Let’s talk probiotics & the microbiome

All this talk about probiotics, what exactly are they? Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in your gut, fermented foods, and even supplemental form. The Food and Agriculture Organization defines probiotics as, “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amount confer a health benefit on the host.”² My fascination with the potential benefits of probiotics began in Microbiology class my junior year of college. Discovering that our bodies are made up of trillions of microorganisms, which actually outnumber the amount of human cells by 10 to 1, solidified my thoughts on the significance they could have on our health.¹

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Bacterial distribution by body site. This figure shows the distribution by body site of bacteria that have been sequenced under the HMP or are in the sequencing pipelines. Image sourced from NIH Human Microbiome Project.³

Benefits of a healthy microbiome:

Microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and algae. All of the microorganisms that live inside of our bodies make up what is called our microbiome or some may call our microflora. The National Institutes of Health recognized that this microbiome may impact our health therefore, they began the Human Microbiome Project to research the topic further in 2007.

A healthy gut flora (microbes in the GI tract) is known to:

  • Help prevent pathogens (bad microbes)
  • Aid in digestion
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Play a role on immune function

Evidenced-based reviews have indicated that probiotics may aid in treatment or prevention of:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Vaginal infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Clostridium difficile infection (causes diarrhea)
  • Diarrhea
  • Recurrence of bladder cancer
  • Eczema in children
  • Crohn’s disease
  • H. pylori bacterial infection (causes ulcers)

There is still a large need for more research on the subjects above. What we do know is that consuming probiotic-rich foods are safe. Probiotic supplements found in pill form are not regulated and do not require mandatory testing for quality and safety. Therefore, it is best to consume probiotics in your food.

Probiotic-rich foods:

  • Yogurt (look for live cultures listed under ingredients)
  • Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Kombucha (fermented tea)
  • Tempeh (fermented soy beans)
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Aged cheese

When consuming probiotics keep in mind that you want to also consume prebiotics. Prebiotics are types of fibers which include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides. That’s a lot of big words but to put it simply, they are fibers found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These fibers provide nutrients for the good bacteria in your gut i.e. you want probiotics + prebiotics = optimal gut flora; another win for fiber!

So check out this recipe for a synbiotic (containing both pre- & probiotics) meal!


  1. NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body. Published August 31, 2015. Accessed November 7, 2018.
  2. Eatrightpro.org. (2018). Probiotics. [online] Available at: https://www.eatrightpro.org/news-center/nutrition-trends/foods-and-supplements/probiotics [Accessed 7 Nov. 2018].
  3. NIH HMP Working Group, Peterson J, Garges S, et al. The NIH Human Microbiome Project. Genome Res. 2009;19(12):2317-23.


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