Probiotics for Gut Health: Getting to Know Your ‘2nd Brain’ & Treating it Right

Apr 02, 2024Contributing Editor

Let’s start exploring this topic by reminding you of an expression you’ve very likely heard many, many times so far in your life. “Go with your gut." It's very likely you know the meaning of the expression – that you should do what you’re innately being told to do, following your assumption on what’s the best choice of action. But what about taking it quite literally – what does your ‘gut’ have to do with the source of your ‘instinct’? Turns out, that going with your gut is not just a random and nonsensical association at all. This understanding makes as much sense as it does to supplement with quality probiotics for gut health. Read on to find out more about gut health and probiotics. 


What is probiotics? 

Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. This definition, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasizes several key aspects:

  • Live microorganisms: Probiotics must be alive and viable to exert their beneficial effects. Dead bacteria do not qualify as Probiotics
  • Adequate amounts: The dose of probiotics is crucial for them to work effectively. Different strains may require different dosages, so following recommended levels is important.
  • Health benefit: Probiotics should provide a tangible benefit to the host's health, not just simply exist in the body.
  • Host: This definition covers benefits across various hosts, not just humans. Probiotics can be beneficial for animals, plants, and even other microorganisms.


Why is Gut Health significant?

Gut health is incredibly significant for overall well-being, impacting far more than just digestion. Here's why:

  • Gut Function: Your gut breaks down food, absorbs nutrients, and eliminates waste. A healthy microbiome ensures efficient digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Immune Support: About 70% of your immune system is in your gut. A balanced microbiome acts as a first line of defense, producing compounds to fight infections and regulate inflammation.
  • Mental Wellness: The gut-brain axis connects your gut and brain. Imbalances in the microbiome are linked to mental health conditions. Maintaining gut health supports emotional well-being and cognitive function.
  • Chronic Disease Link: An unhealthy gut linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. A balanced microbiome may help prevent or manage these conditions by reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity.
  • Overall Health Impact: Beyond specific functions, gut health influences energy levels, mood, sleep, and skin health. Maintaining a healthy gut enhances vitality and overall well-being.


How is the Gut-Brain Connection characterized?

Our gut and brain have a tight two-way chat, called the gut-brain axis. Microbes talk to the brain via the vagus nerve, influencing mood, hormones, and even cognition. It's a complex, personal conversation with big health implications, from digestion to mental well-being. By caring for our gut, we nourish both mind and body.


The 'Second Brain': Enteric Nervous System (ENS)

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS), often nicknamed the "second brain," is a complex network of neurons embedded within the walls of your digestive tract, from your esophagus to your rectum. It's quite literally a brain in your gut, and it's responsible for some pretty essential functions.

Imagine a vast network of tiny brains lining your entire digestive system, all working together to control the amazing feat of transforming food into fuel for your body. That's essentially what the ENS does. It's responsible for:

  • Digestive contractions: The rhythmic muscle movements that propel food through your gut, known as peristalsis, are orchestrated by the ENS.
  • Secretion of digestive juices: The ENS controls the release of enzymes and acids needed to break down food for absorption.
  • Nutrient and fluid absorption: The ENS fine-tunes the process of extracting nutrients and water from your food as it passes through your intestines.
  • Blood flow regulation: The ENS adjusts blood flow to different parts of your digestive tract depending on their needs.
  • Gut immune function: The ENS plays a crucial role in regulating your gut's immune response, helping to protect you from harmful pathogens.

While the ENS operates largely autonomously, it's not completely independent. It communicates with your central nervous system (CNS) through the vagus nerve, a major highway of information exchange. This two-way dialogue allows your gut to influence your mood, emotions, and even cognitive function, and vice versa.

Think of it like this: your "first brain" in your head is the CEO, making high-level decisions and sending out directives. But the ENS, your "second brain," is the efficient COO, managing the nitty-gritty operations on the ground in your gut. Together, they form a powerful team that keeps your body running smoothly.


Importance of Probiotics for Gut Health

Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiome. These tiny organisms play a crucial role in our overall health, influencing everything from digestion and immunity to mood and brain function. Among these gut residents are the probiotics, live bacteria that offer a multitude of health benefits.

Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria is essential for optimal gut health. When harmful bacteria outnumber beneficial ones, an imbalance called dysbiosis can occur. This imbalance has been linked to various health conditions, including:

  • Digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression


Probiotics work by:

  • Crowding out harmful bacteria: They compete with harmful bacteria for space and nutrients, making it harder for them to thrive.
  • Producing beneficial substances: They produce lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. They also produce other helpful substances like vitamins and short-chain fatty acids, which benefit gut health.
  • Strengthening the gut barrier: They help strengthen the intestinal lining, making it more difficult for harmful bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream.
  • Boosting the immune system: They stimulate the immune system, helping the body fight off infection and inflammation.

Here are some of the specific benefits of probiotics for gut health:

  • Improve digestion and nutrient absorption: Probiotics can help break down food more efficiently, leading to better digestion and nutrient absorption. This can be especially helpful for people with digestive problems like IBS.
  • Reduce diarrhea: Probiotics are effective in preventing and treating diarrhea, both antibiotic-associated diarrhea and traveler's diarrhea.
  • Relieve constipation: Some strains of probiotics can help regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation.
  • Reduce inflammation: Probiotics can help reduce inflammation in the gut, which is beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other inflammatory conditions.

Probiotics can be found in a variety of foods and supplements. Some of the best food sources of probiotics include:

  • Yogurt, especially with live and active cultures
  • Kefir, a fermented milk drink
  • Kimchi, a fermented Korean cabbage dish
  • Kombucha, a fermented tea drink
  • Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage
  • Pickles
  • Tempeh, a fermented soybean product
  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste

Probiotic supplements are also available in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids. It is important to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement that contains live and active bacteria.

While probiotics are generally safe for most people, it is important to talk to your doctor before taking them, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.


Being Good to the Gut with Loving Lactobacilli 

Considering the connection between gut health and brain health, it's crucial to be proactive in caring for both. Probiotics play a significant role in maintaining a healthy gut, and supplements like Natural Factors Critical Care Probiotic and New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora can offer targeted benefits. Take steps today to support the well-being of both your gut and brain through the use of probiotics.


FAQs About Probiotics for Gut Health

  1. Q: Can I get probiotics from food alone?

A: While foods like yogurt and sauerkraut contain probiotics, supplements like Natural Factors Critical Care Probiotic ensure a consistent and concentrated dose.


  1. Q: Are probiotics safe for everyone?

A: Generally safe, but consult your doctor, especially if you have underlying health conditions.


  1. Q: How soon can I expect results from taking probiotics?

A: Individual responses vary, but consistent use over weeks may show improvements in gut health.


  1. Q: Can probiotics help with mental health conditions?

A: There's growing evidence linking gut health to mental well-being; probiotics may contribute positively.


  1. Q: Are there specific probiotics for children?

A: Yes, certain probiotic supplements are formulated for children, ensuring their unique needs are met.

Other Resources

For those who are curious, want to expand their knowledge, or just like keeping informed, here are some links to sites that you might like. These online resources come from institutions that hold a sterling reputation for their expertise and stringent standards for relevant information.

Mayo Clinic - Digestive Health Section

Mayo Clinic is renowned for its authoritative health information, and its section on digestive health provides comprehensive insights into probiotics and gut health.


Harvard Health Blog - The Gut-Brain Connection

Harvard Health Blog is a trusted source, and this article delves into the intricate relationship between nutrition, the gut, and mental health.


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

As a Canadian organization dedicated to digestive health, CDHF provides reliable information and resources related to maintaining a healthy gut.


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