In a perfect world, we would each have digestive tracts filled with trillions of microbes that contribute to optimal digestion, maximum nutrient absorption and the reduction of inflammation in the body. But in our modern world, many of us have a microbial balance that’s out of whack. “Historically, humans had many more bacterial species living in their gut than they do now,” says naturopathic doctor Dr. Sara Celik. “Stress, a diet high in processed foods, and antibiotics or certain medications—all part of a modern lifestyle—can disrupt the gut environment.”
If your gut lacks gut microbe diversity or there’s an imbalance between good and harmful bacteria, you could experience a range of health issues—aside from the obvious occasional gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Here’s how to know if there’s a problem and what you can do.
You constantly get sick
According to Dr. Sara, 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut. “Frequent sickness and feeling rundown can point to a gut imbalance,” she says. It may also lead to ingesting more medications or antibiotics, which can further destroy gut flora.
Your brain feels foggy
“Brain fog, difficulty concentrating and poor memory can often point to signs of an unhealthy gut lining,” says Dr. Sara. That’s because the gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve, which is a communication pathway. A damaged gut lining can cause inflammation, including inflammation in the brain.
You’re always tired
Gut bacteria aid in proper digestion. If your gut is working at an optimal level, your food will break down into nutrients that your body can absorb through the gut’s lining. “Energy levels can increase with good gut health,” says Dr. Sara, but the inverse is also true. If your gut isn’t functioning properly, you may likely feel exhausted as well.
You frequently experience yeast infections
Friendly bacteria in the gut and vagina help to fight against stubborn yeast, but if you lack the right microbes, you could become prone to yeast imbalances. This issue affects three out of four women, says Dr. Sara.
You’re prone to skin issues*
Gut bacteria protect the intestinal lining against damage. “When the intestinal lining is compromised, food that is partially digested can leak into the bloodstream,” says Dr. Sara, which can result in a range of symptoms including acne and rosacea.
You have chronic pain
A damaged intestinal lining can also mean increased inflammation, which can exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as chronic pain.
Now what can you do about it?
If you have digestive issues or any of the above health concerns, there are several changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve your gut health. Eat nutritious foods that are high in fibre (which acts as fuel for gut bacteria), make sure you get at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and stimulate your vagus nerve every single day day (“through massage, singing, deep breathing or cuddling with your cat,” says Dr. Sara).
How can probiotics help?
You can also add a probiotic supplement into your diet—especially if you have a busy, stressful schedule or eat a lot of processed foods that are low in fibre. “Probiotics are live, beneficial microbes that confer health benefits when taken in adequate amounts,” says Dr. Sara. “They are important for the gut because they can help support immune health, help with the digestion of food and support a healthy gut microbiome.”
Look for a probiotic supplement with multiple strains of live active bacteria per capsule. It helps to also have a delivery system (such as an acid-resistant capsule) that can survive the acidic environment of the stomach to arrive alive in the intestines.
Renew Life® Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion capsules are acid resistant and contain 50 billion active cultures from 10 different bacterial strains of Bifidobacterium (30 billion) and Lactobacillus (20 billion). This potent formula is ideal for anyone looking to support their digestive health and increase gut microbe diversity.
Renew Life® Ultimate Flora VS For Women 50 Billion includes 45 billion active cultures of Lactobacillus, a species chosen for its prevalence in a healthy vagina and urinary tract. As an added bonus, this species also produces lactic acid, which helps to break down dairy products (including your favourite rich cheese!).
Individual results and experiences with probiotics effectiveness will vary. Consult a health-care practitioner if symptoms persist or worsen.
*Skin – Vaughn AR et al. Skin-gut axis: The relationship between intestinal bacteria and skin health. World Journal of Dermatology. 2017; 6(4): 52-58.
*Skin – Plaza-Diaz, J et al. Evidence of the Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Probiotics and Synbiotics in Intestinal Chronic Diseases. Nutrients. 2017; 9(6): 555.
*Evidence of the Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Probiotics and Synbiotics in Intestinal Chronic Diseases