The human microbiome is a collection of microbes – primarily bacteria – residing all over the human body. This collection of “good bacteria” is referred to as our normal flora. Our intestinal normal flora seems to get the most attention – and for good reason. The friendly bacteria residing in each of our GI tracts play an important role in metabolizing foods, absorbing nutrients, and preventing colonization by infectious bacteria. These unsung heroes also maintain the barrier of the intestinal wall preventing certain toxins from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. When our intestinal barrier is altered, and toxins are reabsorbed, our bodies inflammatory response is triggered. This low-grade inflammatory response is now being considered one of the many factors contributing to cardiometabolic disease, allergic disease, and even mental illness.
Our relationship with our intestinal bacteria is complex. It’s believed to start before we are born and continue throughout our lifetime. At a young age, exposure to the bacteria which make up our microbiome teach our developing immune systems how to function properly. Diet is considered one of the most significant contributors to the gut microbiome. A more diverse and complex diet high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and plants brings about a more diverse microbiome. Psychological stress can alter the intestinal microbiome, as well. The gut-brain connection is an emerging topic of interest to researchers and seems to be finding a place in a clinical setting when conventional pharmaceuticals seem to fail, especially for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Medications known to affect the gut microbiome include acid suppressing drugs like omeprazole (Prilosec) or ranitidine (Zantac); as well as antibiotics.
Long story short: each of us has a relationship with our intestinal microbiome that should be taken seriously. The research and medical community sure do! The National Institute of Health is funding the Human Microbiome Project – a research campaign whose mission is to understand how the microbiome impacts human health and disease. So, where does this leave us in the meantime, and what steps can each of us take to keep our microbiome thriving? Well – like the microbiome itself – this a complicated question with genetics, diet, lifestyle, stress levels, medications, and the normal aging process all factors.
From a pharmacist’s perspective, probiotics are a valuable recommendation. It’s important to note all probiotics are NOT to be treated as equal. Choosing a reputable company with a rigorous quality assurance program is the best way to ensure what you see on the label is what you’re putting into your body. Look for products which specify microbe genus, species, and strain; as well as strength, directions for use, and proper storage conditions. At Maida Pharmacy Compounding and Wellness, we’re confident in the quality of the probiotics we carry.
Below are some bullet points on different circumstances where a probiotic may be recommended.
For General Health and Wellness
For general health and wellness, use a broad-spectrum probiotic. Rotate between different strains of bacteria to diversify your microbiome. I mentioned the importance of the intestinal barrier in protecting against the absorption of inflammatory toxins. Adding a quality probiotic to your wellness routine is a great preventative strategy to maintaining health and wellness.
For Gastrointestinal Support
- What to expect: Decrease in abdominal pain, bloating, incomplete bowl movements; and increase in stool frequency.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus reuteri, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium breve
- What to expect: Reduced duration of diarrhea, reduced risk of traveler’s diarrhea.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Saccharomyces boulardii
Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- What to expect: Improvement in symptoms such as bloating and flatulence.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis
- What to expect: Increase in remission rates
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis
For Genitourinary Support
- What to expect: Faster time to resolution, increased time from cure to relapse.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus gasseri
Urinary Tract Infection
- What to expect: Reduced recurrence of UTI’s.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri
For Immune Support
Eczema in children
- What to expect: Reduced severity of eczema. Especially children with moderate to severe symptoms.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri Lactobacillus sakei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus fermentum
Respiratory Tract Infections
- What to expect: Reduced risk of infection, especially in children and college students. Reduced severity of symptoms. Reduced duration of infection.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium bifidum
- What to expect: Improvement in symptoms, especially watery eyes.
- Species to look for: Lactobacillus paracasei