Probiotics are live micro-organisms (bacteria, yeasts) that live inside of our digestive tract that are highly beneficial for our gut health. Researchers are now concluding that 75% of our human immune system (you know, the one that fights off disease and keeps us healthy) is found in our digestive tract (aka "gut"). There is also significant research emerging that our gut health is linked directly to our neurological health and can impact whether or not we are afflicted by autoimmune disorders, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease (along with keeping our digestion, nutrient absorption and elimination strong and healthy).
We as humans house more than a hundred trillion bacterial cells in our gut, some beneficial and some harmful. It's very important to keep the balance of these bacteria or you can risk leaky gut syndrome, IBS, irregular bowel movements, eczema, candida, vaginal infections (BV, yeast overgrowth). There are some big and really simple ways to keep your beneficial probiotic residents happy and healthy:
1. Eat raw, organic, LIVE, fermented foods daily-Sauerkraut and pickles, as are mostly made in the US, are not living or fermented but you can find them made that way (Farmhouse Culture is a favorite kraut company and I love Bubbie's fermented pickles). You can also enjoy live yogurt (make sure you choose a high quality, preferably organic or grass fed brand that specifically says "live cultures"), raw kombucha, Bragg's apple cider vinegar or kim chi. Oh and it's cah-razy easy to make these items yourself! In fact, if you want to learn, I'm teaching a couple of classes on how to make live, fermented foods (check out the Services page for details).
2. Skip the probiotic pill-In my opinion, supplements are really tough to regulate efficacy. There is a huge price range and no guarantee that you are getting what they say is in there. For the price, you are better off eating a food that is clearly fermented (you can smell it or see the bubbles of anaerobic fermentation happening) or even better, making your own for maximum economical and health benefits!
3. Eat pre-biotic fibrous foods-Pre-biotics are the preferred nourishment sources for your probiotic bacteria. Easy sources of pre-biotics are dandelion greens, jicama, sunchokes, raw garlic (I use in salad dressings to chill out the flavor), onions (raw or cooked). The fibers in these foods are undigestable in our stomach so they travel all the way through to the colon where they are fermented and utilized by your gut bacteria.
4. Avoid pesticides and genetically modified (GMO) foods as much as possible-Yes, this means choosing organic (which comes with a price) but as much as you can, try to avoid foods that contain a genetically modified ingredient (basically any corn, soy or canola ingredient that isn't labeled as "organic" or "non GMO") or "conventional" produce, meat, dairy or grains. You have to decide what works for you and your budget and accessibility so do your best but pesticides and GMOs are very harmful to beneficial bacteria.
I love this article from Dr. Mercola talking more about Probiotics and the gut/brain connection: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/05/17/gut-bacteria-brain-health.aspx