It’s been over a decade since Activia dropped into grocery store refrigerators everywhere and introduced the general American public to the idea of probiotics. In the 14 years since the digestive health-friendly yogurt hit the big time, probiotics have gone from being a confusing concept (bacteria that’s actually good for you?) to a medicine cabinet staple sold everywhere from Whole Foods to CVS.
But despite the fact that most people recognize probiotics are beneficial for overall health — and especially digestion and gut health — the majority of the population doesn’t know that cycling through different probiotics is helpful for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.
There are over 5,600 strains of microbes in the gut (the organ system that includes the stomach, small intestine and large intestine) that maintain the health and wellbeing of the body and stimulate digestion and nutrient absorption. And these microbes aren’t all standard bacteria; some are fungi, soil-based bacteria, and even different types of yeast. When all of these types exist together symbiotically, a person typically has normal digestion and is pretty healthy. But as soon as there’s an overgrowth of one strain of microbe, the health of the entire gut is compromised. By taking a probiotic regularly, you’re supporting your gut by encouraging all bacteria to thrive equally by introducing more beneficial probiotics to the system.
But here’s the thing: most probiotics that you can buy at the store only have a few strains of bacteria — nothing close to the 5,600 microbes we’ve all got floating around in our guts! So imagine what happens when you take a probiotic with the same five different types of bacteria for months on end. Yes, those particular strains might be robust and healthy… but the rest of the bacteria in your tummy gets seriously neglected. Unfortunately, that means you’ve probably got a weak spot when it comes to your microbiome, and that could put you at risk for everything from digestive issues to a weakened immune system.
But there’s an easy fix.
Instead of opting for the same probiotic whenever it’s time to pick up a replacement, try a new formulation.
Pick up a bottle that has different strains of bacteria than the formula you used to take. By regularly switching to a new probiotic that has varying strains of bacteria, you’re encouraging the healthy proliferation of gut microflora. And of course, you don’t have to stick to just taking a pill to keep your digestion in check — adding in probiotic-rich foods like ferments, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha to your diet will keep your gut bacteria happy, healthy and diverse!