What really are probiotics? They are beneficial bacteria that perform an amazing number of functions in our bodies, mostly in the intestines but really anywhere the body has contact with the outside world. Beneficial bacteria produce antibiotics, anti-fungal, and antiviral substances. Healthy gut flora protect us from carcinogenic and toxic substances by neutralizing them or “grabbing them” and carrying them out in the stool. These bacteria actually produce the B and K vitamins. Probiotic bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. plantarum, L. salivarius, L. rhamnosus, L. reuteri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, B. longum, B. infantis and S. thermophilus.
Hippocrates, father of medicine, wrote about 2500 years ago that all disease begins in the gut. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride says, “I have never met and adult or child with so-called mental conditions who did not have digestive problems.” Digestive health cannot happen without healthy well-functioning gut flora. Beneficial bacteria provide a barrier against toxins entering our bloodstream. Probiotics can help improve or cure ADD, dyslexia, allergies, digestive disorders like IBS, asthma, eczema, ear infections, chronic cystitis, candida, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, arthritis, diabetes, depression and other mental disorders. Eighty percent of the immune system is in the intestines. And (this is my favorite) 60-70 percent of serotonin, one of the feel good “brain” chemicals, is made in the gut.
There are many causes for unhealthy and out of balance gut flora: antibiotics, contraceptives, and steroids to name a few. Equally devastating are modern junk food, high carb diets, and the modern stressful life. The gut can also be damaged by stress. Have you ever had digestive upset when stressed? Don’t feel like eating? That’s the neural tissue in your gut telling you that it’s not doing well. There is even evidence that when we are under extreme stress the gut becomes more damaged, increasing psychological symptoms and food allergies.
Probiotics can be taken in pill form but these are often ineffective and/or very expensive. Every traditional culture includes probiotic fermented foods. The fermented food that we are most familiar with is yogurt, but there are many many more: sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles (not just cucumbers, but also beets, carrots, green beans), fruit chutneys, raw cheese and other dairy products, salami and pepperoni. There are also lots of probiotic beverages like kombucha, kefir, kvass, herbal drinks like ginger ale, and unpasteurized beer and wine. This article offers 20 ways to include fermented foods in every meal. Many of these are now available in health food stores, although making them at home is very easy. Here is my recipe for sauerkraut that even sauerkraut haters love.
A few years ago I was horribly depressed and my life felt really unmanageable. I started drinking beet kvass because someone recommended it for more energy. After a couple of weeks I realized that I was feeling grounded and centered in a way that I never had before. I had not just physical energy but mental and spiritual clarity as well. I was able to change some things in my life that really needed changing and felt functional in a way that I hadn’t in a really long time.
Probiotic foods are among the most important tools for gut healing and all the health and happiness that comes along with that. They are definitely worth getting to know.