People asking questions about probiotics know that a probiotic
can be helpful and just want to know how to choose one and what is a good bacteria count. You can probably find a couple of hundred decent probiotic formulas and each one has its philosophy. From what I have read, the probiotics you take as a supplement do not actually grow and populate your intestines. Instead they direct traffic for the 500 or so different species of bacteria and yeasts that are working together in their own symbiotic relationships that have that ever so important impact on your overall health pattern.

The combination of bacteria and yeasts in your intestines is now referred to as the microbiome. It has gathered enough attention that the federal government began a human microbiome project (HMP) in 2008 with a budget of $115 million. This project became feasible due the human genome project as techniques were developed to quickly and efficiently sequence the DNA for people and of course we can use those same techniques for other life forms too. This is handy because most of the things that thrive in the intestines or other parts of our bodies won’t grow at all on a petri dish medium. Until we had these DNA sequencing techniques we had no idea who was really there. The human microbiome project isn’t just concerned with the gut as the microbiota is also important on the skin, mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, vagina, bronchi and lungs.

When we add up all the microbial cells and compare that number to then number of human cells, the ratio is about 3:1, that is 1 of three cells in and on our bodies is human. We really are an ecosystem. You may see a ratio of 10:1 reported but that estimate appears to be too it high.

Over 190 peer-reviewed articles have been published from the HMP through 2012.

Some surprises from the project include:

  • Microbes contribute more genes responsible for human survival than humans’ own genes. It is estimated that bacterial protein-coding genes are 360 times more abundant than human genes.
  • Microbial metabolic activities; for example, digestion of fats; are not always provided by the same bacterial species. The presence of these activities seems to matter more.
  • Components of the human microbiome change over time, affected by a patient disease state and medication. However, the microbiome eventually returns to a state of equilibrium, even though the composition of bacterial types has changed.

It would appear that we have a lot to learn about the microbiome but that doesn’t mean we can’t work to optimize it with some tools that we know about today. For example, foods that are favorable to a healthy human/microbiome interaction include things like mother’s milk for babies, raw apple cider vinegar, apples, herbs like dandelion root or chicory root etc. I will talk more about these in part two of this series.

We are in the business of health here at OVitaminPro and are happy to sell you supplements that will help move your health in the right direction. We would be remiss if we suggested that you could just add some probiotics in supplement form and fix everything. A good probiotic supplement will help move your health forward but will be pretty useless in the face of a fast food/junk food diet.

Over the years we have experimented with expensive and mid-priced probiotics. We settled on the mid-priced ones as really didn’t see the benefit in spending too much money. Of course the cheap ones tend to be cheap for too many reasons so these are best avoided. We have learned to trust brands that we know are working hard to do a good job for you and not trying to sell you a crappy product with a professionally designed label.

Next time we will talk more about specific diet strategies to help your microbiome and make some specific brand recommendations.