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Probiotics for a Mighty-Microbiome and Immune Support

The gastrointestinal tract is the primary host to our microbiome—a collection of the genetic material of  the bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses and protozoa that are guests within our bodies.  In total, our microbiome likely weighs 5 pounds.  In terms of quantity of genetic material, the number of genes in our microbiome outnumbers the total genetic load of our human genome by a factor of 200!

In other words, we are more microbiome than human by a large factor.

At first glance, our microbiome may seem most directly related to digestion.  While the obvious is true, our microbiome also regulates both innate (non-specific) and adaptive (antibody-mediated) immune responses by influencing practically all types and categories of immune cells and their actions.

A healthy and diverse microbiome can help fight infection by several means: 

1) surrounding and neutralizing viruses and bacteria in the gut so as to not allow them to multiply and take over

2) interrupting the lifecycle of harmful bacteria

3) forming a protective barrier along the gastrointestinal wall thus preventing pathogens from passing into the bloodstream

4) helping to produce a vigorous immune response to systemic infection through the activation of critical immune cells and the stimulation of antibody production.

Diets high in soluble fiber that include the regular intake of fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha, while avoiding simple carbs and sugars can help establish and maintain healthy, beneficial gastrointestinal flora. Probiotic nurturing fiber is most abundantly found in high-pectin fruits like apples, avocados, nectarines, and strawberries; vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; peas, beans, and seeds; oats and other whole grains. Because sugar and carbohydrates can feed pathogenic flora in the gut, we are best to minimize their intake.

Even with a healthy diet, supplementation can be necessary. Maintaining a healthy microbiome with a good quality, balanced probiotic formula and a mindful diet can reduce our chances of getting sick and can lessen the severity and duration of illness when we are sick.

While probiotics are generally safe, bacterial overgrowth due to intake of inappropriate probiotics for your condition can lead to an imbalance that may worsen symptoms.  It is best to consult with your naturopathic physician for a more personal approach to supplementation.  During this time when we are making every effort to optimize immune function, supporting our microbiome with a healthy diet and probiotics is a foundational piece of the puzzle.

Karen van der Veer, NMD