Your Second Brain: Gut Microbiota
Probiotic supplements are becoming increasingly popular. Walk down the dairy aisle and you will be flooded with probiotic enhanced yogurts, drinks, and even cheeses. Doctors are saying that we need the “right” gut bacteria to balance our digestive system. We are even being told that our gut is our second brain! Is this true? And if it is, are probiotics the intelligence behind the brain? Let’s investigate.
What is the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Prebiotics and probiotics set the stage for good bacteria.
Prebiotics enter your stomach, survive the acidic environment of a pH from 1.5 to 3.5 (a neutral pH is 7.0), and move into the small and large intestine to feed the good microbiota in your gut. This means the prebiotics actually feed the probiotics. Probiotics would not be able to do their job properly without prebiotics. But, you don’t need to look for a supplement to get some good prebiotics. They are very easy to incorporate in your diet! Foods like asparagus, leeks, artichokes, onions, chicory, endives, and yams will give your body good prebiotics to help aid the probiotics in your small and large intestine.
Now, what is this so called “second brain” ?
The gut is often referred to as the second brain because it has its own nervous system in the gut called the enteric nervous system. It is a network of millions of neurons that signal to each other as if they are in the brain in our head and they use the same chemical factors and proteins to signal to each other. So similar findings to microbes in the gut that could affect the nervous system in the gut. One interesting statistic is that microbes are required for a large proportion of serotonin synthesis and they affect neurotransmitters and neuropeptides signaling factors for neurons.
-Elaine Hasiao, California Institute of Technology
Currently, two leading European organizations are collaborating on a significant portion of research concerning probiotics. MetaCardis is a research project investigating the role of gut microbes in cardio-metabolic diseases (CMD). These discoveries will enable the development of future CMD treatments. My New Gut is a project that will “research how the human gut microbiota and its microbiome influence obesity, behavioral and lifestyle related disorders, and vice versa. It also helps to identify specific dietary strategies to improve the long term health of the population.” MetaCardis and My New Gut findings and collaborations with other organizations will set a new frontier for human health. A great resource for this progress is Gut Microbiota for Health.
What probiotics to take?
Where does this leave us?
A well balanced diet rich in microbes is the best solution. Today’s research shows that if you have a healthy gut and are not experiencing any disorders, you don’t typically need to take probiotic supplements. However, they can be helpful for travel, if you are sick, or have a specific intestinal disorder. To help you out, we found a very handy US Probiotic Guide, which helps determine what probiotic is right for you. The European Society for Primary Care Gastroenterology also has a list of 32 specific probiotics that might give you some clarity. Of course, you should always consult your doctor—but this will help guide you in the right direction if you are fighting a cold, struggling with irritable bowel syndrome, or preventing diarrhea issues from antibiotics or travel.
The Bottom Line:
A specific probiotic cannot prevent disease, but promising research is showing that it has the potential to help treat certain diseases and gut complications. While we still cannot say for certain the amount, the type, and the mixture of probiotics to ensure perfect health, we do know that a well-balanced diet, incorporating foods that naturally contain probiotics and prebiotics, will help keep your immune system strong.
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