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  • Sara Geiger

The Power of Probiotics: Exploring Their Impact on Gut Health and Beyond

Throughout every decade, nutrition obsessions come and go. For example, dietary cholesterol found in foods was the enemy in the 90s.100-calorie snacks were all the rage in the 2000s, then avocado and acai in the 2010s. Fast forward to the current decade, and the world’s current nutrition obsession centers around all things gut health! In other words, we have started to think deeply about the relationship between food, mood, and the little warriors living in our gut: the microbiota.



Probiotics, found naturally in food or taken as a supplement, fit neatly into the conversation around gut health. Aside from another hot wellness trend for the financially fortunate, what are probiotics really, though?


Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that can promote gut diversity and improve digestion when consumed regularly. They are commonly found in various fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, and tempeh. These foods contain strains of bacteria, commonly identified as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Having enough of these bacteria can help improve digestion, and we are learning that a bacteria-rich gut equals a happy, functioning gut.


When found in supplement form, probiotics become slightly more complex. Supplements must be approached with caution, regardless of what they claim to alleviate. All supplements, whether a powder, capsule, or liquid, are not regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to look for a brand that is third-party tested when possible.



So, let's get back to the main question here: Should you give probiotics a shot? Well, it's not a simple yes or no. It truly depends. If you're dealing with gut problems or other health issues, there's some evidence that probiotics could help, whether in food or supplement form. The key is to find the right probiotic for your specific health goal—like the right strain, amount, and how often to take it.


Eating disorders and disordered eating can take a toll on your gut health, leading to dysbiosis (more on that here!) Particularly in clients with anorexia nervosa, research is ongoing to figure out if gut microbiota alterations are occurring before or after disease onset. Genetics can influence someone’s microbiome, which further affects serotonin production through short-chain fatty acid and GABA receptor synthesis. As the writer highlights in the article, it is certainly challenging to collect diverse samples from people who will eventually develop anorexia nervosa. Behavior and metabolic response varies for each individual in the nutritional rehabilitation stage of recovery from an eating disorder. With better research, probiotics could become a staple in the recovery protocol.


Although the research is young, probiotics are being used in eating disorder recovery at the clinical level. A subtype of probiotics, called “psychobiotics,” are growing in popularity. Psychobiotics include strains of probiotic bacteria that are grouped together for the purpose of anxiety reduction and mood regulation. Similar to general probiotics, they can be found in food and supplements.


According to a review entitled, “Effects of Microbiota Imbalance in Anxiety and Eating Disorders: Probiotics as Novel Therapeutic Approaches,” Prevotella, Faecalibacterium, F. prausnitzii were observed to reduce anxiety in animal and human research. Other research describes the gut permeability and mood benefits of the combination, L. helveticus R0052 and B. longum R0175.2 After a quick Google search, I found that a popular supplement brand formulates a probiotic with these strands and Ashwagandha for stress relief. Before you go clicking away to a new tab, keep in mind that supplements are not a requirement and can even interact with medications. Contact your doctor and/or dietitian before starting anything new! They can provide recommendations for probiotics tailored to your health goals. Your dietitian can also help you find ways to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your eating pattern if that is something you are interested in.


Every day, research evolves on the correlation between dysbiosis, gut microbiota imbalance, and chronic disease symptomatology. Dysbiosis can affect disease states like diabetes, PCOS, anxiety, and more. Our physical AND mental health must be nurtured for comprehensive, preventative gastrointestinal management.


If you want more information now, Marci Evans , Jessie Hoffman , and Rachael Hartley are dietitians who are knowledgeable about digestive health! Check out the resources on their websites and Instagram accounts. Feel free to reach out to me at sara@newpathsnutrition.com with any further questions.


Citations:

  1. Dennett, C. (2019, October). Anorexia and the gut microbiome - today’s Dietitian Magazine. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1019p28.shtml 

  2. Johnson, D., Letchumanan, V., Thum, C. C., Thurairajasingam, S., & Lee, L. H. (2023). A Microbial-Based Approach to Mental Health: The Potential of Probiotics in the Treatment of Depression. Nutrients, 15(6), 1382. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15061382

  3. Navarro-Tapia, E., Almeida-Toledano, L., Sebastiani, G., Serra-Delgado, M., García-Algar, Ó., & Andreu-Fernández, V. (2021). Effects of Microbiota Imbalance in Anxiety and Eating Disorders: Probiotics as Novel Therapeutic Approaches. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(5), 2351. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22052351


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