Many people choose a vegan diet for health purposes, such as staving off immune disorders. Animal proteins can be harsh on the body and cause issues like diarrhea, bloating, and gas. Gut microbes like bacteria and fungi are playing a major role in your general health. Due to new technologies in the last twenty years, scientists have uncovered correlations between the trillions of bacteria in your gut, known as the microbiome, and diseases including gastrointestinal (GI) disorders like Crohn’s disease and obesity and its related metabolic disorders. Whether these links are causative or simply a result of the disease state, researchers believe that probiotics may provide effective treatments and preventative measures.
The microbiome has piqued the interest of both medical and pharmaceutical industries, but the average person should have a basic understanding of what happens within these microbial environments, too. The right tools and knowledge can help you maintain optimal health and prevent diseases.
Diet, Probiotics and the Microbiome
Your diet significantly affects more than just your weight. The specific colonies of bacteria in your gut—and entire body for that matter—strongly rely on the foods you eat. Bad bacteria flourish under harsh conditions and high pH, which is often found in the guts of humans that consume processed carbs like pasta on a regular basis. A microbial imbalance of your gut can lead to inflammation and inhibit your immune system.
However, a diet consisting of leafy greens and other functional foods, including probiotics, encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and help crowd out pathogens. Probiotics targeted for specific microbial environments can help support digestive and immune health. They are particularly important after rounds of indiscriminate antibiotics that eradicate all of your bacteria, not just pathogens.
Probiotics can be found in foods like kimchi and coconut milk yogurt with live strains. In addition to naturally fermented foods, you can also find probiotics in novel drink probiotics like GoodBelly, which contains the strain Lactobacillus plantarum 299v.
Including probiotics in your daily diet can be hard; however, you can also include probiotic supplements in your daily routine. Strains to look for include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus, but because of the fermentation process, many probiotics are not dairy free. There are companies cropping up though that do not use milk in their fermentation process and keep their probiotics vegan.
Another way you can encourage good bacteria to grow includes eating foods with prebiotics, which feed good bacteria. You can find prebiotics in supplements or in foods like garlic, bananas, and asparagus. In supplements, you can find prebiotics listed as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin.
But how do you know if your diet and probiotics are working to help keep your gut health in check? Sequencing technologies are affordable now, meaning you can test your microbiome and assess the current state of your gut health. You can monitor changes over time and create your own experiments based on diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes to help you understand what works best for your gut.
You may not realize how much control you have over your own health. Using these tools can empower you to learn more about mechanisms within the gut microbiome and how they affect your general wellbeing.