Note from Sarah: Jason Seib is back with an excellent and informative post on probiotics. Read and enjoy!!
Sometimes our primary goal can give us tunnel vision. For example, in my last post I covered the importance of diet AND exercise because it’s easy to think that one or the other will be enough. But when we remember that any positive and sustainable change in appearance will happen through improved health and not ridiculous tricks and gimmicks, we are also reminded that there are other pertinent inputs involved in peak health, like sleep, stress, and today’s topic, healthy digestion. While it is true that poor digestion tends to be corrected by a solid paleo diet, there are few things you need to know.
All the paleo pros agree that it is essential to get through at least 3 or 4 weeks of strict paleo nutrition in the beginning. A slow build up to this period is fine, but until you have completed this extended time of solid paleo you are still starting. There are many great reasons for this, but two stand out. First, you will regain the ability to easily switch back and forth between glucose and fat as an energy source (also called metabolic flexibility), which will allow you to more easily use stored fat for energy. This is a subject for another post, but let’s just say it is critical to your goals, whatever they may be. The second benefit of going hard in the beginning is that you will heal your gut, regain healthy digestion and improve your gut flora.
Our intestines are actually home to trillions of microorganisms that help us digest our food, improve and aid our immune systems, and even provide us with some micro-nutrients. If you find it unnerving that so many other lifeforms make there home in your gut, maybe it will be helpful to know that you cannot survive without them. They evolved right alongside us with harmonious symbiosis as a result. Therefore, it is important to protect and nourish our gut flora, a fact that has been often ignored in the neolithic western diet.
Antibiotics and stress are probably the two biggest enemies of healthy gut flora, but offensive foods need to be removed to achieve healthy digestion, which will improve the gut flora environment, as well. This part is sometimes confusing for some people. No matter how you try to create a healthy environment in your gut, your efforts will be undone if you continue to eat offenders like grains and legumes, and have copious amounts of psychological stress. (Since stress is a big problem for gut flora, it also stands to reason that beating yourself senseless in your workouts will be problematic as well, but I’m only speculating because all the studies I have seen have used purely psychological stressors.) Trying to heal your gut under these conditions is kind of like working really hard to get the PH just right in your fish tank only to put a drop of bleach in it every couple of days. Good effort, but you probably aren’t getting anywhere.
Once you have stopped hurting yourself to the best of your ability, you should start supplementing with probiotics. Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria cultures that can be ingested to repopulate the gut with the right flora. There are a few supplement companies I trust for just about everything, and probiotics are no exception. My clients and I have had good results with both Jarrow and Now brands, using them as directed. Some professionals recommend taking probiotics all the time. I think they are something that should be returned to often, but if you are not regularly killing your gut flora through stress, unhealthy eating, or antibiotics, you probably don’t need them all the time. I have clients who seem to do well taking a bottle of probiotics, as directed of course, every couple of months. Be sure to supplement with probiotics during and after any antibiotic use. Antibiotics are not choosy about which bacteria they kill, and gut bacteria are no exception. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, are an excellent source of healthy bacteria and should be a regular part of your diet all the time. It is also important to eat your veggies for their soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber is food for gut bacteria.
To sum it all up, stop hurting your gut with bad foods and too much stress, throw in some probiotics on a regular basis to help keep your gut flora healthy, eat plenty of vegetables and fermented vegetables, and especially do all these things during and after taking any antibiotics.
Now go forth and be awesome!