The idea that bacteria is beneficial for our gut health is not revolutionary. We have all seen the commercials for certain yogurts that claim their product will keep you more regular. We understand that probiotics are necessary for digestion, but probiotics are becoming more and more important for other parts of our body as well.
It seems that every day research is coming out about the amazing benefits that these “good” bacteria have on our body’s, and more importantly, our children’s body’s. The gut regulates so many bodily functions that it is now becoming called the body’s “second brain”. We now know that the majority of our body’s serotonin is actually produced in the digestive tract thanks to these good bacteria. Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer and low serotinin levels can lead or contribute to depression or anxiety. If you or your family have a history of depression or anxiety, a probiotic may be helpful to help keep your serotonin at a normal level. Not only can these bacteria affect our minds, they also affect our immune system. About 75% of our immune function takes place in our digestive tract. These good bacteria are responsible for creating immune cells to help fight off illness. When the family is sick, make sure they are taking their probiotics. More and more research is coming out about our gut health relating to various pathologies, such as: obesity, Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes (autoimmune disease), Type 2 Diabetes, autism, brain disease and food allergies. It is a really exciting time for researchers to link these different pathologies to various probiotics that can help reverse these conditions.
Our body’s are very good at regulating our gut bacteria, but certain things can alter our composition of bacteria in our gut. These things include: highly processed or unhealthy diets, high fructose corn syrup, overuse of NSAIDs, STRESS, antibiotics, alcohol, Polysorbate 80, carrageenan, polyglycerols, glyphosate residues and irregular sleep cycles. Early symptoms of poor gut health is bloating after meals, flatulence, reflux, constipation or diarrhea.
In our baby’s, their gut bacteria is first populated by their journey down the birth canal. Mom’s bacteria will populate her baby’s gut as the baby exits the birth canal. If Mom has unhealthy bacteria in her digestive tract, she will pass them on to her baby. In order to ensure that the Mom has a good mixture of bacteria for her baby, I recommend taking a probiotic during her pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding. The probiotic will also help with yeast infections that are very common during pregnancy.
Now that you know of all the amazing benefits of taking a probiotic, how do you get started? I recommend only taking probiotics that you will find refrigerated. These are live organisms and need to be refrigerated to make sure they don’t die on the store shelves. For infants, drops are best. These drops can be either applied to the nipple or put into the baby’s bottle. For toddlers, there are chewable probiotics. For older kids and adults, you can use powder or capsules. You want to make sure that the probiotic is specific for kids, women or men. Do you need to be on probiotics the rest of your life? The simple answer is yes. I cycle my patient’s on probiotics. I recommend 2 months on and 2 months off for adults. The only exception are for those that are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. Those groups of people will be on probiotics long-term. If your child is constipated or colicky, they may need to be on the probiotics consistently until their stools are regulated or their temperament changes. When you are taking a probiotic, I always recommend taking it with half a banana or some other type of prebiotic. A prebiotic is “food” for the good bacteria to chew on. This will help the good bacteria thrive and set up shop in your digestive tract. Other types of prebiotic foods are asparagus, garlic, onion and apples. If this is your first round of probiotics, expect some indigestion the first week. Bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation are all very normal the first week of probiotic use. This is due to the new good bacteria killing off the bad bacteria that have been living in your digestive tract.
Another great way to get more probiotics into your diet is with fermented foods. This includes, but not limited to: kefir (water or dairy), kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickled fruits and vegetables. These types of probiotics may be more difficult for your kids to eat, but you can experiment with the different flavors.
There are so many wonderful health benefits from healthy gut bacteria. If you are currently not on a probiotic, give it a try! You will not be disappointed.