Microbiome - a word we are hearing more and more, and for good reason. But what is the microbiome? In simple terms, the microbiome refers to communities of microbes - mostly bacteria, but also fungi and viruses - that are both beneficial (symbiotic) and harmful (pathogenic). These microbes live on and inside our bodies, primarily on our skin, as well as in our respiratory, reproductive, and digestive tracts and together make up our microbiome. Interestingly, just like fingerprints, every human has a unique microbiome.
The microbiome is one of the body’s most complex and important systems, and it plays a significant role in human health and wellbeing. While there are many aspects of the microbiome we are still trying to discover, our understanding of how these microbes work in synergy and symbiosis with our bodies is expanding every year. Gut health in particular is now known to be essential for overall health, influencing everything from mental health and digestion to inflammation and immune response. These seemingly unrelated processes all have to do with how our microbiome functions together in what is known as the gut-brain-heart connection.
The gut microbiome is still developing during childhood, so ensuring that your child maintains a good balance of microbiota is essential for their optimal health, now and in the future. While much attention is given to probiotics, both pre- and probiotics work together within our bodies. A holistic approach to supporting our families’ microbiomes, including a balanced diet and supplementation where needed, is key for lifelong health.
Finding Balance: Strategies for Supporting the Microbiome
The old adage that kids should “eat a pound of dirt” seems to have gone out of fashion, as indicated by far fewer hours of outdoor play, soil depletion, and more stringent sanitation, hygiene, and housekeeping practices over the last century. While some of these practices have certainly improved our health in many ways, they may also be contributing to depleted microbiomes on and inside our bodies, negatively affecting our overall health. Becoming aware of what can either support or inhibit the microbiome is the first step toward bringing it into balance.
What supports a healthy microbiome?
Generally speaking, the healthier your microbiome is, the healthier you are! Try incorporating these strategies to support optimal gut health:
- Spend time in nature, especially walking barefoot in the soil.
- Move your body. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to positively influence gut microflora.
- Improve digestion with mindful eating (e.g. sitting at the table, focusing on eating, slower chewing, etc.)
- Increase your intake of fermented foods to encourage growth of microbes and introduce new ones.
- Nourish the gut mucosa with healing bone broth.
- Eat a healthy, fibre-rich diet (see below for more details and suggestions).
What to avoid
Our daily lives can be stressful, and we all sometimes struggle to find balance! Try to limit these factors whenever and wherever possible to support both your microbiome and overall wellbeing:
- Reduce sugars and artificial sweeteners, as they may promote overgrowth of yeast and bacteria.
- Prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety has been associated with reduced microbiome diversity. Yoga and meditation may be helpful.
- Physical stress, such as chronic sleep deprivation or vigorous exercise, has been shown to reduce beneficial bacteria and increase harmful strains.
- Environmental pollutants in the air, water, and your food can negatively impact gut health.
- Antibiotics, while important in fighting infections, also kill beneficial bacteria, resulting in an imbalance. Limit personal and agricultural use (e.g. in many commercial dairy, eggs, and meat products) wherever possible.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics (And Why We Need Both)
Though they sound similar (and despite working together) prebiotics and probiotics are indeed different. Probiotics are products that contain specific strains of beneficial bacteria, whereas prebiotics act as food for these bacteria - and what you feed your microbiome is essential for its health. Both are important for maintaining a balanced microbiome.
You are what you eat! Prebiotics are the variety of foods that nourish and support your microbiome. Certain foods in our diet consist of plant fibre that we are unable to digest, but survive in the gut to feed bacteria through a fermentation process. In addition to feeding beneficial bacteria, prebiotics aid in the absorption of calcium and other nutrients, help regulate blood sugar, and support the body cells that line the gut.
Most people (including children) are lacking in dietary fibre. However, research shows that even a small increase in fibre intake can increase helpful bacteria in the microbiome. Try incorporating more of these foods into your diet to support your gut health:
- Whole grains
- Flaxseed and chia seeds
- Starchy fruits and vegetables (especially apples, berries, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, onions, garlic, broccoli, greens)
- Nuts (especially walnuts and pistachios)
Take care to slowly increase your fibre intake to give your body time to adjust and avoid digestive upset. Prebiotics can also be found in supplement form.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics contain live organisms ( “good” bacteria) and work to increase the population already in your gut. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet is a great way to support your microbiome. Try adding in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and pickles. Supplements are also available with specific strains of bacteria that have been shown to be beneficial for various health issues, such as IBS and other digestive issues, as well as boosting the immune system.
Synbiotics: Working Together for Optimal Gut Health
Synbiotics are supplements that contain both prebiotics and probiotics, working in synergy to give your microbiome what it needs in one product. The term itself comes from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and biotic, meaning “pertaining to life.”
Research has shown that probiotics may encounter “survival difficulties” while moving through our digestive tracts, and may not make it all the way to the colon feeding on the prebiotics we have consumed in our diets. A synbiotic supplement that carefully combines prebiotics with live probiotics can improve the viability and growth of the microbes when consumed. As such, because probiotics need prebiotics to survive, it is essential to have just the right balance of both in a supplement.
Choosing the Right Synbiotic Supplement
In addition to supporting our microbiomes through healthy diet and lifestyle choices, synbiotic supplements make it easy and convenient to fill the gaps and help maintain your family’s microbiome.
To keep mom and dad healthy, we recommend the Kyo-Dophilus Pro+ Synbiotic for intestinal balance and immune support*. This berry-flavoured chewable tablet combines a carefully selected prebiotic and a community of nine probiotic strains, including The Friendly Trio® - a clinically studied proprietary blend of human strain Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2. For your children, start them on the right track for a lifetime of good gut health with Kyo-Dophilus Kids vanilla-flavoured chewable tablets. As an added bonus, neither of these supplements need to be refrigerated, making them a great solution for busy families!
With so many options for supporting gut health, it is important to remember that not all supplements are created equally. Some contain unnecessary sugars, fillers, and other ingredients that may influence their efficacy. It is a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider about your specific concerns to choose both bacterial strains and a dosage that works for you.
For more information, or to talk to an expert about all things microbiome and probiotics, visit probiotics.com.
This article is for informational purposes only. This is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Since its establishment in 1972, Wakunaga of America Co., LTD has played a unique role in promoting consumer health worldwide through the research, development, manufacturing and marketing of high quality medicinal herbs and dietary supplements. The corporate philosophy of Wakunaga centers on a commitment to research and a mission to serve public health. This mission is accomplished by providing products of the highest quality, which are supported by science. Brands include Kyolic AGE, Kyo-Dophilus Probiotics and Kyo-Green Superfoods.