By: Stacy Peterson, MS, CNS, CHHC, CSCS
Put simply, probiotics are friendly germs that help to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and aid in digestion, in addition to a wide variety of therapeutic effects. Consuming these beneficial bacteria regularly from foods, such as medicinal yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut, or through proper supplementation is strongly suggested as these bugs don’t stay in the gut permanently.
Simple things, like aging, a high-sugar diet, disease, drugs, lack of exercise or excessive exercise, and stress can cause the gut bacteria to be unbalanced, which can lead to unwanted health concerns.
How do you know if you might need supplementation from a probiotic verses consuming probiotic rich foods regularly? Usually those who have established disease-producing microbes are in need of probiotic supplements. Also, be sure to keep in mind that not all probiotics are created equal as different strains have been shown to provide distinctive health benefits in the body. Consult a healthcare professional or functional nutritionist to see what route is best for you.
In the meantime, here are 5 health and performance promoting benefits of probiotics, helping to get and keep your gut, health, and performance on track.
1. Improved Energy
Probiotics help to improve the absorption of B vitamins, proteins, fats, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. When we experience fatigue in the body, high levels of immune cells are directed against the toxins given off by unhealthy gut bacteria.
Having digestive symptoms, like abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, diarrhea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, gas, and acid reflux can mean that you have a “leaky gut,” in addition to an imbalance of microbial flora.
2. Increased Immunity
And for those active parents, please note that kids who consume a probiotic-rich diet have fewer and shorter fevers, runny noses and coughs, in addition to less school sick days and needing fewer antibiotics. Probiotics provide an added benefit for mom and dad who want to minimize their chances of getting sick, have limited days off work, and want to help keep their exercise routine on track.
3. Anti-inflammatory Activity
Probiotics decrease your body’s own production of inflammation-producing compounds, lowering inflammation in the gut, and throughout the body.
Leaky gut (i.e. intestinal permeability), results in loose tight junctions within the gut lining of the small intestines. These tight junctions are supposed to be tight, forming a barrier between the inside and outside of the digestive tract. Many factors can be attributed to leaky gut, such as autoimmune diseases, dysbiosis, and inflammation within the intestines. When leaky gut occurs, inflammation cause havoc on the body leading to further inflammation and a heightened immune response, throwing the body further off balance.
4. Improves Overall Well-being and Mood
Since we have a bidirectional communication system between the brain and gut called the brain-gut axis, consuming a daily probiotic has been show to significantly improve depression, anxiety, and anger. In addition, probiotics lower levels of cortisol, something that many of us can greatly benefit from! This also takes into account adults that are considered healthy individuals. Chronic stress can negatively change the microflora diversity in an individual’s gut, but by consuming quality, health promoting bacteria the mental health and well-being has been shown to be improved.
5. Combats Obesity and Diabetes
Research has shown important links between the health of our gut and excess body fat. Consuming probiotics improves metabolic conditions, including obesity and diabetes. Thus, it is strongly recommended that you consume probiotics that have been shown to be health promoting to help keep your weight in appropriate ranges for you.
In a nutshell…
It is important to choose the right strain for the health concern you are wanting to improve. For instance, someone who is constipated with a long gut transit time would need a proven probiotic that speeds up their gastrointestinal transit time. Or someone who has ulcerative colitis needs a proven probiotic that limits the inflammation and addresses the specific concerns in the colon.
Unfortunately, there is no one strain that demonstrates all of the therapeutic aspects for total health. Specific strains can be necessary and beneficial throughout a healing process, however for the general individual who does not experience any of these above signs and symptoms, it is important to get a variety of bugs from probiotic rich foods, all that have been shown to be critical to our health.
Thus, finding the right strains for your specific needs is critical to ensuring optimal health.
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4. Szajewska, H., Ruszczynski, M. & Radzikowski, A. 2006. Probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Pediatr, 149, 367-372.
5. Lakhan SE, Kirchgessner A. Gut inflammation in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Oct 12;7:79.
6. Vulevic, J., Drakoularakou, A., Yaqoob, P., Tzortzis, G. & Gibson, G. R. 2008. Modulation of the fecal microflora profile and immune function by a novel trans-galactooligosaccharide mixture (B-GOS) in healthy elderly volunteers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88, 1438-1446.
7. Daveson, A. J., Jones, D. M., Gaze, S., Mcsorley, H., Clouston, A., Pascoe, A., Cooke, S., Speare, R., Macdonald, G. A., Anderson, R., Mccarthy, J. S., Loukas, A. & Croese, J. 2011. Effect of Hookworm Infection on Wheat Challenge in Celiac Disease – A Randomised Double-Blinded Placebo Controlled Trial. PLoS One, 6, e17366. PMID
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In mid-November I surprised myself by taking on the task of tackling my very own ultrarun, which consisted of 50-miles of enjoying trails, crossing rivers and running side by side with my best friend. It wasn’t as big of a task as Will’s 100-mile ultra that he completed earlier this year (more details about that below) as 50 was plenty for these swimmer feet.
Running an ultra was something I never strongly desired to complete, but those who know me know I like a good athletic challenge from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy running. However, usually I stick to the marathons and shorter distances – you can’t keep these gills out of the water too long!
It was a day I will never forget – Will and I side by side enjoying our time together, the journey and beautiful day as it unfolded.
It was an interesting east coast fall day (which in looking back felt like three races in one). We started the 6:30am run with cool 40-degree temperatures where roughly the first 15 miles consisted of fun rolling hills along the single lane moderately rocky Appalachian Trail before dropping down along the C&O canal and running beside the river. Our nutritional intake throughout the day was key to ensure we kept a steady and consistent pace. As the morning became afternoon the weather reached a high of 73 degrees before quickly taking a turn. The final third of the event consisting of 30 mph gusts of wind, hail, freezing rain, wet rain and chilly 30-degree temperatures as we tackled the final rolling hills to the finish line.
Throughout the 50.2 mile “U” shaped point-to-point adventure we carried gloves, beanies, a rain jacket and extra leggings for potential cold weather, and we were sure glad we had them! Will loves running in the cooler temperatures, but at mile 35 as the strong cold gusts of wind blew right through us and pellets fell from the sky, we happily put on our extra layers.
Flash back several years…
One of the many joys Will and I share is training outdoors in the beautiful wilderness. With Will’s strong love of running and enjoying the vast terrain Mother Nature has to offer, training for and competing in the 100-mile event was a huge success, though it was definitely not for the light-hearted. It covered 24,000-feet of elevation gain throughout the Santa Ynez Mountains in Los Padres National Forest overlooking Santa Barbara – an impressive task, and a task done extremely well.
But things haven’t always run so smoothly for our bodies. Though in looking back at where Will used to be, he never imagined that completing 100-miles was in his future. Yes, Will has run many marathons, 5-6 in a year some times. Though those marathons were performed along with taking anti-inflammatories to get him through his marathons – a tale tell sign that something was not going well in his body. It wasn’t the amount of running or mileage he was doing that gave him the unwanted symptoms, but the improper nutritional intake that didn’t allow his body to perform and recover as it should have.
As the years have passed we’ve researched evidence-based publications, listened to our bodies and performed studies on ourselves (n=2), allowing us to learn what works individually and enables us to take our performance to a whole new level.
Listening to your body’s signs and symptoms is essential as it allows you to better understand that “something’s up,” thus be able to do something to improve the situation.
Frequently I have clients come to me because they’ve found themselves wanting to feel better and attain individualized health goals. Some are reaching for an afternoon caffeine boost to try to get them through the rest of the day, some are taking antacids for heartburn, and then there are some individuals who are trying to limit their joint pain by taking anti-inflammatories, can you relate or know of anyone who does?
By listening to your body, and taking the appropriate steps, getting to the root cause(s) of your signs and symptoms it helps tame the inflammatory storm occurring from within and allows you to perform better, and with more joy!
“I used to take 1,000 mg of Motrin before, during and after the race and still have knee and occasionally ankle pain. The post race celebration consisted of gobbling down Motrin and a victory beer.” ~ Will
The high impact of running continuous hours on challenging trails with rocks, steep terrain and uneven surfaces can increase an individual’s chance for injury. Let alone the great need for constant energy sources that are easy on the digestive system and limit the inflammatory impacts that can negatively impact his body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. Without key nutrients it places an increased amount of stress on the body, specifically on the already hardworking muscles, joints and organs. Biochemical reactions occur in the body to fuel the body and continue running in an energized and happy state.
So, what have been key nutritional aspects to help fuel us?
Throughout training we greatly limited and eliminated pro-inflammatory foods that were causing damaging to our bodies. Here are just a few of the foods we focused on:
What about throughout the race? Here are a few foods we enjoy during ultra-endurance events:
Remember, one person’s food can be another person’s poison. We are individuals with different biochemical genetic make-up and lifestyle stressors, so being sure to listen to your signs and symptoms – it can help a smooth functioning body. If your body is showing a sign or symptom that is not of good health, being sure to look at the factors in your life, in addition to food, is critical to help heal your body from the inside out.
And not only is nutrition key, but ensuring that your daily movement is properly devised is greatly important too! A training regimen needs to be correctly planned, no matter the distance, such as an ultrarun, marathon or a 5K, strength training plan, stretching regimen, or anything of the like. Running or any type of training program should be carefully plotted to help limit injuries and allow for maximum performance.
Maybe you’re wanting more energy to be more active throughout life and in workouts? If so, then wanting more energy is a must read for more information what steps you can implement today.
What are your 2017 healthy and active goals? I’d love to hear from you.
PS - Wanting new recipe ideas? Follow me on Pinterest for some yummy and creative ideas.
Whether it’s for sports performance or for daily life activities, energy is needed for the body to perform tasks. However, what if it just wasn’t as simple as consuming the carbohydrates, proteins and fats to give us the support and energy output that we desire?
Maybe you’ve experienced a time in your life where you felt like your energy levels were just not up to par? Or possibly you, or a loved one, have experience with one or more of these symptoms:
Unfortunately, the list of mitochondrial dysfunctions is long and growing.
So, where’s the connection between energy and mitochondrial dysfunction? Let’s first take a step back and discuss what mitochondria are.
Mitochondria consist of small subunits located in every cell in the human body, except mature red blood cells. It takes about 3,000 genes to make a mitochondrion (i.e. one mitochondria), of which only 1,000 of the 3,000 genes are designed to make energy, known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). From the outer layer of our skin to the deep organs, muscles and bones, mitochondria allows the body to function by providing energy to the body. The main role of mitochondria is to transform food and oxygen that enters the cells into useful energy. About 90% of the body’s energy is generated by these amazing mitochondria.
Thus, mitochondria are our powerhouses!
An image of our beautiful mitochondria.
Mitochondria do not only provide our bodies energy by breaking down fat, protein and carbohydrates we eat and drink, mitochondria are also necessary for many other critical tasks, such as:
Just by examining the above few items, it is clear that looking at mitochondria primarily as energy converters is an over simplification of what these powerhouses can ultimately do!
So, what else do we need aside from good carbohydrates, proteins and fats to ensure we aren’t crashing and in need of an afternoon pick-me-up?
In order to maximize our energy potential throughout the day our mitochondria need micronutrients, such as water-soluble vitamins and trace elements, to produce ATP. When these critical factors are depleted within the body it can lead to a reduction in aerobic capacity, in addition to many chronic diseases, damaging our mitochondria.
To heal an individual’s mitochondrial function we need to look at the bio-individuality of the whole person and understand where the root cause is occurring. Here are a few must do’s that will enable you to get jump-started toward improving your energy and function of your mitochondria. Be sure you:
Give your body the tools is needs today, and every day going forward, to live it's best. Which step(s) do you plan on implementing today?
PS - Wanting new recipe ideas? Follow me on Pinterest for some yummy and creative ideas.
Hello, my name is Stacy Peterson, licensed Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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