Tag Archives: probiotics

The Decline of Probiotics in a Germophobic World (part 2)


 Ponder the above statement for a minute. What does it mean exactly? Essentially that humans are actually made up of 90% microorganisms and only about 10% human cells.

How can that be, you might ask? Because humans evolved to live symbiotically with microorganisms. We provide them with food and shelter, and they in turn help us digest components of our food that we lack the enzymes to digest ourselves. They also synthesize certain vitamins, help regulate our immune systems, and prevent invasion from harmful microorganisms that can make us sick12. Their survival is dependent on us, and our survival is dependent on them. When the balance of good germs and bad germs is thrown off, the result is termed intestinal dysbiosis1.

How do these microorganisms get inside of us in the first place?

We inherit our gut flora from our mothers. Babies in the womb are completely sterile, meaning that they have no gut flora at all3. As they pass through the birth canal they “pick up” microorganisms that are present in their mother’s vaginal tract (which is representative of the microorganisms present in her gut)9. This could be why babies that are born via cesarean section have been found to have higher rates of asthma, allergies, obesity, coeliac disease, and diabetes than babies who are born vaginally8. Recent research has also linked cesarean deliveries to an increased rate of autism but it is unsure yet as to whether c-sections raise the chances of having a child with autism or if giving birth to a baby predisposed to autism raises the chances of requiring an emergency c-section4. Babies who are born vaginally and exclusively breastfed have also been found to have more “beneficial” gut microbiota compared to babies who are born via c-section and formula-fed8.  Now that doesn’t mean that if your baby was born via cesarean he or she will be doomed to develop some sort of illness. It just means that you need to ensure your baby develops a healthy gut flora via other methods (breastfeeding, eating fermented foods, and staying away from antibiotics unless absolutely necessary).

Breastfeeding and its role in developing healthy gut flora

 Breastfeeding helps babies’ immune systems “learn” to be tolerant to different foods and things in the environment to avoid allergic reactions8. Breastmilk also contains prebiotics12 which help the probiotics in the baby’s gut flourish.  If you are unable to breastfeed there are now many probiotic formulas available to promote good gut health in your baby. Even women who breastfeed are not necessarily passing on the best probiotics to their babies unless they themselves have good gut health (although they will still pass on many other molecules that are crucial to developing healthy gut flora). Babies can be given probiotic foods when they start weaning to introduce more “good germs” into their bodies. They will also naturally pick up germs from their environment, which is good for their gut flora.  Just as long as you don’t over-sanitize everything in their environment. 

Newborns and small infants should however be kept away from sick people since their immune systems are still developing (sick people harbour pathogens, the harmful kind of microbes that you don’t want invading your baby’s body). 

What is happening to our gut health?

 The cumulative overuse of antibiotics across multiple generations is resulting in our children lacking healthy gut flora1. Add to that the negative effect that birth control pills and vaccinations have on our gut flora, and its no wonder that we seem to be getting sicker and sicker. Each generation is passing on less beneficial microbes to the next. There are scientists who are studying and saving microbes found in fecal samples from people living in the amazon and villages who have had little to no contact with the modern world and also have not contracted our modern diseases3. The hope is that some of the beneficial microbes that have gone extinct in our bodies can one day be salvaged from those people and reintroduced into our bodies to protect or even cure us of our modern diseases3. If you are interested in reading more about how and why beneficial microbes are going extinct and why they are so important, I highly recommend this book by Dr. Martin Blaser.  

What happens when we don’t have good gut health? 

The beneficial microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract directly affect the immune system, therefore the absence of “good germs” in the gut can lead to inflammatory diseases due to a lack of regulation of the immune system11. Microorganisms in the gut also influence how a potentially toxic environmental chemical is metabolized by your body (if its absorbed or excreted)7.  Basically, good germs in your gut can protect you from bad chemicals.  Antibiotic use has even been linked to coeliac disease10  which infers that the bacteria in your gut are crucial for proper digestion of food. It is very likely that antibiotics alter gut flora to the extent of causing disease.

So what does all of this research mean?

It means that we need to be more conscious of nurturing the trillions of “good germs” in our bodies that have such a profound impact on our health. We need to be mindful that when we get vaccinated and take antibiotics or other medications, we also need to restore the good germs that may have been lost. In order to maintain optimal health we also need to maintain the health of all of our microfriends living inside of us. This is where probiotics and prebiotics come in (read more about them in my previous post here).

All of the above information DOES NOT mean that we shouldn’t get vaccinated or take antibiotics and other medications when necessary. Without them, infectious diseases would still be the number one cause of death in humans as it was prior to their invention. We just need to be aware of the effect that they have on our gut microbiota and take measures to reverse that effect. So if you get bronchitis and have to take antibiotics, follow up with a round of probiotic supplements or increase the amount of fermented foods in your diet. The same logic applies to other medications and vaccinations.

For pregnant women, probiotic foods are a must and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining a healthy gut during pregnancy. Babies who have gut dysbiosis from birth are essentially immunocompromised and will react differently to vaccinations and antibiotics or medications than babies with healthy gut flora. Any medical intervention can end up being the straw that breaks the camels back when it comes to already immunocompromised infants and children, possibly resulting in disorders like asthma, diabetes, autism, obesity, coeliac disease, and others.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am in no way saying that the above listed illnesses are caused by medical interventions. I am saying that they can be triggered by them in babies and children who are already immunocompromised due to gut dysbiosis.  Those medical interventions are necessary and can be life saving.

Think about it this way; if children with gut dysbiosis can be triggered by certain medical interventions, that’s not to say that avoiding them completely will prevent them from being triggered. Those children can also be triggered by a virus or environmental exposure to a toxic chemical, basically anything that their immune system is not equipped to handle. So avoiding medical interventions isn’t the answer, it will only delay the onset of illnesses and disorders that some children are bound to contract as long as their gut microbiota are unbalanced. The answer is to heal their immune systems by healing their guts.

Or, if possible, give them the best start in life by ensuring they are born with healthy gut flora so that they don’t need to be healed in the first place.

I wish I had known all of this when I was pregnant as I could have possibly prevented a lot of my daughter’s “gut issues” (acid reflux, gas and overall stomach discomfort, irritability, poor eating habits) that caused her to be such a fussy baby. I’m grateful that I at least know it now so I can work on balancing her gut microbiota by feeding her plenty of fermented foods. Hopefully this post will help other parents recognize their children’s gut issues. And even better, I hope it will reach expecting mothers who may have unbalanced gut flora themselves, so that they can fix the imbalance before delivery to ensure that their babies have healthy guts from birth.

There are studies that show a correlation between good gut flora and having older siblings, possibly due to daily exposure to germs from other kids. However, I have my own theory as to why children with older siblings are more likely to have healthy gut flora compared to first-born or only children:


1. Blaser, Martin J. Antibiotics Overload Is Endangering Our Children. Time.com. 5/9/2014, p1-1. 1p

2. Blaser, Martin; Bork, Peer; Fraser, Claire; Knight, Rob; Wang, Jun. The microbiome explored: recent insights and future challenges, Nature Reviews Microbiology. Mar2013, Vol. 11 Issue 3, p213-217. 5p. DOI: 10.1038/nrmicro2973

3. Blaser, Martin J. Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. Holt. 2014. 288p

4. Curran, E. A., O’Neill, S. M., Cryan, J. F., Kenny, L. C., Dinan, T. G., Khashan, A. S. and Kearney, P. M. (2014), Research Review: Birth by caesarean section and development of autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12351

5. Dong, H., Rowland, I., Tuohy, K. M., Thomas, L. V., & Yaqoob, P. (2010). Selective effects of Lactobacillus casei Shirota on T cell activation, natural killer cell activity and cytokine production. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 161(2), 378-388. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04173.x

6. Dotterud, C. K.; Storr, O.; Johnsen, R.; Øien, T. Probiotics in pregnant women to prevent allergic disease: a randomized, double-blind trial. British Journal of Dermatology. Sep2010, Vol. 163 Issue 3, p616-623. 8p. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09889.x

7. Holtcamp, Wendee. Gut Check: Do Interactions between Environmental Chemicals and Intestinal Microbiota Affect Obesity and Diabetes? Environmental Health Perspectives. Mar2012, Vol. 120 Issue 3, pA123-A123. 3/5p.

8. Isolauri, Erika. Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health. Development of healthy gut microbiota early in life. Jun2012 Supplement, Vol. 48, p1-6. 6p. DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2012.02489.x

9. John Penders, MSca, Carel Thijs, MD, PhDa,b, Cornelis Vink, PhDc, Foekje F. Stelma, MD, PhDc, Bianca Snijders, MScb, Ischa Kummeling, MScb, Piet A. van den Brandt, PhDa, Ellen E. Stobberingh, PhDc. Factors Influencing the Composition of the Intestinal Microbiota in Early Infancy. PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 2 August 1, 2006 pp. 511 -521 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-2824)

10. Mårild, Karl; Weimin Ye; Lebwohl, Benjamin; Green, Peter H. R.; Blaser, Martin J.; Card, Tim; Ludvigsson, Jonas F. Antibiotic exposure and the development of coeliac disease: a nationwide case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2013, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p1-9. 9p. 1 Diagram, 2 Charts. DOI: 10.1186/1471-230X-13-109

11. Round, June L.; Mazmanian, Sarkis K. The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease. Nature Reviews Immunology. May2009, Vol. 9 Issue 5, p313-323. 11p. 3 Diagrams, 3 Charts. DOI: 10.1038/nri2515.

12. Wallace, Taylor C; Guarner, Francisco; Madsen, Karen; Cabana, Michael D; Gibson, Glenn; Hentges, Eric; Sanders, Mary Ellen. Human gut microbiota and its relationship to health and disease. Nutrition Reviews. Jul2011, Vol. 69 Issue 7, p392-403. 12p. 2 Charts. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00402.x.


The Decline of Probiotics in a Germophobic World (Part 1)

In today’s germophobic world it may be difficult to understand the concept of good germs. We have become so fixated on sanitizing everything and washing our hands frequently to get rid of “bad germs” that we have forgotten about “good germs” and their benefits.

Overuse of cleaning products and antibiotics have wiped out the good germs as well as the bad1, and the result is an increasing number of people with unhealthy gut flora. Gut flora is the term used to describe the microorganisms that naturally occur in your intestine. These “germs” do not make you sick but instead help you digest your food and also provide some protection against “bad germs”.

In developed countries children receive an average of 10-20 courses of antibiotics by the time they are 18 years old and there is evidence that not only do their gut flora fail to recover completely but they may also be replaced by unwanted microorganisms1.

This doesn’t mean that antibiotics are bad. Without them we would still be living in a world where common bacterial infections were life threatening. We do, however, need to stop overusing antibiotics.

The best way to help our guts recover after taking antibiotics is to replenish the good germs in our gut with probiotics.

Probiotics have been found to reduce intestinal permeability and increase insulin sensitivity which is hopeful for future diabetes prevention and management3. Multispecies probiotics (meaning a combination of different strains of bacteria and other microorganisms) have been proven to be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome7.

There is evidence that the microorganisms in your gut also affect your behaviour and can impact stress-related disorders in either a negative or positive manner, depending on the composition of your gut flora2.

An imbalance in gut flora has also been associated with an increased susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease)6 and obesity4.

Reading all of the research related to antibiotics and altered gut flora was a huge eye-opener for me. I used to be a very healthy child who rarely needed to visit the doctor. As I got older (into my teenage years) I started to eat A LOT of junk food and less healthy food which made me more susceptible to colds and illnesses. I was prescribed antibiotics quite often (looking back I probably did not need them half of the time). By the time I was in my 20’s I started having uncomfortable stomach symptoms after eating certain foods that I could previously consume with no discomfort. Eventually I ended up becoming sensitive to dairy and will now get a stomach ache after drinking milk or eating ice cream (yogurt does not pose a problem for me).

If I had known then what I know now I would have only taken antibiotics when I really needed them (when I had something like bronchitis or a sinus infection, not just cold-like symptoms). I also would have eaten plenty of probiotic foods after each course of antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria in my gut.

So what are probiotic foods? Basically foods that have had a chance to ferment under the right conditions with or without the help of a starter culture (usually bacteria or yeast), until a different food has been created (ex. cucumbers–>pickles). The most popular and well-known probiotic food is yogurt. Other probiotic food and beverages that are popular are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kombucha (a fermented tea/tonic), kimchi (a spicier pickled version of sauerkraut), miso (fermented rye, beans, rice or barley), kefir (fermented goat milk and kefir grains), and pickles.

Store-bought yogurt and other fermented food products can contain extra sugar and sometimes other additives to enhance flavour or extend shelf life. To avoid unwanted sugar and additives it is a good idea to make your own. This may seem daunting at first but once you start fermenting your own foods it will become a breeze and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. If you would like to give it a try check out my personal yogurt recipe here.

If you simply don’t have the time to learn how to make your own yogurt then at least try to buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and/or sweeteners.

Personally I eat homemade yogurt every day and so does my toddler, but I wanted to enhance our gut health even further by adding more fermented foods to our diet. I recently tried making my own fermented applesauce (you can find the recipe that I used here), and not only did it turn out wonderful, it is kid-friendly as well (my toddler loves it!). My next goal is to try my hand at making sauerkraut.

When eating probiotic foods bear in mind the following:

1. Heat kills bacteria, even the good kind. Just as cooking food helps get rid of any undesired bacteria that could make you sick, heating fermented foods will kill the desired probiotics. If you fermented your food using sterile dishes and containers then the good bacteria that you added in should be able to ward off any bad bacteria that may try to invade.

2. If you see slime or mold in your fermented food or it looks pink, don’t eat it. Sometimes the fermenting process can go wrong and you may end up with mold or bad bacteria in your food, in which case it is harmful to ingest. So if it doesn’t smell or look right, throw it away.

3. Letting your food ferment for too long can result in alcohol formation. If you don’t refrigerate your food after it is done fermenting, the microorganisms will keep on fermenting which will eventually result in an alcoholic food or beverage. This is more likely to happen when making Kombucha so always do a taste test to make sure you have not made alcohol, especially if you are giving fermented foods to kids. Refrigeration drastically slows down the fermentation process but it does not halt it completely. So if you have had that fermented applesauce in your fridge for a month, taste a little yourself before giving any of it to your children.

4. Probiotics need prebiotics to thrive. So in addition to eating probiotic foods you also need to eat prebiotic food in order to keep your gut microorganisms happy. Prebiotics are plant fibers that can be found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

For more detailed information on the health ramifications of an unhealthy gut flora, stay tuned for part 2!


1. Blaser, M. Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature 476, 393–394 (25 August 2011) doi:10.1038/476393a

2. Cryan, J. F.; O’Mahony, S. M. The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behavior. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. Mar2011, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p187-192. 6p. 1 Diagram. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x

3. Corado Gomes, Aline; Bueno, Allain Amador; de Souza, Rávila Graziany; Mota, João Felipe. Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutrition Journal. 2014, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p82-107. 26p. 1 Diagram, 2 Charts. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-60.

4. Fukuda, Shinji; Ohno, Hiroshi. Gut microbiome and metabolic diseases. Seminars in Immunopathology. Jan2014, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p103-114. 12p. DOI: 10.1007/s00281-013-0399-z

5. Holmes E, Li JV, Athanasiou T, Ashrafian H, Nicholson JK: Understanding the role of gut microbiome-host metabolic signal disruption in health and disease. Trends Microbiol 2011, 19:349–359.

6. Luckey, David; Gomez, Andres; Murray, Joseph; White, Bryan; Taneja, Veena. Bugs & us: The role of the gut in autoimmunity. Indian Journal of Medical Research. Nov2013, Vol. 138 Issue 5, p732-743. 12p.

7. Yoon, Jun Sik; Sohn, Won; Lee, Oh Young; Lee, Sang Pyo; Lee, Kang Nyeong; Jun, Dae Won; Lee, Hang Lak; Yoon, Byung Chul; Choi, Ho Soon; Chung, Won-Seok; Seo, Jae-Gu. Effect of multispecies probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Jan2014, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p52-59. 8p. DOI: 10.1111/jgh.12322