Why Probiotics Don't Colonize the Gut & How to Rebuild Your Gut Microbiome
We still have so much to learn about the world of probiotics, and superficially, how probiotics can be used therapeutically (like how we intend them to through supplementation), to provide us with health benefits.
First, let’s talk about what probiotics actually are:
"Probiotics" refer to actual microorganisms that can be taken via supplementation, or found in certain foods that are fermented.
For a microbe to be called a probiotic, it has to have the following characteristics:
Can be isolated from a human
Survives in your intestine after being eaten
Benefits you in proven ways
Is safely consumed
While there are many studies that show how probiotics can have positive influence in cases of anxiety and depression, GI concerns like IBS and IBD, and more — it may be that it’s less about these microbes actually colonizing in our guts, and more about how they’re able to have modulating effects on things like the microbial balance and immune function.
Which brings us to this idea of transient probiotics.
Transient probiotics don’t actually colonize in the gut — they are temporary visitors, providing us with health benefits as they pass through our gastrointestinal tract.
These bugs will support immune function, act as antagonists to “bad bugs,” and more, so long as we’re taking them. When we stop taking probiotics containing these strains, we don’t see them sticking around in the gut.
This is where taking probiotic formulas therapeutically while working on rebuilding your gut microbiome through nutrition, is a great way to access some gut-health support in the meantime.
Let’s explore how you can rebuild your microbiome.
How to Rebuild your Gut Microbiome
The best way to rebuild the gut microbiome is through the food that we eat! The populations of our gut microbes rely on their access to food, so they can repopulate, and be rich and resilient in their numbers.
Let’s go over a few ways you can rebuild your gut microbiome:
Prioritize Plant Diversity (and Aim for 30+ Different Plants Weekly)
Getting a wide variety of plant foods, both cooked and raw, is important to support a healthy, happy microbiome. Different bacteria prefer different plant foods, so getting as much diversity as possible will ensure you’re supporting the health of as many gut bugs as possible.
Diversity in plant foods also ensures that you’re consuming different types of fiber. Aim to get a variety of 30+ different plant foods into your week (this includes vegetables, fruit, legumes, beans, tubers, nuts and seeds).
Why 30+ plant foods? One of the largest studies done on the human microbiome - The American Gut Project - found that those who ate 30+ plant foods on a weekly basis, had a more diverse and robust microbiome. Basically, more diversity in your plant foods = more diversity in your microbiome; and more diversity in your microbiome is a really, really good thing.
30 might seem like a lot, but consider that a bowl of oats with blueberries, almond butter, ground flax, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds is already 5. And that’s just one breakfast!
“Eat the Rainbow” for Polyphenols
Eating the rainbow is another great way to rebuild your microbiome. Different coloured foods provide the body with different nutrients, and in particular, with different polyphenols. Polyphenols in particular, which are plant chemicals that give foods like blueberries and red cabbage their bright colour, can feed microbioes in your gut, helping to rebuild their populations.
Enjoy Potato Salad (AKA Resistant Starch)
No really, potato salad is a superfood for your gut. Resistant starches have powerful prebiotic effects, meaning that they feed your microbiome. Green bananas and cooked and cooled rice, or potatoes (ie. potato salad) are great sources of resistant starch, to work into your nutrition!
Incorporate Prebiotic Foods Daily
Prebiotics are dietary fibres and polyphenols that feed the good bacteria in your gut. As long as you are eating 6 cups per day of veg and fruit and getting good plant diversity (aim for 30 different plants each week!), you will be feeding your microbiome.
The following are prebiotic foods that are extra-supportive for your gut bugs. Try to incorporate these into your daily nutrition:
Jerusalem artichokes (aka. Sunchokes)
Try Prebiotic Supplementation
Getting prebiotics from food is the ideal situation. When your diet is optimized, there should be no need for prebiotic supplementation. However, certain prebiotic supplements can be helpful in when you’re rebuilding your gut microbiome.
It’s important to note that, that being said, prebiotic supplements never replace the whole food sources of these beneficial fibres!
Here are some ingredients to look for in a prebiotic supplement:
Green banana powder
Fruit and veggies (ie. Reds and Greens powders)
And Lastly.. Manage your stress
It’s called the number one killer for a reason! Chronic stress reduced digestive capacity and is associated with negative changes to the microbiome.
Looking to tools like journaling, meditation, movement, taking walks in nature, spending time with loved ones (furry friends included), etc., are great ways to help manage stress levels, which in turn help support better gut health.
This is an important area that cannot be overlooked!
To learn more about how to support good gut health through nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation, check out my “Beginners Guide to Gut Healing”