This post is inspired by two good friends who just had a beautiful baby (Congrats guys!) We were having dinner and the topic of gut flora came up and sparked me to share a little info for new and expecting mothers and fathers regarding gut health.
We’ve all been told that a good probiotic can be beneficial to us, but how much do we actually know about how the gut microbiome develops? Most of us will blindly say “I need more beneficial bacteria in my gut therefore I’ll take these probiotic pills”. While this does hold some truth, it’s not the whole truth nor is it a definite statement.
The truth is that the microbiome (community of pathogenic organisms) is so complex that we’re still learning about its functions and its effects on the body. I’ll break one myth right off the bat. It’s false to assume that we have an infinite number of strains of bacteria that we could find in a bottle, ingest and inoculate our body with. Its not that simple. At least not yet.
Our gut microbiome and subsequently our immunity is determined at birth. Here’s a quick rundown…
- The gut microbiome is a post-natal organ. Just like any other organ in our body, it has metabolic functions and has the ability to develop until the age of 3. The first microflora is given to the child via the rectal and vaginal canal of the mother. Thereafter, the next exposure to beneficial bacteria is made through the nipple and skin of the mother.
This makes a case for new mothers to avoid a C-Section when possible. Babies who were birthed via C-section may not see the effects of a compromised gut microbiome until later in life.
- Breast milk produces an oligosaccharide (a kind of indigestible carbohydrate that is fermented by the gut microflora). This is the baby’s first introduction to a prebiotic. For anyone not familiar, a prebiotic is food for our beneficial bacteria. This indigestible fiber is used to feed the gut bacteria of the baby.
I’m often asked what the best baby formula is? My answer. Breast milk. You can’t find it at Whole Foods and it’s never on sale and that’s ok because it’s free! Awesome joke right? I’ll go home now…
- Bacteria have developed a bad reputation over the years and in response, most children are being raised in an environment that’s too hygienic. Of course, lets not go over board and throw our little one into the downtown streets and say “be free”, but mothers should be more open to allowing their children to have their immune system and flora stimulated and challenged. This extends into the adult population as were also far too hygienic for our own good.
The takeaway? Lets not be too quick to grab the disinfectant cleaners every time the little ones play with their toys. Play in the dirt!
Okay, we’ve all learned that the gut microbiome is this organ that develops until the age of three and its development is determined by initial exposure from natural birth and supported by this prebiotic substance that breast milk produces. If you’re an adult now and weren’t able to reap the benefits of a natural birth and breast milk then you’re probably sarcastically saying “Thanks Mom”.
At the end of the day, circumstances may cause us to grow up with a less than optimal gut microbiome but we’re not all doomed. As I mentioned before, research is still concurrent and looking for new ways to strengthen our gut micorbiome. From what we know so far, probiotics aren’t the sole answer to all our problems but studies have shown positive effects to probiotic supplementation and a solid diet.
We won’t necessarily be able to create new strains by ingesting a pill, but we can create an environment for weak strains of beneficial bacteria to flourish again. There’s even some evidence to the possibility of inoculating new strains into our body from fecal matter transplant (yes, that means putting strains up your butt via pill), but research is still young and the dangers of bacterial transplant are still not fully known.
With this all being said, I am a fan of probiotic supplementation and have had good results with probiotics. Since bacteria is so unpredictable it’s hard to measure the amount of bacteria in a bottle of kombucha or sauerkraut, but we do know they have a variety of strains in them (probably even more than the average probiotic supplement). As of right now I’m simply allowing myself to consume a variety of fermentable foods and supplementing with a reputable probiotic (when needed) while trying my best to avoid household disinfectants and avoiding antibiotics when they’re not necessary.
Get more probiotics and prebiotics in your diet via:
Probiotic Food Sources: Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Yogurt, Kefir (Coconut Kefir if dairy free), Natto, Miso Soup.
Prebiotic Food Sources: Artichoke, Asparagus, Beans (if tolerated), Any Leafy Greens (Kale Spinach, Chard), Onions, Garlic.
Stay tuned for a part 2 where I'll go through specific brands for supplementation and possibly a recipe for a fermented food.