May the (probiotic) force be with you.
Today I want to talk about a “force” that is so important to our bodies that we need to ingest it before we even take our first sip of Mama’s milk.
What is this “force”?
Beneficial microbes, i.e. probiotics. Bacterial cells outnumber our own 10 to 1, with over 1,000 different species being known so far.
Probiotics, and foods with probiotics (ferments) are one of the Top Ten Influences on Immunity, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the GAPS Protocol for digestive and brain healing.
Probiotic Supplementation and Fermented Foods
Our very first introduction to beneficial microbes (or not-so-beneficial) happens as we pass through the birth canal, the so-called the vaginal “gulp”.
It is to be hoped that in this vaginal passage there are more beneficial microbes than non-beneficial, as a large amount of our first inoculation comes from this passing through the birth canal. This starts our intestinal population, that mainly develops in the first 20 or so days of life.
Babies born via C-section develop completely different gut flora than babies birthed vaginally via the birth canal with potentially lifelong negative health consequences such as increased risk for allergies, asthma and other autoimmune disorders.
One way to compensate for this is take a swab of the birth canal immediately after the baby is born and put it in the mouth of the baby. It is extra important to supplement with probiotics in the early days of infancy for a C-section baby. Also, even in a vaginal birth, if a mother has an imbalanced microbiota (too common) she will pass that on to her baby at birth. (Stay tuned and I’ll describe how to prepare the vaginal canal for the healthiest start possible for your baby.)
“…it is essential to human health that a probiotic gastrointestinal environment be established and maintained” Dr. Khem Shahani, Phd
Today we have a three-fold probiotic problem:
- Destruction and low numbers of beneficial flora
- Overpopulation of pathogenic flora
- New and resistant pathogenic flora
What damages our gut flora?
- Antibiotics – Penicillins, tetracyclines, antifungal antibiotics
- Processed carbs & sugar (feeds pathogens, changes pH)
- High grain fiber diet
- Prescription drugs (such as pain killers, steroids, etc…drug induced gut dysbiosis can be especially difficult to treat)
- Birth control pill
- Bottle feeding
- Prolonged fasting or starvation or overeating
- And much more
Why are probiotic foods and supplements so important?
They help with:
- Gastrointestinal disorders of all kinds
- Bacterial infections
- Chronic viral infections
- Urogenital infections
- Hepatitis, liver cirrhosis & biliary disease
- Lower cholesterol & prevent arterial disease
- Weight issues
- Osteoporosis (enhance calcium assimilation & metabolism)
- Burns of various degrees
- Perioperative care and intensive care in surgical patients and patients with massive blood loss
- Clinical infections
- Autoimmune disorders
- Produce B vitamins
- Synthesize Vitamin K
- Integrity of our intestinal wall
- More that are being studied, or haven’t been studied yet
How to choose a probiotic supplement
While specific strains have been studied for certain therapeutic applications, generally it is best to have a variety of species from each of the three main probiotic types:
- Soil based
The best probiotic supplement companies have this in common:
Their products list the genus (i.e. Lactobacillus) species (i.e. acidophilus) and strain (i.e. DDS-1)
Like this: Lactobacillus Acidophilus DDS-1 (or L. Acidophilus DDS-1)
If they are not listed on the bottle, then the company should at least be able to tell you what strains are in their probiotic…if they don’t know, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing from them.
When working on a health issue it is important to work up to a therapeutic dose.
This looks like:
- Infant up to 12 months – 1-2 billion of bacterial cells per day
- Toddler from 1 to 2 years – 2-4 billion of bacterial cells per day
- Child from 2 to 4 years – 4-8 billion of bacterial cells per day
- Child from 4 to 10 years – 8-12 billion of bacterial cells per day
- Child from 12 to 16 years – 12-15 billion per day
- Adults should have around 15-20 billion of bacterial cells per day
A therapeutic dose should be maintained for an average of 6 months to overtake harmful microbes and reestablish beneficial microbes. Following a clean, whole foods diet is essential during this time. If you continue feeding your pathogens in the gut with sugar and processed carbohydrates then the probiotics will not have much chance of helping you.
After six months it’s beneficial to reduce to a maintenance dose of probiotics (usually half of the therapeutic amount) and/or consume fermented foods daily.
Whenever you introduce a healing food or supplement it is possible to experience a die-off reaction. Pathogens are dying off and releasing their toxins, which can make you feel miserable if it happens to too quickly. Here is what die-off looks like:
- Feeling “off”
- Lacking energy
- More difficulty dealing with stress than usual
- Mood swings & difficulty concentrating
- Any other symptoms typical for you
- For children this can also show up as bedwetting, moodiness, tiredness, restlessness and any other symptoms typical to your child
- First, it’s a good sign, it means your probiotics are working
- Introduce probiotics slowly…this may mean as little as an 1/8 of a capsule or less
- Increase incrementally to a therapeutic dose, every 3 – 5 days for example
Here are a handful of good brands, but the list is NOT all inclusive:
- Prescript Assist (SBO, aka soil-based probiotic)
- Innate Response
- Custom Probiotics
How to give your baby the best possible start
Lastly, let’s talk about preparing the birth canal for labor and delivery.
It is optimal of course to start nourishing your body and microbiota 4 – 5 months before you even conceive, but if you are already expecting I’ve got some steps you can take to populate your vaginal canal pre-birth, so that you give your baby the best start.
In traditional societies women knew how to prepare for birth, and one of the most important measures in the last few weeks of pregnancy was to prepare the birth canal for delivery. A woman’s birth canal has a very rich microbial flora, which needs to be dominated by beneficial microbes.
Antibiotics, the contraceptive pill, and other environmental influences can damage the delicate balance in the flora of the birth canal, predisposing a woman to thrush, vaginosis and other problems. Pregnancy is also a state of natural immune suppression, because it is dominated by the immune-suppressing hormone progesterone. As a result, during pregnancy, pathogens in the vagina can get out of control. The best way to handle them is to populate that area with beneficial flora.
To do this:
Apply homemade yogurt or kefir all over your groin daily after a bath or a shower. If you have thrush or other problems in the groin area, insert 1-2 capsules of a good quality probiotic into your vaginal tract at bedtime and leave it there to dissolve overnight; repeating this procedure for 2-3 nights, and the problem should go away.
Vaginal flora comes from the bowel, so it is essential to keep your gut flora healthy. A clean diet (GAPS for example), probiotics & fermented foods will accomplish this.
The takeaway, and an offer …
We cannot live without beneficial bacteria. Probiotic supplementation is a good way to ensure that we have enough of the beneficial species. These coexisting life forms take care of us, and it is our privilege and duty to take care of them as well.
To learn more about taking care of them, as well as healing the gut with GAPS, and giving your children the best start, please visit Honest Body where I host the GAPS Class several times a year. You’ll also get a Free 30 Day Prep Guide for GAPS to get you started!
About the Author
She writes at HonestBody.com. As a mom of four children herself, she works with moms and their kiddos to help them feel their best and to have all the life and energy they were meant to have.
Melanie is an NTP, Certified GAPS Practitioner, and Healing Foods Specialist in Vermont. For fun she creates in her kitchen, Nordic skis, or swims in the Green Mountain rivers with her family.
Gut And Psychology Syndrome, by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
Making Sense of Probiotics, white paper by Klaire Labs
Cultivate Health From Within, by Dr. Khem Shahani, Ph.D.
Gastrointestinal Masterclass, by Dr. Jason Hawrelak, Ph.D