Probiotics are such an in depth topic, I think it highly unlikely that I’ll be able to cover everything in just one article, so this will likely be the first of many in a series discussing probiotics.
What is a Probiotic?
Well to answer that question you have to take a closer look at your digestive system, specifically your small and large intestine. Your gastrointestinal tract is populated by microorganisms, be it bacteria, yeast, protozoa, worms flukes and other things we can’t even understand yet. Now, before you get freaked out and panic and try to get rid of these creepy crawlies, you should understand that they’re not all dangerous and pathogenic, there are some, in fact most, organisms that are beneficial, protective and indisputably essential to good health. The first aspect probiotics play on health is a little counter intuitive, until you understand the mechanisms behind the effect. There are countless studies with strong evidence that show major therapeutic effect on reducing depression, anxiety and other mental health problems One of the challenges with probiotics and the human microbiome is that everyone is different, so coming to a consensus on what is beneficial, and at what does it is beneficial is very complicated. Someone may find that X strain of probiotics improves their energy and reduces their depression, but Y strain makes them feel suicidal! From my experience the only real way to figure out what works for you is to try things and see how they feel.
Now the more intuitive benefits! If you need good bugs in your gut to digest your food for you, then surely probiotics can aid digestion? You’re absolutely right! This resource states how probiotics can reduce lactose intolerance , and this one  explains how some of the compounds created by probiotics are enzymes that aid and optimise the digestive process. Probiotics in natural wholefood forms will also be creating digestive enzymes and other compounds like lactic acid even before you eat them, in a way pre digesting your food for you, enabling you to get the most out of the food you eat.
It’s becoming indisputable that your microbiome plays a significant role on your bowel health. Discussions about the microbiota and gastrointestinal diseases from IBS to IBD are happening, but as the aforementioned specificity and individuality of certain strains and species and the effects that have in different hosts makes it difficult to come to an consensus on how to treat these disorders effectively and safely with probiotics. Probiotics are the orchestrators of the complex interaction between the food you eat and the cells that absorb it, and none of this can happen without them. As if this wasn’t enough, they also play a role in the regeneration and integrity of the gastrointestinal mucosal membrane, which is responsible for protecting you from infections and your own digestive juices.
Where do we get Probiotics?
Firstly, there are therapeutic probiotic powders and capsules, they are very potent and care should be taken when consuming them. There are also probiotics that occur naturally in traditionally prepared foods. Anything fermented will have probiotic properties, this includes lacto-fermented milk products (yogurt, kefir, cheese and butter) meat (chorizo, salami etc.) Vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. Probiotics will be destroyed by heat, so to obtain the beneficial effects excess heat should be avoided.
All of those aforementioned pathogenic microbes don’t like it when you bring some new neighbours to the party, and they fight to the death for space and nutrients. When these microbes are fighting they secrete chemical compounds that might be what’s making you ill. When these chemicals and toxins overwhelm your body’s natural ability to detoxify itself, you will have an acute, and often times uncomfortable reaction. Most commonly are flu like symptoms, but you can also get things like headaches, muscle pains, digestive symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas, and an exacerbation of any pre existing medical conditions. Usually lasting only a week, you can reduce the severity of the reaction by ensuring adequate nutrient intake and boosting detoxification pathways. Fasting can also be helpful here. If you’re someone who’s chronically ill, your pathways will become overwhelmed very easily, perhaps even one teaspoon of live yoghurt could do it. Tweaking your dosage as to slowly increase the amount you can handle is a useful if difficult technique, as to reach your desired probiotic intake could take months or even years – yes, years, I speak with authority, it’s taken me over 2 years if incremental increase and I’m still not there yet.
A phrase I’m fond of quoting is “you can try and tell yourself you’re okay, but if your chemicals in your body are telling you that you aren’t okay, you aren’t going to feel okay“. If your microbiome isn’t producing the chemicals you need to feel happiness, how can you expect to feel happy? I hope the serotonin is flowing abundantly in your brain and that helps you to have a lovely day, thank you for reading.