Your intestinal flora: As unique as a fingerprint
We consist of bacteria—for 90% We have many different types of micro-organisms in our intestines. Some stay permanently while others are just passing through. Diet, but also the complex interplay between genes, biological, physical, psychological, social and environmental factors, determine the composition of the intestinal flora. The latter is therefore continuously changing although at any one time, the composition of the intestinal flora is as personal as a fingerprint! Intestinal flora = Microbiota The entire intestinal flora is also known as the microbiota. This arguable organ made up of microorganisms is increasingly seen as the control center of the human body, for its impact is not confined to the digestive system. Effects rather extend far into the body and there is a strong relationship between proper levels of diversity of intestinal micro-organisms and their host’s overall health. A traditional view of the human body is that of a collection of human cells. In reality, we are actually a composite organism: an ecosystem. Micro-organism and human parts work together in making us (as all mammals) super-organisms. Do not disregard your little helpers: they are very important for your biology. Maintaining your intestinal flora You can do many different things to achieve, and maintain, an adequate microbiota. The most commonly used methods include the adjustment of nutrient intake (that is, dietary fine-tuning) or the taking of nutritional supplements. (Less common, but effective, is a fecal transplant.) You can use prebiotics or probiotics or both. To make an impact on this extraordinary and complex ecosystem you do need dietary supplements with sufficient strength and the greatest possible diversity in composition. Probiotic supplements The strength of probiotics is indicated by the number of germs and the diversity in the number of different strains of micro-organisms. You have an effective product if both variables are substantial. Whether a single specific bacterial strain, or a handful of bacterial strains, is capable of affecting the vast ecosystem that is the intestinal flora, remains an important question. Intestinal flora = ecosystem = rainforest We still lack elementary knowledge about our microbiome. But if we have to name a comparably complex ecosystem, we would probably not be far off in citing a rainforest. Here, thousands of species of trees, flowers, plants, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects subsist and coexist under one warm and wet roof. Can planting one particular flower on the ground alter the ecological balance? Maybe. But it is much more likely that this one change remains local, limited to a tiny section of rainforest. Prebiotics: "Manure" for your gut For prebiotics it is important that you take adequate bulk per day with a low probability of flatulence. Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) do the trick. They are considered as the ultimate prebiotics, also because they simply promote more favorable bacterial growth than do other prebiotics. But for prebiotics diversity is equally important, because different fibers are selectively consumed by particular groups of bacteria. So make sure of a good variety of different types of fiber in your diet and use supplements if you need something extra. Biodiversity is key Prebiotics act as a natural fertilizer for the micro-organisms. If you feed the latter well they grow better and they remain "healthy". Greater biodiversity in an ecosystem virtually always results in better performing and more stable communities. In exchange for prebiotic fibers, bacteria and yeasts produce bioactive substances such as vitamins, fatty acids and neurotransmitters. This is the basis of our symbiotic handshake. OK. But which product to choose? Strictly speaking you do not have to choose between pre- or probiotics, as a combination of the two is most effective. This is known as synbiotics—a term you may have encountered already and which you'll probably hear more and more of in the future, certainly in connection to pre- and probiotics. A good probiotic supplement, such as fermented kefir capsules, contain a complementary mix of billions of beneficial microorganisms representing many different strains. Add in a good prebiotic supplement (such as GOS) and you are fully optimizing the impact on your intestines. Effective starter’s protocol Week 1: - Fermented kefir 1 capsule at breakfast + 1 teaspoon GOS. - 1 fermented kefir capsule at dinner Week 2: - Fermented kefir 1 capsule at breakfast + 1 teaspoon GOS. - 1 fermented kefir capsule at dinner + 1 teaspoon GOS. Week 3: - 1 fermented kefir capsule at breakfast + 1½ teaspoon GOS. - 1 fermented kefir capsule at dinner + 1½ teaspoon GOS. Week 4: - 1 fermented kefir capsule at breakfast + 2 teaspoons GOS. - 1 fermented kefir capsule at dinner + 2 teaspoons GOS. Because the composition of the intestinal flora is so individually unique and mutable, personal experiences with synbiotic combinations will vary. A diet with lots and different types of nutrients and fiber is the basis of a healthy intestinal flora. In case you are bothered by flatulence, start at lower doses of GOS and slowly increase them.