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Probiotics and Gut Health: How Important Are They?

Probiotics

Recent research shows that an unhealthy digestive system (gut) is linked to several different disease states. Maintaining a healthy gut is one of the best ways to stay healthier and can potentially help people to live longer. A healthy diet is vital to maintaining a good functioning gut, but getting daily probiotics through certain foods and supplementation is also important. Below are some common questions and answers that many people have regarding probiotics and gut health. 

What causes so many people to have an unhealthy digestive system?
First, having a poor diet is the biggest culprit to an unhealthy digestive system. Overeating, a diet high in sugar and grains, preservatives, alcohol, processed foods, inadequate fiber, and overcompensation of animal-based protein, especially hard processed like lunch meats, all contribute to bad gut health. Antibiotics can also cause our digestive system to weaken. We take antibiotics to kill infections, but it also kills the good bacteria in our gut. Finally, Cancer treatment therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy can lead to an unhealthy digestive system. 

What are some of the signs of having a poor functioning digestive system?
Excessive gas, constipation, diarrhea, the infrequency of bowel movements (everyone should poop at least once per day), and a frequent upset stomach. 

What does having a poorly functioning digestive system do to us?
A poorly functioning digestive system can cause leaky gut syndrome. This is where the intestinal lining develops perforations and causes toxins to leak out of your intestines into your body. 

Other diseases linked to a poor functioning gut are, Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Multiple Sclerosis, general body inflammation as well as obesity.

What can we do to improve our gut health?
Over the past several years, there has been significant research done on the digestive system and the positive effects of probiotics. The results of this research are definitive and clearly show that probiotics are more likely to act to produce substances that inhibit the bad bacteria that contribute to diseases. Probiotics have been shown to enhance GI mobility and function, strengthen your immune system, help digestion and nutrient absorption, help with cellular signaling (function), reduce Ulcerative Colitis and IBS, prevention of infection, reduce or eliminate atopic eczema, some liver disease, help assist in the reduction of cholesterol and improve behavior in individuals with Autism. 

What is the best way to get probiotics, supplementation, or through diet?
To maintain optimal digestive health, we need to regularly consume probiotics, as research shows that the benefits decrease if you stop taking them. Probiotics are found in a limited amount of foods, so supplementation is necessary unless you eat these specific foods daily. 

Foods with probiotics: 

  • Kefir: This is dairy-based, so this can be difficult for people with lactose sensitivity.
  • Kimchi 
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Miso 
  • Kombucha: Make sure to check the sugar content as many of these delicious drinks are high in sugar. 
  • Yogurt: Stay clear of plain yogurt as it tends to be VERY high in sugar. 

Purchasing probiotics
This can be a bit challenging to know what is the best type of probiotic, partly because the supplement industry is unregulated.

Things to look for when purchasing probiotics 

  • Try to identify brand quality 
  • Heigh CFU count, 15 Billion to 100 Billion 
  • Strain diversity- 10 to 30 different strains 

Like everything, not every brand of probiotics is suitable for everybody. If the probiotics you’re taking give you side effects, such as gas, try another brand. Another thing to look for in probiotics is prebiotics. Some probiotics contain these, which is a good thing. Prebiotics feed the probiotics, so they are beneficial. 

To conclude, probiotics are a crucial part of having a healthy digestive system. By adding in a supplement or eating more of the foods listed above consistently, you are more likely to have a healthy gut and less chance of diseases.


Michael Staszak has been an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist for the past 27 years. He is the owner of Staszak Physical Therapy & Wellness Center in Eugene. He and his staff believe that the more people understand how their bodies work and learn proper body mechanics, the less likely they are to become injured again. With this commitment to patient education, Michael provides wellness articles and presentations for businesses and community members. He also has a passion for nutrition and how it affects our physical health.

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