It seems like everyone has probiotics on the mind. These “friendly” bacteria are taken to improve gut health, something we now know is central to our overall well-being. While the growing awareness is amazing, probiotics should actually step aside for something better. Yes, you read that right: Probiotics aren’t the only answer. Don’t forget that probiotics are still foreign invaders. Sure, they mean well, but the body may not be prepared. It’s a lot like a friend showing up at your house without notice.
In the case of your gut, it’s a lot about the intestinal barrier. The mucus layer stops trillions of bacteria from constantly touching the surface. The stronger it is, the better everything will stay where they’re supposed to. Does that mean you should ditch the probiotics? Not really. Instead of depending on probiotics, focus on strengthening your intestinal barrier with certain foods.1
What Probiotics Do Best
The gut houses both good and bad bacteria. When there’s a healthy balance, everyone gets along just fine. This also means that the gut, the body’s first line of defense, does its duty of supporting your immune system. It even controls appetite and regulates cognitive and emotional function through the gut-brain axis.2 3 4
But when there aren’t enough good guys, things get a little wonky. This can happen after taking antibiotics or dealing with a bad bout of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or other digestive issues. That’s where probiotics come in. By introducing good bacteria, the gut microbiome will be balanced again. Most probiotics are bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups, along with Saccharomyces boulardii, a type of yeast.5
The Power Of The Intestinal Barrier
Managing gut health doesn’t stop at eating probiotics. In fact, strengthening the intestinal barrier matters even more. The bowel has a thick mucus layer that prevents gut bacteria from invading the intestinal wall. Otherwise, that bacteria will intrude and cause inflammation, a tell-tale sign that the barrier has broken. Tummy troubles are sure to come.6
Fiber For Gut Health
By eating enough fiber, gut bacteria will have something to feast on. Adequate intake will also balance the bacteria living in the gut, to begin with. As an added bonus, you’ll also reduce the risk of weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Unfortunately, many of us don’t eat enough! The recommended intake is 20 to 30 grams a day, but most get 15 grams daily. The top sources include:8
- Vegetables and fruits, especially prunes
- Whole grains like couscous and brown rice
- Legumes and nuts
Just don’t eat too much fiber too fast. It’s a perfect setup for constipation, so increase intake slowly.9 Drink lots of water so the fiber has something to absorb. Your gut will love it.
|↑1, ↑6||Swidsinski, Alexander, Vera Loening-Baucke, Franz Theissig, Holger Engelhardt, Stig Bengmark, Stefan Koch, Herbert Lochs, and Yvonne Dörffel. “Comparative study of the intestinal mucus barrier in normal and inflamed colon.” Gut 56, no. 3 (2007): 343-350.|
|↑2||Fetissov, S. O. “Involvement of gut bacteria in appetite control.” Biologie aujourd’hui 211, no. 1 (2017): 29.|
|↑3||Carabotti, Marilia, Annunziata Scirocco, Maria Antonietta Maselli, and Carola Severi. “The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems.” Annals of gastroenterology: quarterly publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology 28, no. 2 (2015): 203.|
|↑4||Sanders, Mary Ellen, Louis MA Akkermans, Dirk Haller, Cathy Hammerman, James T. Heimbach, Gabriele Hörmannsperger, and Geert Huys. “Safety assessment of probiotics for human use.” Gut microbes 1, no. 3 (2010): 164-185.|
|↑5||The Basics of Probiotics.
|↑7||Desai, Mahesh S., Anna M. Seekatz, Nicole M. Koropatkin, Nobuhiko Kamada, Christina A. Hickey, Mathis Wolter, Nicholas A. Pudlo et al. “A dietary fiber-deprived gut microbiota degrades the colonic mucus barrier and enhances pathogen susceptibility.” Cell 167, no. 5 (2016): 1339-1353.|
|↑8||Tomasello, Giovanni, Margherita Mazzola, Angelo Leone, Emanuele Sinagra, Giovanni Zummo, Felicia Farina, Provvidenza Damiani et al. “Nutrition, oxidative stress and intestinal dysbiosis: Influence of diet on gut microbiota in inflammatory bowel diseases.” Biomedical Papers 160, no. 4 (2016): 461-466.|
|↑9||Fiber. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|