What's in your gut? How probiotics and prebiotics keep you healthy
Do you get sick all of the time or are you in stellar health 99% of the time?
For most people, it seems they get sick every couple of weeks. That's no way to live!
Other people seem to almost never get sick or go years without getting sick. What's the secret of those that always stay healthy and rarely get sick?
Well, first we have to remember that one of the absolute biggest factors controlling your immune system and overall health is your vitamin D levels (of which you produce most vitamin D from sun exposure). That's the main reason people get more sick in the winter compared to summer... lack of sun equals reduced vitamin D levels and reduced immunity.
You can read a more detailed article about how your vitamin d levels are affecting your health here.
Another topic we'll cover here is your digestion... Do you get stomach aches, gas, bloating and other digestion problems frequently or never?
Well, there are tons of reasons for the differences in both immunity and digestion issues... including stress levels, types of food intake, sleep quality and quantity, overall general health and fitness levels, our vitamin D levels, and even some factors going back to childhood (such as breastfeeding, the type of diet during developmental years, etc).
What I've noticed for myself personally is that the healthier that I eat as the years go on, and the more I focus on vitamin D levels and probiotics in my diet, the less frequently I get sick, and the less frequently I get digestion problems.
As a matter of fact, my diet has become so healthy over the last 10 years that I really never get sick at all anymore (I honestly can't even remember having 1 measly cold in the last few years), and I also can't remember the last stomach ache I had (pretty much never have them anymore). In fact, in the last 7-8 years, I can only remember even having 1 minor cold, which cleared itself up within 1 day.
Besides just keeping fit and healthy in general, I have a little bit of a secret that I believe helps a lot with my immunity as well as digestion, and hopefully this info will help you as well.
One of my major secrets is the heavy use of both probiotics and prebiotics... mostly from certain natural foods and not necessarily supplements (although some probiotic supplements can be useful).
Probiotics are basically live microorganisms that have health benefits (friendly bacteria and other good microorganisms) that can be ingested in certain fermented foods. There are hundreds of different types of strains of probiotics that have important functions in your gut. The balance and quantity of all of these strains of probiotics in your gut is called your microbiome.
It's estimated that the average person has approximately 100 TRILLION of these little buggers doing work at any given time inside your digestive system.
Here are some of the benefits that probiotics in your digestive system provide:
*Increase your immunity
*Help reduce yeast infections, urinary tract infections, etc
*Reduce chances of diarrhea and/or constipation
*Improve lactose intolerance
*Increase absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
*Increase production of white blood cells to help reduce inflammation, allergies, and other conditions
*and much more important functions
Keep in mind that taking antibiotics kills off a portion of your friendly bacteria living inside of you, so you need to make sure to increase your intake of probiotics if you're ever forced to take antibiotics.
Personally, I would never take antibiotics unless it was something life threatening that needed to be eradicated. But to be compliant, I have to tell you to do whatever your doctor tells you to do.
By the way, many doctors will prescribe antibiotics a lot of times even if you have a viral infection (which is pointless), and is only doing you harm by killing some of your good probiotic bacteria in your system and potentially allowing another bug to make you ill now that your defenses are reduced (the probiotics are your defenses).
Make sure to confirm with your doc that you really do have a bacterial infection before allowing him/her to prescribe you an antibiotic. Even in those cases, you should ask your doc if the antibiotic is really required or if you can get better on your own through probiotics, superfoods, and plenty of sleep (which is preferred, instead of using harmful antiobiotics).
Another negative effect of antibiotics is that antibiotic use is even linked to increased abdominal fat.
So what foods are good sources of these health-giving friendly probiotics?
A couple major sources are:
*Yogurt - make sure that the yogurt label says that it has live cultures in it. Also, steer clear of yogurts that use artificial sweeteners or are loaded with sugar and corn syrup... Instead, your best bet is plain yogurt (grass fed and organic if possible), and then add your own fruit, nuts, and stevia to "flavor it up". Many yogurts have anywhere from 1 to 5 Billion probiotics per cup.
I wrote a full article on the TRUTH about yogurt and everything you need to know here.
*Kefir - similar to yogurt, but more of a liquid form of fermented milk --can have 7-50 billion or more active friendly organisms per serving, generally a lot more than yogurt! Also, kefir generally uses 10-20 strains of probiotics compared to 3-4 strains typically in most yogurts, so the greater variety of strains is beneficial in kefir.
Note that natives from the Caucasus mountains of eastern europe are well known to routinely live to over 100 years old and they drink full-fat kefir almost daily throughout their lives.
*Aged types of cheese - blue cheese, hard aged cheeses, aged cheddar... all can contain up to 10 billion friendly organisms per serving.
*Kombucha tea - a type of fermented tea with several billion friendly probiotics per serving. There are also other probiotic drinks on the market now in some health food stores... one of which that tastes great I think is called "Kevita".
*Natto, miso, and tempeh - forms of fermented soybean (the ONLY types of soy that I believe are ok in limited quantities) -- remember to avoid processed soy protein, soybean oil, and soymilk as they are some of the most unhealthy foods you can eat... I can't even really label them as "foods"...more like industrial waste!
*Sauerkraut - Just make sure it's fresh and not pasteurized, canned, or heated in any way, which kills the friendly probiotics. Kimchi is another fermented vegetable dish that I actually like a lot better than sauerkraut. I've also grown very fond of fermented beets (kvaas) and fermented carrots (carrot kraut).
*other naturally fermented foods
So as you can see, trying to include a variety of these probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet can go a long way towards keeping you healthy, strengthen your immune system and prevent sickness, and also help prevent digestion problems.
The other thing I wanted to explain was PREBIOTICS. If probiotics are the actual organisms, prebiotics are types of foods that you can eat to help stimulate the growth of probiotics within your system.
Soluble fiber is the main prebiotic that can help the probiotics flourish in your digestive system. Examples -- oatmeal, oat bran, inulin (not insulin, but inulin...a soluble fiber), and various fruits and vegetables all help to supply you with prebiotics.
There you have it! Probiotics and prebiotics explained.
Also make sure to read this article of mine:
7 powerful tips to never get sick again
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To your health,
Certified Nutrition Specialist
Certified Personal Trainer
Author - The Truth about Six Pack Abs