Probiotics and the Paleo lifestyle go together like almond butter and jelly. You have one hundred trillion bacterial cells in your large intestine that live together in a dynamic, cooperative community that is as unique to you as your fingerprint. To put this in perspective, consider that these bacterial cells outnumber your human cells ten to one. Your hundred trillion little friends are a boon for your body, aiding it in virtually every aspect of metabolism and health. These guys have a range far outside the gastrointestinal tract, impacting your mood, body composition, blood lipids and propensity to develop a variety of chronic diseases. Probiotics are the supplemental form of these healthy bacteria. You can find them in fermented foods and beverages - sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, etc - and also as, well, a supplement, typically in powder form.
There are dozens and dozens of reasons why having probiotics in your diet are a great idea. Indeed you could fill a book with them (wink, wink). Here are three of my top favorites:
1. Our ancestors did it: Doesn’t get much more Paleo than probiotics. Back in the day we ate a lot of fermented foods. As you can imagine, things weren’t always fresh when we came upon them, but we ate them anyway. We also inadvertently ate a lot of dirt. Soil is rich in healthy microbes and beneficial bacteria. One could say that the ecology of soil is very similar in a lot of ways to the ecology of our large intestine. If you hit up places like Whole Foods or farmer’s markets much, you’ll notice that there is a trend towards bringing a range of fermented foods back to the table.
2. Did somebody say “fiber”? Swapping towards a Paleo diet means you are going to be eating a lot of fiber...maybe more than you have in the past or are used to. One of the jobs of those industrious little bacteria is to help break down fiber in your digestive system. As such, you may be in need of more labor to handle your increased veggie and fruit intake. Many types of fiber are prebiotics, meaning that they help feed and nourish your bacteria. In return, they make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as a byproduct of fiber digestion. SCFAs are used by the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract for energy, making them a quick source of fuel. SCFAs, particularly butyrate, are also anti-inflammatory. They are powerful aids for reducing local inflammation in the gut.
3. They help you get the nutritional bang for your buck: Bacteria are busy, busy. And they are going to help you extract all of that gorgeous nutrition from that high quality food you’re eating. They bolster the manufacture certain vitamins, most notable vitamin K and certain B vitamins. Bacteria will help break down amino acids and proteins and even aid with lactose digestion. “Humanizing” nutrients and phytochemicals is also on their resume, as they make compounds from plants more readily absorbed into your human cells. Many of these phytochemicals offer protection against cancer, oxidation, stress, autoimmunity and more. Your bacteria do a fantastic job of extracting these compounds and turning them into something you can use. Probiotics enhance this entire operation.
Probiotics serve the well being of your healthy bacteria and thus your entire body. Next time you see a jar of real pickles, be sure to grab it and enjoy. I can hear the happy dance of a hundred trillion of your little buddies.