by Dr. Sylvia Marasco, ND
The idea of supplementing “good” bacteria with a probiotic has become a familiar one with most individuals. Many tend to understand the concept of replenishing the “ecosystem” of bacteria in the digestive tract, perhaps after antibiotic use, or with uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Many people may not realize, however, the importance of probiotics for other illnesses including allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression and many more.
Intestinal dysbiosis is the term used when there is an imbalance of microorganisms in the digestive tract. This can present as a deficiency of certain strains of bacteria, or an overgrowth leading to a wide array of uncomfortable symptoms, both inside and outside the digestive tract. While diagnosis of dysbiosis can be confirmed with an Indican urine test and/or a stool analysis, a thorough naturopathic clinical intake based on signs and symptoms, diet, medications, stress and lifestyle, can often point to this direction in diagnosis before the testing confirms it.
Here are three ways to help promote balance of the microflora in the digestive tract:
1) Eat a nutrient dense diet with fiber. The typical North American Diet is high in saturated fats and low in fiber (not to mention high in sugars) creating a perfect “landscape” for intestinal microorganism imbalance. Fiber acts as a prebiotic which encourages and nourishes the healthy bacteria already present in the gut. Two examples of prebiotic foods are garlic and onions.
2) Eat probiotic foods. These foods might include unsweetened yogurt (if dairy is an issue, coconut yogurt is a great alternative), kefir (a fermented dairy product), sauerkraut, tempeh (fermented soy beans), kombucha tea ( a cooled beverage made from fermented green and black tea), kimchi (fermented vegetable dish) and more.
3) Supplement with a suitable probiotic . There are countless strains of microorganisms in the digestive tract, but newer research is doing an excellent job at looking at specific bacterial strains (or a lack thereof) for specific conditions. Interestingly, there is a term in research circles called “psychobiotics” . This is the study of intestinal strains of bacteria that help with brain health. This is mentioned just to show how many diverse illnesses may indicate the need for a probiotic as part of the treatment plan. Consult with a medical professional to determine which strains would be most suitable for you.
Science is showing us more and more just how integral intestinal bacteria balance is with achieving health and wellness. While there is more research to be done, it is empowering to know that simple steps can be taken to assist with creating the optimal “terrain” that encourages good health. Always consult with your naturopathic doctor or other healthcare provider for further assistance.