Let's hear it for our little belly friendly buddies who help us keep a happy outlook on life. 

Who hasn’t seen the various yogurt commercials convincing people (especially women) that eating their particular brand of yogurt will slim down your waistline and increase your gastrointestinal fortitude? If you haven’t then count yourself lucky. If you have, it could be useful to look a little deeper.
probiotic in bellyOver that past few years, some really amazing research has come out about how pre and probiotics impact not only your gut health but also your overall physical and mental wellbeing. Yay, probiotics!!
Of course, this has also stimulated a barrage of products and marketing trends designed to get you to open your wallet. Purchasing probiotic supplements sounds like a good idea but it can be really pricey, is it worth it?
Maybe and maybe not... the truth is there is really no conclusive evidence that attempting to repopulate your gut with supplemented probiotics is helpful or even possible. First of all, it’s a good idea to know that the good bacteria that have decided to take up residence in your body are pretty much, well, homebodies. They’ve been with you since you were born and they like you and the environment that you’ve all created together. It’s also important to note that the neighborhoods they’ve created are at the same time incredibly diverse but also incredibly sensitive. Many of them can only exist under very specific conditions; so the idea that you can just grab a bus full in the form a little capsule and send them down the river to set up shop in your belly is actually a bit of a fairy tale. A nice one... but a fairy tale nonetheless.

yogurt probioticsWhy is that, you may well ask? Well, the probiotics that you purchase in the little pill are cultivated in a lab and although they may be the same strain of probiotic found in your body, the fact that they were cultivated in a lab makes it very challenging to convince them to survive the arduous journey from guzzle to gut. If they grew up in a petri dish, they tend to like to thrive in a petri dish. They aren’t really equipped to withstand the acid environment of your belly and then stake new claims in the various parts of your gut where they might feel the most at home.

So, what’s the REAL deal? The real deal is that your body is amazing and part of what keeps it amazing is the community of thousands of beneficial bacteria that live with you. Research is demonstrating that having an imbalance of gastrointestinal flora and fauna can lead to things like mood disorders, systemic inflammation, and chronic illness. Approximately, 5 lbs of your current body weight is due to your guts microbiome...which basically means ‘tiny community of bacteria”. Now before you start getting ideas about losing five pounds by wiping out your microbiome, you should know that without these little guys you would die and, in fact, as research is demonstrating, the more of the good guys you have, the easier it is to manage things like your weight and metabolic function. So, it’s a 5 pound trade-off that is well worth it.

blissful bellySo, how do you keep your gut happy and can you really repopulate the colonies that live in your body? First of all, yes, it appears there are ways to repopulate successfully; the two most effective ways according to current technology and research are eating foods that your good guys love and thrive on and a fecal transplant. Since the fecal transplant is currently only used in the direst of medical circumstances and it’s a little bit oogy to think about, I suggest going for the “eat foods that your good guys love” option. If you do end up taking an over the counter probiotic supplement, there is a small body of research that suggests that food grade supplements are a good option. The best option seems to be to eat them in fermented foods, like plain yogurts and kefirs. In a review of many of the current studies, the method of probiotic delivery was a fermented dairy product, either kefir or yogurt. Don’t worry if you are unable to consume dairy, there is also research showing that fermented coconut milk and other nut milks can be similarly effective. The caveat? Stick to the plain products without any additives; avoid sugar, carrageenan, and added thickeners. When you read the label it should just state the ingredients of the base product and the probiotics. Stay tuned to learn more about which foods work best for keeping your microbiome happy and which will be completely disruptive.