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Health Wise with Crystal Han Should You Take Probiotics? You’ve probably heard a thing or two about probiotics and how great they are for you. Some people swear by their beneficial effects, while others remain skeptical. So what’s the bottom line? Do probiotics really live up to their good name? To fully understand the role of probiotics, we must first understand the role gut health plays in our overall wellbeing. Our gut is home to some three hundred to five hundred different species of bacteria, amounting to as much as one hundred trillion bacteria overall. That’s ten times more bacterial cells than we have human cells! Roughly 80 percent of the bacteria in the gut work to keep peoplehealthy, while the other 20 percent are harmful. This delicate ecosystem is what’s known as our gut microbiome. The 80/20 balance of good to bad bacteria affects many aspects of our bodies, most noticeably our digestion. Doctors have found that an unbalanced gut microbiome plays a large part in digestive issues such as constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and ulcerative colitis. Studies have shown that there is a 90 percent success rate in healing digestive issues when healthy bacteria is introduced to patients. An estimated 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut, which means that if our microbiome is imbalanced we will have a harder time warding off illnesses. People who get sick easily and take longer to recover are more likely to have more bad bacteria than good in their gut than. Often dubbed “the second brain,” our gut exerets a major influence on our moods and mental health as well. Embedded in the intestinal wall are five hundred million neurons that comprise our enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS plays an important role in the production of thirty different neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which are responsible for regulating mood. Human studies correlate a healthy microbiome with decreased feelings of anxiousness and depression. A growing amount of research shows that gut bacteria influences everything from food cravings and metabolism to how many calories our bodies absorb from the food we eat. Researchers have actually found that obese individuals had 20 percent more of a bacteria strain called firmicutes, which helps the body extract calories from complex sugars and turn those calories into fat. Conversely, lean people have 90 percent more of a bacteria strain called bacteroidetes, which help break down starches and fibers into shorter molecules that the body uses as energy. Firmicutes and bacteroidetes aren’t the only strains that can influence weight, but the point is that our gut bacteria weighs in more than we might think. Our gut microbiome is as unique as our fingerprints. Everything we do, everything we eat, influences the balance of our microbiome. When we eat an abundance of sugar or processed foods, take antibiotics, don’t exercise, or get too stressed, our good bacteria die and the harmful strains are proliferate, resulting in an array of health problems. This is where probiotics are thought to help. Taking probiotics gives our gut a fighting chance by replenishing or reinforcing the good strains of bacteria. As a general rule, they are considered safe overall for healthy people and can be found either in the form of live cultures, such as yogurt or fermented foods, or in dormant, but still living, forms such as capsules. The downside to probiotics is that they are sold as a dietary supplement and, therefore, don’t undergo the testing and approval process that drugs do. This means that it is entirely up to the manufacturer to make sure that a product is safe and performs as the label claims. The health benefits of probiotics are also very strain specific. Not all probiotic strains are useful, especially if you’re taking them to treat a specific problem, and some can interfere with certain medications. Some people can experience side effects such as upset stomach, gas, or bloating, but this usually resolves itself within a few days. Although probiotics are a promising field of research and they have been shown to have positive effects, they still require larger and longer studies of specific strains before they can be used to treat specific medical conditions. While science continues to deliberate, the fact remains that probiotics have been a part of our diets for hundreds of years. If you’re interested in improving your gut health but don’t want to take probiotic capsules, natural foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, live-cultured yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and dark chocolate can always give you the general bacterial boost you need. If you’d like to target a specific health problem, ask your doctor to help you identify the strains that would be the most useful for you. Learn More DiLonardo, Mary Jo, What Are Probiotics?, WebMD Gunderson, Melissa, 5 Ways Your Gut Bacteria Affects Your Entire Body, Bembu. com Orenstein, Beth W., The Pros and Cons of Probiotics, Everyday Health CRYSTAL HAN is a freelance writer and artist. She graduated from San José State University with a BFA in Animation/ Illustration and is an aspiring novelist, currently working on two books. 106 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY/AUGUST 2017 gmhtoday.com Health Wise with Crystal Han Should You Take Probiotics? Y ou’ve probably heard a thing or two about probiotics and how great they are for you. Some people swear by their beneficial effects, while others remain skeptical. So what’s the bottom line? Do probiotics really live up to their good name? To fully understand the role of probiotics, we must first understand the role gut health plays in our overall wellbeing. Our gut is home to some three hundred to five hundred different species of bacteria, amounting to as much as one hundred trillion bacteria overall. That’s ten times more bacte- rial cells than we have human cells! Roughly 80 percent of the bacteria in the gut work to keep peoplehealthy, while the other 20 percent are harmful. This delicate ecosystem is what’s known as our gut microbiome. The 80/20 balance of good to bad bacteria affects many aspects of our bodies, most noticeably our digestion. Doctors have found that an unbalanced gut microbiome plays a large part in digestive issues such as constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and ulcerative colitis. Studies have shown that there is a 90 percent success rate in healing digestive issues when healthy bacteria is introduced to patients. An estimated 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut, which means that if our microbiome is imbalanced we will have a harder time warding off illnesses. People who get sick easily and take longer to recover are more likely to have more bad bacteria than good in their gut than. 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