This article explains the purpose of probiotics, and how they influence our immune system. It provides nutritional advice for obtaining these organisms through diet.
Our guts are lined with thousands of bacteria, some “good”, some “bad.” This community of bacteria is called our microbiota. The microbiota is developed over time by four major influencers: genetics, the environment, diet, and disease. It changes from birth to adulthood, depending on the aforementioned influencers.
The primary purpose for the microbiota is to manage our digestion and metabolism, even the metabolism that takes place in the liver. Ideally, the microbiota remains balanced in order to manage inflammation and avoid inflammatory diseases, those which are all too common in today’s modern age.
Traditionally probiotics were consumed to “re-populate” the gut with good bacteria to balance our microbiota and support the digestion of our food. However, since then scientists have discovered a variety of other reasons why probiotics may be more significant than just regulating our bowels, namely; maturing the immune system.
The bacteria lining of our gut (lactobacilli and other probiotic organisms) help to regulate our immune function by interacting with the immune system. Our immune system works in a kind-of tension relationship with our microbiota. Functional Medicine Specialist, Chris Kresser, explains that, “Our immune system has been tuned for millions of years to work in that dynamic tension against those organisms [the microbiota], and if you take them away, then that energy that the immune system uses to fight those organisms will be directed at self-tissue in some cases if there’s a genetic predisposition to that.” It is this battle directed towards the self-tissue that compromises the immune system, causing allergies, acne, increased sickness, and even depression.
To support the immune system, we need to be supporting the digestive system by feeding it well. This means avoiding processed and refined foods most of the time, and consuming real food and probiotics every day. Furthermore, instead of only increasing our consumption of probiotics, it is suggested that we also increase our intake of prebiotics. Both help to feed the “good” bacteria lining our colon, and therefore support the immune system to function efficiently.
Probiotic containing foods include fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, kefir, and buttermilk, all those that contain peptides and other probiotic organisms. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi are also rich in probiotics. Many people chose to take a probiotic supplement on top of eating probiotic-rich food. Whether to supplement with probiotics or not really is a case-by-case situation.
Prebiotic containing foods include all those starchy tubers many people seem to avoid; sweet potato, potato, Jerusalem artichokes, yams, as well as the vegetables garlic, leeks, and onions, just to name a few.
Consuming a balance of probiotics and prebiotics will support healthy microbiota and promote an efficient immune system to defend against sickness and disease.
What are your favourite probiotic and prebiotic containing foods?
Feed, nourish, value yourself.
Kresser, Chris. "5 Uncommon Uses For Probiotics". Chris Kresser. N.p., 2013.
Klaenhammer, Todd R. et al. "The Impact Of Probiotics And Prebiotics On The Immune System". Nat Rev Immunol 12.10 (2012): 728-734.
Santiago-López, Lourdes et al. "The Effects Of Consuming Probiotic-Fermented Milk On The Immune System: A Review Of Scientific Evidence". Int J Dairy Technol 68.2 (2015): 153-165.