Probiotics and a Healthy Gut Ecology

Probiotics seem to be the new “in” thing to say you’re doing. Problem being that most of us don’t really even understand what they are – much less where to get them – or how to keep them – in your gut!

Or – for that matter – why you would even want them in your gut!

Here’s why:

Probiotics – the “good” or “beneficial” bacteria in your gut do all sorts of things, like:

  • Boost your immunities.
  • Inhibit or destroy toxins released by certain “bad” bacteria that can make you sick.
  • Prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut wall and growing there.
  • Produce B vitamins necessary for metabolizing the food you eat, warding off anemia caused by deficiencies in B-6 and B-12, and maintaining healthy skin and a healthy nervous system.
  • Produce substances that help prevent infection.
  • Promote digestive health overall.
  • Regulate the movement of food through your system.
  • Send signals to your cells to strengthen the mucus in your intestine and help it act as a barrier against infection.
  • Even prevent allergies.

Amazing, right?!

In your intestine there are actually LOTS of bacteria that have set up house. The goal is to have a balance between the good bacteria (probiotics) and the “bad” bacteria/yeast. And just so you know – it is entirely possible for the bad bacteria and yeast to basically overtake the world and bring things crashing down all around you. It can go from being an inconvenience on one end of the severity scale to actually becoming life threatening on the other end of the severity scale. It’s nothing to be trifled with.

So how do you get probiotics in your body? How do you get them to do all of that good stuff for you?

The best way to establish a probiotic rich environment in your gut and to get that probiotic colony to thrive is to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your diet DAILY. They include things like:

  • Fermented foods – you want the stuff that’s in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.
    • i.e., the stuff like sauerkraut (I like OlyKraut here in the PNW – OR – make your own! So easy – and SO yummy! We’ll cover how to do that later in the spring when the cabbage in my garden comes in, okay?);
    • Kim chi;
    • Pickles – again, the kind that you find in the refrigerator section of the store.

Remember – you do not want the shelf stable stuff that’s been heat processed (pasteurized) – because, of course, heat processed = sterile – no more probiotics alive!

  • Quite a few dairy products have live cultures of probiotics in them:
    • Bulgarian buttermilk (which has the probiotics Streptocococcus Lactis and Lactobacillus Bulgaricus added to it) – I seriously love this stuff – I use it to make ranch dressing, dips, etc.
    • Organic Yogurt and Greek yogurt – have you tried making Dill Weed Dip with a plain Greek Yogurt in place of the Sour Cream if you’re trying to boost your protein intake?
      • Look for trusted brands like Nancy’s, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, Mountain High, etc.
      • Look for yogurt with live, active cultures. In the U.S., yogurt is required to be produced by fermentation with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, two starter cultures. As long as the yogurt is not heat treated after fermentation, the yogurt should contain high numbers of both of these bacteria.
    • Cultured Sour Cream, Cultured Butter, and Cultured Cottage Cheese – the possibilities are fabulous with cultured dairy – and these are just a few of the options! Believe me – if you love butter, you NEED to get your hands on some cultured butter! Plus – it’s not that hard to learn how to culture these things yourself.
  • Miso (soup, paste, etc.) is also a nice probiotic rich food;
  • Soft fermented cheeses – like cream cheese, Gouda, chevre, etc.
  • When you make Home Made Mayo – guess what?  Probiotics can be introduced there, too!  (What good DS’er doesn’t love mayo?!)
  • Kefir and kombucha both are very probiotic rich drinks that you can find to purchase, but are also very easily made – and tailored to your particular tastes – at home;
  • REAL sourdough bread – i.e., the stuff made with a starter;
  • And tempeh – although if you have thyroid issues, beware the soy based items.

Also good to know – prebiotics help feed probiotics – the good bacteria – they include things like honey, asparagus, legumes, bananas, etc. Look for products that contain both pre and probiotics. When prebiotics are added to foods, you’ll see the following terms on the ingredient label: fructooligosacchariedes (FOS), inulin (a type of FOS) or galactooligosaccharides.

So what’s trick to getting them to work?

What makes it all “work” or “not work” really has to do with whether or not you’re giving those probiotics a place to live where they can settle in and make themselves to feel at home – like they want to stay. If you’re not, it’ll be sort of like inviting guests over for a month, but then kicking them out after 24 hours.

And of course, the part that post-ops don’t want to (a) hear, (b) held responsible for, or (c) deal with – is the fact that the bad bacteria can take over the world (of your gut/life) if there is chronic dehydration going on, heavy reliance on sugars – yes, even artificial sweeteners, too much yeast, some preservatives, alcohol, excessive stress, etc.

Building a probiotic friendly gut means getting adequately hydrated (120 oz non-sweetened fluids daily) and getting your gut a chance to – really, this is what it boils down to – heal up from the damage that the bad bacteria do.

It means getting honest about your dependence on sweeteners – and the fact that they do you NO benefit nutritionally – and in fact, are fighting against you on so many levels – but primarily by promoting the bad bacteria in your gut.

And little side note here…. Having out of control simple carb cravings? Chances are that robust colonies of bad bacteria in your gut are demanding to be fed! Want to kick that simple carb – seeming primal need – to the curb? Get serious about rebuilding your gut ecology!

There are, of course, pill based probiotics that you can purchase. It’s certainly appropriate to go that route if you’ve been on a round of antibiotics – wrap those up and THEN introduce the pill-form antibiotic, as well as continuing to keep those probiotic-rich foods in your daily routine. (See: )

Some important things to know…

There are different types of probiotics.

There are different strains of probiotics.

And it’s not a given that any particular strain will work for YOU. AND – different strains have better benefit for different types of needs. For instance Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus GG seem to be the most effective for treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Montezuma’s revenge? Then reach for S. boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacteria bifidum – probiotics that are most effective against traveler’s diarrhea.
And there are other mitigating factors –
i.e., there’s even a theorem out there about how if you were C-section born and bottle fed it’ll be much harder to get things balanced than if you were vaginally born and breast fed as an infant. Crazy, right? See

Primal Defense Ultra (PDU) is a soil based probiotic – those of us in the US definitely will benefit from that since industrialized farming has pretty much obliterated the soil probiotics here. BUT – If you eat a pretty clean (i.e., not processed/chemical) organic diet, then maybe not!

The dairy based probiotics are much more readily available – and consequently have a wider variety – going from total crap to worth their weight in gold. I personally love Reuteri – here’s a link:

Ultimately, this is one of those topics that you can’t just ignore. Evidence is building that probiotics can help with:

You have to decide. Are you willing to get honest with yourself and make the adjustments necessary?

The thing that keeps people from taking these easy steps to bring healing to their gut is typically the fact that they’re just really not miserable enough yet to be willing to get out of the rut that has gotten them to where they are. Convenience is a horrible task master – demanding oftentimes a huge toll on our overall health. The arguments I hear most from post-ops who talk about WANTING to make the shift to a healthier, more holistic approach to eating – but can’t quite bring themselves to do the things that will break that crazy cycle:

Giving up sugars. (Sugar is the FAVORITE food of those bad bacteria and yeast in your gut.) It scary to give up an addiction. I know. I totally get that. I’ve been there, boy have I done that!

Committing to getting adequately hydrated – and I’ll give you this – as a post-op it’s harder to be adequately hydrated – more than half of our GI system is excluded from ingested fluids now.

Choosing to embrace a philosophy/culture of S-L-O-W (sustainable, local, organic, whole) food/eating. (If we’re going to be honest – we have to admit that it’s not as easy as picking up a pre-packaged, chemically laden, prepared food). I’m not going to lie to you – it takes more thought, effort, and time to eat healthfully.

But there is nothing like it. There is an incredible thing that happens once you choose to make your health enough of a priority to go there – it’s called balance. And it’s not just about not falling over – it’s about realizing all of a sudden that your body is not just okay – but is robustly healthy, and your vitamins are being absorbed at a higher rate, and that your immunities are stronger than they’ve ever been, and your brain is clearer than it’s been in ages. It’s difficult to explain adequately – but ultimately – it’s bringing a healing to your body that it has so desperately needed for maybe even decades.

So the question has to be this: are you willing to go there?

I can’t make the decision for you. You have to decide if you’re worth the effort. You have to decide if you’re committed enough to your health to do the – admittedly – harder work.

I honestly do not know a single person who regrets going there.

Now you’ve got to ask yourself – are you gonna do it?

Here are some helpful resources that I particularly appreciate:

Summer Bock, Fermentationist: Gut Rebuilding

Cultures for Health:

Nourished Kitchen:


Food Renegade:


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Audrey says:

    Very well written! For me, I do really well when I eat a variety of probiotics like you suggested. Foods that supply soil based probiotics, fermented dairy products, and then kombucha throughout the day. If I can’t get all 3 in each day, I take a supplement. Keeps things very stable and I love how healthy it keeps me!

  2. Carole Ramke says:

    After many years of being squeamish about fermented foods and thoroughly brainwashed with the germ theory, I finally discovered that we have to live with millions of microbes that inhabit our body. Since we cannot exist without them, It is far better to welcome the good guys than to wonder what happened to our health.

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