 2015.
This means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving gut health. Even so, there are several simple, actionable things that you can try today that your gut bugs will thank you for!
We sat down with Professor Tim Spector, one of the world's leading gut microbiome researchers and a co-founder of ZOE, to discover his top 5 top gut health tips that anyone can use to start the journey towards a healthier gut today.
Tim's top 5 tips for better gut health
1. Try to eat 30 different plants each week
The wider diversity of fiber-packed plants you eat, the happier and more diverse your gut microbiome will be.
Nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains fruits, and veggies are all packed with nutrients that support a healthy gut. Garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, and whole grains are packed with particularly special prebiotic fibers that "good" gut microbes love.
The good news is that increasing the variety and amount of plants in your diet doesn’t have to be difficult, especially once you expand your idea of what counts as a plant-based food to include spices, herbs, nuts, and seeds.
2. Add some color to your plate
Not only are colorful plant foods rich in fiber. They also contain loads of polyphenols, which "good" gut microbes love. In particular, nuts, berries, seeds, brightly colored fruits, extra virgin olive oil, and vegetables, and dark chocolate are rich in these beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Want to understand how ZOE can help you understand the right foods for you? Click here for our free evaluation.
3. Experiment with fermented foods
Take things to the next level by including a small shot of fermented foods in your diet daily. Fermented foods - like live yogurt, artisanal cheeses, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut - contain living microbes, known as probiotics.
Once you’ve eaten them, these bugs can set up home in your gut, increasing the number and diversity of bacteria that make up your microbiome.
Not sure where to start? I always recommend the 4 K's — kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and kraut. You can also look to plain yogurt with live cultures and (smelly) cheeses for a gut boost. The key is to include a small shot of fermented foods daily, rather than consuming a large amount of fermented food once in a while.
4. Give your gut bugs a break
Try to avoid or limit snacking, and aim to give your gut bugs time to rest overnight. At night, there is a whole team of gut microbes that work to clean up your gut lining and keep it healthy. This regular cleaning is important for supporting a healthy gut and immune system. By giving your gut bugs a break, they'll have time to recover to do their job well.
5. Limit ultra-processed foods
A high intake of ultra-processed foods is known to be associated with unfavorable health outcomes, including conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
They also aren’t great for our gut microbes, as they don't provide much fiber and other nutrients for "good" gut microbes to munch on. They're often high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial sweeteners that don't support a healthy gut microbiome.
Findings from our research into the gut microbiome also show a link between highly processed foods and “bad” gut microbes that are associated with poorer health markers.
While no food should be completely off-limits, choosing more delicious and nutritious unprocessed or minimally processed foods, and limiting ultra-processed foods will help to keep your gut microbes happy and well-fed.
Go with your gut
The good news is that what you eat can change your microbiome composition. But how do you know what to put on your plate?
We all have unique microbiomes, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition that suits everybody’s gut bugs. Importantly, there’s no single food—or single microbe—that will make or break your gut microbiome.
The microbiome is a complex community, so your regular diet and lifestyle habits over time are what determines the mix.
Finding the foods that work best for your unique body and your community of gut bacteria starts with understanding which bugs are living in your gut right now, and which foods will help them thrive.
That’s why when you join the ZOE Program, you’ll take an easy poop test at home so we can analyze your gut microbiome, alongside testing your blood sugar and fat responses. That way we can tell you which bugs you’re hosting alongside an understanding of how your body responds to foods.
Perpetuation: Direct-Set vs. Heirloom Cultures
Direct-Set = Single-Use Cultures
Direct-set or single-use cultures are added to a batch of milk to produce a single batch of yogurt. With some care, a direct-set starter may be re-cultured two or three times by using some of the yogurt as starter for a new batch. Eventually, however, a new powdered starter must be used. Non-dairy milks generally cannot be re-cultured.
Heirloom = Reusable Cultures
Reusable or Heirloom cultures can be propagated indefinitely. With each batch, some of the yogurt is saved to add to a new batch of milk to make more yogurt. Reusable cultures should be propagated at least once every seven days to maintain the vigor of the bacteria.
Need to Replenish Probiotics
The University of Reading reports that milk protein, lactose and other sugars influence the survival of probiotics in the gut. The University goes on to note that varying pH environments throughout the digestive system influence different strains of probiotics in different ways. Some strains survive passage through the stomach while others survive the rest of their course through the digestive tract. Adding multiple strains of probiotics to food products guarantees that some of the probiotics survive the entire digestive process. Probiotics make insignificant changes in the level of intestinal flora, according to the University. Current research in the food industry is directed at finding foods, aside from dairy products, that will be suitable for addition of probiotics.