What the F*ck are Probiotics?

Over the past decade we’ve seen a huge trend in health emerge, namely probiotics and gut health. While “probiotics'' might be a term you’re familiar with, not many people understand what they are and how they work. I’ve seen a huge improvement in my health by focusing on supporting my gut, so it’s a topic I am really down to talk about. I’m going to run through some basics in gut health to help you understand why it’s so important to consume probiotics on the daily (yes, every damn day). 
 
Now you might not want to hear this but, there are hundreds of trillions of bacteria living inside you. This is known as the “human microbiome”. When we’re talking about probiotics, we are only looking at the 100 trillion of those microorganisms that reside in your digestive system. We can use the terms, “gut microbiota”, “gut bacteria” and/or “gut biome” interchangeably to specifically refer to this collection of gut microorganisms. The impact these bacteria have is far-reaching, and in many cases, can be a huge determinant of health. Personally, I’ve dealt with digestive issues my entire life and they’ve shown up in ways that are seemingly not connected to the gut. 
 
So, what exactly is the gut microbiota and how does it relate to probiotics?
 
Understanding the gut microbiota, and the human microbiome as a whole, is relatively new. Often the microbiota in our guts are explained in terms of being “bad” or “good”, which isn’t really the right way to look at things. I propose looking at these bacteria in terms of health-promoting, neutral, or disease-promoting. Health-promoting bacteria are ones that help keep your gut diverse and stable. They are the ones responsible for helping your body go about various metabolic functions such as, digestion of protein and carbohydrates and synthesis of vitamins (yes, the bacteria in our gut actually produce nutrients). The microbiota that are considered disease-promoting are only detrimental to our health when their balance is thrown out of whack. Overgrowth can occur for many reasons but is normally kept in check by our immune systems, and other strains of bacteria in the gut (think health-promoting strains). A diet high in refined sugars, low in fibre, and lacking probiotics is likely to throw off the balance of our gut microbiota over-time. When overgrowth occurs, we are likely to experience a variety of health problems that are seemingly disconnected. Mental fog, irritability, fluctuations in energy levels, joint pain and skin problems are a few of the issues I was dealing with. I dealt with this overgrowth by eating a gut-friendly diet (cutting out common allergens temporarily), and consuming probiotics on the daily. 
 
Let’s get into the real reason you’re here: probiotics.
 
Probiotics are live bacteria that help to restore and improve our gut biome. We use the term “probiotic” to refer to a bunch of different strains, or types, of bacteria. Different strains provide different benefits. For example, I like to think of probiotics as landscapers. Some strains might plant flowers, aka boost the amount of health promoting microflora, while other strains might pull weeds, aka kill-off disease promoting bacteria. Probiotics, like landscapers, essentially go in, tidy up the place and then leave. They do not take-up permanent residence in our guts, they just alter the terrain for the better. This is why it is so important to take probiotics daily. If you go a few days without taking probiotics, weeds might start growing, and the pretty flowers you planted might not get the watering they need. 
 
What does an improved gut biome do for us?
 
When I was focused on restoring my gut-health, the first changes I noticed were all digestive. The bloating, cramping and indigestion I was dealing with almost daily went away within weeks. Once my digestion started to improve, my skin started clearing-up, I felt more balanced in my mood and energy levels, and even my hair and nails started to look healthier. The effects of an improved gut-biome are so widespread because of the intricate relationship between the gut and the brain. The brain and gut microbiota communicate through hormones, the nervous system, and the immune system. Improved gut microbiota can, in a sense, improve communications. Another factor to consider is improved nutrient utilization. When you heal your gut, digestion functions the way it should. When our digestion is working optimally, we can essentially get more out of our food. This is a big part of why we see the extensive effects of an improved gut biome throughout the body. 
 
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Great, I want improved overall health! How do I get probiotics?”.
 
Supplementation of probiotics in the form of a pill or capsule is a great practise to adopt once or twice a year to really see some benefits. However, this can be expensive and, unless you’re working with a practitioner, it can be hard to know what probiotic strains are right for you. This is why I always suggest obtaining probiotics through your diet. Fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and some yogurts, are an excellent way to get a wide-variety of probiotics into your diet. Fermentation is a process where naturally present probiotics feed off of sugar, breaking it down, and multiplying as they feed. The microorganisms essentially eat the sugar. This is why you might see sugar listed as an ingredient on a fermented product, without any grams of sugar reflected on the nutrition label.
 
It is important to note that any fermented food that is pasteurized, aka a shelf stable product, or anything found outside the fridge, will not contain live probiotics. Pasteurization is a preservation technique that creates a longer shelf life. The most common methods of pasteurization use either pressure or heat to kill-off any harmful pathogens. However, pasteurization also destroys enzymes, nutrients, and, you guessed it, probiotics. Although it has it’s uses, we believe in product quality over profit. Our juices have a much shorter shelf life than conventional products but it means all the goodness stays in-tact. Unfortunately, most fermented foods will not give you a high enough dose of probiotics to see a significant change in health. Including them in your diet over-time will help to naturally support your gut microbiota but higher doses are recommended for achieving optimal results. 
 
This is where our juice comes in.
 
Since most fermented foods do not contain enough probiotics to make a significant impact on your gut microflora, Blank Slate came up with a solution. Our juices fill the gap between probiotic supplement and fermented food. We use a special fermentation technique to create a variety of strains and a high probiotic count known as a CFU (i.e. colony forming unit). To maintain the integrity of the juice flavour profile, we do not ferment the juice itself. Rather, we use kefir cultures, a cluster of probiotics, to create a potent ferment that we can add to our juices after they are pressed. This ferment is so concentrated that our probiotic juices contain 2 million probiotic organisms per millilitre. Yah, per millilitre. That means one bottle of juice contains almost a billion probiotics - the perfect daily dose. 
 
When my gut-health was at its worst I had a really hard time digesting almost anything. Juices, smoothies and soups became a huge part of my healing protocol. I like to think of these foods as almost “pre-digested”. These kinds of foods are really easy on digestion because the nutrients are much more readily available. Your stomach doesn’t have teeth, so unless you are chewing your food into a pulp there is a good chance that you’re putting some strain on your digestive system. Now don’t get me wrong, your gut is capable of dealing with some undigested food, but when you have gut issues, it is important to support your gut in every way possible. These kinds of foods, juice especially, take a lot less effort to digest. This not only puts less strain on digestion, but it allows for that energy to be directed elsewhere. Now pack a bunch of probiotics into your juice and we’re really talking. Alkalizing, probiotic-rich and easy to digest, I only wish that Blank Slate juices had been around when I was really struggling with my digestion. 
 
By, Dani
 
Danielle Wiens C.N.P.

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