Have you noticed the popularity of pre and probiotic supplements? In 2018 the global probiotics market size was estimated to be 48 billion dollars, and it’s still growing. A lot of people are taking probiotics.
I recently contacted a supplement company that specializes in gut health. This company has some very good products, including a spore-based probiotic that I sometimes recommend and have used myself. But the question I was calling to ask wasn’t about using their products, it was about when to stop using them. I wanted to know what their recommendation was for the length of time to use a probiotic. Their answer: indefinitely.
That’s the same answer you’ll get from a doctor or pharmaceutical company about using a statin drug to lower cholesterol. I’m not questioning the usefulness of a probiotic supplement or a statin drug, I’m just pointing out that we’re told to take them indefinitely with little to no mention of what we can do to stop taking them. Have you ever wondered about this?
Last week I wrote about adding bone broth to your diet to improve your gut health and mentioned some related benefits. This week I’m going to throw a little shade on the idea that everyone needs to take a probiotic indefinitely for gut health.
There are thousands of species of bacteria in your gut. Most probiotics contain just a few species. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are common. What happens if you take 2 or 3 species of probiotic bacteria when you have thousands of species in your gut? I’m not a scientist, but that doesn’t seem to promote microbial diversity.
There are times that taking a probiotic makes a lot of sense. We know that antibiotics can be a disaster for the gut microbiome. They kill the bad guys AND the good guys and also disrupt the balance between them. If you’re taking an antibiotic, it’s a good idea to use a probiotic to repopulate some of the good guys. A common recommendation is to take the probiotic either two hours before or two hours after the antibiotic - or for a few days after you finish the antibiotic. But do you need to take it forever?
Here’s a 2-minute video that explains why that may not be a good idea. I hope you’ll check it out for the perspective.
The health of your gut microbiome will benefit greatly from eating pre and probiotic foods. A healthy gut microbiome, brain, and body require a variety of foods that contain a lot of nutrients. It’s also crucial to reduce your stress. Remember – everything is connected.
Using pre and probiotic supplements on a long-term basis without emphasizing the importance of food, doesn’t take into account the synergistic effect of food. You’ll miss those benefits if you rely solely on the supplement.
For now, I’m going to focus on the pre-biotics. They contain a special fiber called inulin that feeds and helps increase the number of friendly bacteria in the gut. They support digestive health and the immune system. But that’s not all, they also contain nutrients that are good for other aspects of your health.
Here’s the scoop on 7 pre-biotic foods:
Jicama is a crunchy, slightly sweet root vegetable that makes a great addition to salads. I sometimes use it for a snack. It’s available in the produce section of most grocery stores. Nutrients include:
Antioxidant vitamins C and E
Selenium, potassium, and beta-carotene.
Thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and copper.
Jerusaleum artichoke is also known as the “earth apple”. Health benefits include:
Fiber, most of which comes from inulin
Increases the friendly bacteria in the colon
Strengthens the immune system and helps prevent some metabolic disorders
High in thiamine and potassium
Helps your nervous system
Promotes proper muscle function
Onions are rich in inulin and FOS, which can help boost your immune system, provide fuel for your gut bacteria, and improve digestion.
Garlic acts as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of bifidobacteria in the gut. Garlic extract helps reduce the risk of heart disease and has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer effects.
Whole oats are rich in beta-glucan fiber. They increase healthy gut bacteria, improve blood sugar control, and may reduce cancer risk.
Apples have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Apples are rich in pectin fiber which promotes healthy gut bacteria and helps decrease harmful bacteria. It also helps lower cholesterol.
Flaxseeds are super healthy. The fiber in flaxseeds promotes regular bowel movements, lowers LDL cholesterol, and reduces the amount of fat you digest and absorb.
The probiotic foods (fermented foods) are also important and here's a list:
Yogurt with added sugar or artificial sweeteners
Coconut yogurt is a dairy-free alternative
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar with 'mother'
Fermented Pickles (not made with vinegar) - Look for lactic acid fermented pickles. You're more likely to find them at a Farmers Market than the grocery store.
As always, there are individual considerations. If you take a probiotic that's helping you, I'm not suggesting you stop. If you have a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), you’ll need to resolve that with special dietary recommendations that may not include pre/probiotic foods or supplements.
I believe the pre and probiotic foods are more beneficial for our gut health than the supplements, but there are times that short-term supplement use is helpful. While I have a wholistic rather than a reductionist mindset about supplements in general, they do have an important role in the anti-Alzheimer’s lifestyle. In my next Sunday email, I’ll tell you about 3 I use regularly. You can sign up for my weekly email here.
In the meantime – look for Jicama in the grocery store and try adding it to a salad, just don’t forget to peel it.