BioHack Your Gut (2 of 2)

Let’s talk about a little something called probiotics. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard of them from a health nut friend that is trying to convince you to eat the next new funky fad of health in fermented foods. Or maybe you’ve noticed these fermented food ads or noticed them popping up in your grocery store aisles kombucha, kefir, kimchi etc. But, really, what are they?

Probiotics are the tiny microbes that you have in and on your body. That’s right, you’re not alone! Wherever you go you have these tiny hitchhikers tagging along for the ride. This has been happening since the day you were born and you are even getting some new comers climbing aboard you right now as you touch your smartphone or computer as you scroll through and read this blog post! Creepy, right? But not all microbes are bad. Everyone has trillions and trillions of these little microbes on their body and most of the time they are the good guys.  

The term probiotics comes from the Greek origin meaning, ‘for life’. In fact, you have 1000 times more microbes in your gut than stars in the Milky Way galaxy! So many that you actually have two times more bacteria in your gut than human cells (wow!). On top of that, your little microcosm in your belly is even more complex than the macrocosm that you live in. Basically you have several ecosystems living inside of you, almost like a separate planet for microbes. That’s why scientists have dubbed the collection of the probiotics in and on you a microbiome (MY-croh-BY-ome). A ‘biome’ means a collection of living organisms in a given ecosystem and, in this case, micro means your body’s set of ecosystems! And just like the arctic tundra or a tropical rainforest, each ecosystem has its typical suspects of unique species of plants and animals. The unique ecosystems of your body (ie your mouth, skin, lung, armpits, gut, etc) have their own unique set of probiotic species. This ecosystem varies from person to person - we’re all unique!

Your gut’s microbiome has its own set of specific species of healthy bacteria that we call microbiota. It is a variety of about 150 different unique species. Yet it can change over time and pull from a total species pool of over 1200. Talk about a diverse ecosystem! In the April 2011 issue of Nature, Peer Bork announced that there are approximately 3 groups of microbiota in humans called enterotypes. They are not significantly related to your age, gender or race like one would think. In fact, your gut microbiota is probably more similar to someone in Germany than your relatives or neighbours here in Canada! They are mostly influenced by long term dietary habits and can change depending on what you feed them over a period of time. So, it makes sense that when your diet changes, so does your gut enterotype. You are what you eat.

This fantastic microbiota in your belly is essential for your wellbeing. Your friendly gut bacteria enhance your immune system by producing cytokines that communicate with your immune cells as well as prevent disease causing bacteria from taking over your gut. Even neurotransmitters normally found in the brain, like GABA and Serotonin, are produced by your gut microbiota. These neurochemicals and immune biochemicals travel through the blood or  communicate via the vagus nerve to directly communicate with your brain. It’s no wonder that this microbe-gut-brain-axis affect your mood, cognitive abilities and even inflammation in the brain like in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The next time your health nut of a friend offers you some probiotics from fermented foods, take them up on their generosity and enjoy the health benefits of keeping your gut and body healthy!

Check out Part 1 of the Bio Hack your Gut series here.