Probiotics 101: Their Role in Gut Health and Immunity for the Whole Family

It’s a known fact, but it never ceases to amaze: Humans are made up of as many bacterial cells as human cells, with the bacterial cells actually outnumbering the human cells at a ratio of about 1.3 -1. Bacteria live on our skin, in our noses and ears, and most importantly, in our guts, where approximately 70% of the cells that make up our immune systems reside. The friendly bacteria in our guts breaks down and digests food, communicates with the immune system and keeps inflammation in check. Whether we are in the times of COVID, or just going through an ordinary flu season, or trying to protect our children and loved ones from germs they might pick up on the playground or commuter train, gut health is essential to the health of our immune systems. And probiotics can help.

An internal barrier

You’ve probably never thought about your intestines this way, but they are actually a protective barrier between our bloodstream and the external world. Our gut is the first line of defense against pathogens in everything we ingest and needs a strong immune system to keep us healthy. Good gut bacteria boosts the effectiveness of gastrointestinal immune cells and prevents pathogens from being absorbed while bad gut flora, like yeast and parasites, negatively effect your health and your waistline.

A delicate balance

Poor diet, medication, environmental toxins and stress can all wreak havoc on the gut microbiome. Processed foods that are high in sugar and fat and low in fiber encourage the wrong kinds of bacteria and yeast to grow. Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid-blocking drugs and steroids kill good bacteria. So do residues from pesticides, triclosan from personal care products, BPA from plastics, and heavy metals from soil and drinking water. Additionally, stress can decrease both the natural production of digestive enzymes that help you properly break down and absorb nutrients from your food and the flow of blood and oxygen to your gut, which can cause a bacterial imbalance.

So how can a probiotic help?

Probiotics are live microorganisms. When ingested, they help maintain digestive health and boost the immune system. “Probiotics can be replenished with food and supplements to maintain healthy colonization in the digestive tract,” Gargiulo says. “You should eat fermented foods regularly.” You may have turned your nose up when you saw fermented foods. Things like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles, and buttermilk. However, not everyone has a taste for fermented foods. Luckily, probiotics can be taken in supplement form.

Kore’s Immune Boost contains a unique probiotic strain, Bifidobacterium lactis (BI-04), which encourages a healthy digestive system, and kore Probiotic delivers 30 billion CFU of multiple strains of bacteria per serving. While those two products are in capsule form, kore Reds Superfood, which also contains a probiotic blend, comes in a powder with a berry flavor the whole family will love.

And what about a prebiotic?

Prebiotic foods are a food source for the good bacteria in our guts. They are rich in fiber, feed the good bacteria, fuel digestive cells, and protects the digestive tract from harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that are not easily digestible, so they pass through the digestive system to become nutrition for bacteria and other microbes. Asparagus, avocado, banana, radicchio, garlic, onion, apples and potatoes are all prebiotic foods.

Should your children take probiotics?

Prebiotic and probiotic foods are not always kid-favorites, but Gargiulo still recommends a food-first approach to improving the gut microbiome. However, if your child is suffering from intestinal issues, especially during or after a course of prescription antibiotics, you may want to consult your pediatrician about the use of a probiotic. According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics may help alleviate constipation, diarrhea and bloating in children, along with other health issues. However, most pediatric gastroenterologists also acknowledge that while probiotics are safe and may be helpful for certain ailments, more research is still needed.