Everything You Need to Know About Probiotics | What is the Best Probiotic for Gut Health? | Do Fermented Vegetables Contain Histamine?
“Probiotic” is a buzzword, but what are probiotics and what is the best probiotic to use?
The popularity of probiotics is increasing every day, like never before. From drinks and foods, to hygiene products and digestive medicines, there are new products everyday containing probiotics. But what are probiotics? …And is it necessary to buy expensive, special supplements labeled as "probiotic" to introduce these wonderful microbes into your health routine?
Let’s break it down.
Why are Probiotics necessary?
All life has come from microbes, and all life on this planet relies on microbes to thrive. Humans, as well as other animals and even plants, have something called a microbiome. This is the population of microbes that naturally lives on and inside of other organisms.
If you were to count cell for cell... the cells making up your body are only 10% human cells. The other 90% are microbial cells you carry around everyday.
When you compare DNA, the results are even more amazing. When scientists were trying to sequence the entirety of the human genome the results were interesting.... First, it turns out that we don’t have many more genes than simple organisms like round worms… only about 22,000. So how are we so advanced? Turns out that our 22,000 functional human genes only make up 3% of the total genes we carry in and on our bodies. The other 97%… those genes are microbial. On your body right now, gene for gene, you are only about 3% human. The rest of the functional DNA on your body is from microbes. This fact alone indicates how vital our microbiomes are to our health.
The human microbiome has a natural healthy balance, and many factors influence the composition of an individual's microbiome. Everything from diet and exercise, to the soap you use, to how much time you spend enjoying the outdoors, influences what microbes are populating your body. Unfortunately, the makeup of your microbiome can easily be thrown off balance resulting in a not so healthy population of microbes. A bout of the stomach flu, the use of antibiotics, bathing with harsh soaps, eating processed food and not going outdoors enough can all take a negative toll on the delicate microbial population you carry around.
This is where probiotics come in handy, especially in our modern society.
In 2019 our world is increasingly toxic to our bodies and our microbiomes. There’s chemicals and toxins everywhere… there’s more antibiotic resistant superbug outbreaks than ever before. People (and the Earth in general) are over sanitized and over polluted. Luckily we can naturally repair and rebuild our microbiomes daily with cultured foods. (I’ll let you know right now, I’m not a fan of probiotic supplements, capsules or medicines for scientific reasons. Keep on reading to find out why).
so What are Probiotics?
A probiotic is defined as a microbe, usually a species found in a healthy person's microbiome, that is introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities. When the good microbes of your body suffer as collateral damage from a course of antibiotics, eating foods with too many preservatives, or even a very stressful day at work, probiotics can help to restore balance!
Probiotics are wonderful addition to a healthy diet and exercise. Having a high number of good bacteria in you and on you can help keep bad microbes away, and this is so important as antibiotic resistance becomes more prevalent every day. Think of it like this: if most of the room in and on your body is already occupied by good guys, then there will be no room for the bad guys to set up camp… at least it won’t be very easy for them to do so.
Do Probiotics Work?
The most popular marketed probiotic capsules contain species in the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They are Gram positive, rod shaped bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract, vagina and mouths of healthy humans. Both types aid in digestion, can combat diarrhea, and help to promote a healthy immune system.
Ideally a probiotic should:
Be able to compete with pathogenic microorganisms for space, reproduction and survival.
Survive the digestive journey.
Survive in the presence of antibiotics.
There are a few huge problems with laboratory grown probiotics that have been processed into capsules, powders, and cultures that are added to foods though. Keep on reading through the section below to learn more.
Why am I picky about where my probiotics come from?
If you walk through the grocery store you’ll see all kinds of things labeled as “probiotic” but if you know a little bit about the gut microbiome you’ll ask yourself “but why?” There’s everything from probiotic orange juice, coffee and peanut butter to probiotic ice cream and potato chips. It’s called marketing y’all. There’s also probiotic capsule sections in most stores now, where you can find a 30 day supply of probiotic pills for like… 80 dollars or more. These things are not necessarily good for you and are not the most effective or affordable option for three main reasons:
Reason 1: Adding probiotic bacteria to unhealthy, refined and processed foods doesn’t make that food healthy at all. The food products using “probiotic” as a marketing ploy are normally unhealthy, full of sugar and refined ingredients and are not considered foods good for gut health anyways. So before you grab that ice cream with probiotic cultures added remember that healthy gut microbes don’t thrive on ice cream. So the product in itself is counteractive.
Reason 2: GENETIC MODIFICATION OF PROBIOTIC BACTERIA AKA “PHARMACOBIOTICS” …This will make a lot of you uncomfortable if you take probiotic capsules, use probiotic powders, or eat foods with added probiotics. Pharmaceutical companies and big food companies have their eyes set on the profit potential in patenting particular strains of probiotic bacteria. They are specifically interested in patenting particular strains of bacteria for the treatment of certain diagnosed diseases. How might they do this you ask? Well… first off they have tons and tons of money and they have to power to navigate and lobby FDA regulations. Secondly, they have the resources to GENETICALLY MODIFY species of bacteria to make them preform a specific function. When they genetically modify the bacteria, the bacteria contain unique gene sequences that can be registered with the US Patent Office. Sounds like the beginning to a freaky science-fiction book huh? Well it’s real, and I don’t want my gut microbiome to be someone’s greedy, for-profit experiment.
Reason 3: The digestive journey is tough. Digestion starts in the mouth and takes foods and substances on a harsh journey. Since the bacteria that are are grown in a labs are never exposed to harsh conditions, they are not adapt to survive. Cultures that are added to foods or capsules are commercially grown in huge vats in laboratories under perfect living conditions for the bacteria. They never have to compete with pathogenic species for living space, and they never have to survive at low pH or other stressful conditions while being grown in a lab. So the bacteria are not as adapted to survive stressful conditions as bacteria for the natural world are. The bacteria in naturally fermented vegetables come from nature, specifically they originate in the soil in which the vegetables are grown. In that soil these microbes compete for space and for their lives. During fermentation only bacteria that can survive in a very low pH environment, with no oxygen and some salt continue to thrive. These bacteria are natural, strong, and are used to harsh conditions that are very similar to the terrain of the human digestive tract! (Here’s some reference material on this subject)
One of the top four, high risk, genetically modified food and drug ingredients in America is Microbes, including microbial products, bacterial starter cultures, probiotics and yeasts.
This is the main reason I do not consume anything with added cultures…and FYI that little non-gmo butterfly logo is irrelevant. That organization classifies microbes and microbial byproducts as “untestable.”
I do not want genetically modified microorganisms in my gut, so I stick to eating our wild fermented vegetables that NEVER contain commercially produced microbial cultures.
The microbes in our wild fermented vegetables come only from the soil microbiome of the fields in which the vegetables we ferment were grown. They’re natural and from nature.
So What is the Best Probiotic to Use?
Eating a variety of wild fermented vegetables and drinking kombucha or water kefir occasionally are the best ways to introduce a rich population of probiotic microorganisms to your body. Fermented vegetables not only contain essential vitamins and nutrients that are crucial to health, but they contain the most natural form of probiotics: microorganisms that come from the soil in which the vegetables are grown.
encouraging a healthy gut microbiome
Gut health is not as simple as just popping a probiotic pill. It’s about forming a dietary lifestyle based around fresh plant foods, eating a variety of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables, and consuming natural sources of probiotic bacteria. The best natural sources of probiotic bacteria = fermented vegetables from a reliable source.
Where I refuse to get my daily dose of probiotic bacteria from: Pills, capsules, powders, superfood powders with probiotics, protein powders with probiotics, and foods with added proprietary cultures or “probiotics”. They can keep their GMOs. I’ll stick with my bacteria from nature. I also will never eat fermented vegetables that are made in or stored in plastic, because the acidic nature of fermented vegetables degrades plastic over time.
Where I do get my daily dose of natural probiotic bacteria: Our Cultured Guru Fermented Vegetables along with the occasional water kefir or kombucha and homemade vegan yogurt made with heirloom cultures. These substances contain natural probiotics that originated in nature/ on the raw ingredients used in the production process... (For instance the bacteria that ferment our sauerkraut live on cabbage leaves, no cultures are added to transform the cabbage into kraut). I also eat vegetables I ferment for fun in our home kitchen.
Do Fermented Vegetables Contain Histamine?
Vegan fermented vegetables do not contain significant amounts of histamine.
Fermented vegetables that do not contain animal-sourced and/or high protein ingredients do not contain relevant amounts of histamine.
Histamine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gets a bad rap, but histamine is necessary for human body function. Histidine is an essential amino acid, and histamine is vital to the proper function of the immune system. Average healthy people have no problem consuming moderate amounts of histamine in foods, as the histamine is degraded in the gut by microorganisms and the enzyme DAO (Diamine Oxidase)
Fermented vegetables that contain animal ingredients such as fish paste or whey, will be high in histamine. Fermented dairy yogurt may have histamine, cultured meats and cheese have histamine, and some cultured soy products may have histamine. This is because the high protein ingredients in the foods contain the amino acid histidine that microbes can convert to histamine using the enzyme histidine decarboxylase.
Fermented vegetables made with only vegetables, salt, water and spices cannot physically contain relevant levels of histamine... this is because the precursor amino acid histidine is not present in relevant amounts in the ingredients, so there's little to no histidine for microbial enzymes to decarboxylate into histamine.
Certain species of Lactobacillus found in fermented vegetables are also capable of breaking down histamine.
If you eat a high animal fat, high animal protein diet in tandem with any source of probiotics, or in tandem with a healthy gut microbiome, this is what can potentially cause a problem with histamine in the gut. Probiotic bacteria and a healthy gut microbiome will convert the amino acid histidine in those foods into histamine. So too much protein, too much histidine can be a main problem for people with diagnosed insufficient DAO.
For a nourished microbiome, a plant based diet along with vegan fermented vegetables is wonderful.
Are any vegetables high in histamine?
Very few vegetables contain relevant levels of histamine, and any relevant levels are usually a result of spoilage microorganisms. (This does not apply to beans, legumes and starchy vegetables which have varying amino acid content).
People with diagnosed histamine intolerance
Certain types of green leafy vegetables are high in other biogenic amines like putrescine, cadaverine, and tyramine. These biogenic amines are competing substrates for an enzyme called DAO. DAO breaks down histamine in the human body.
Most people who have a histamine intolerance have inadequate DAO, so eating foods with competing substrates is not the best idea. People on low histamine diets are told to avoid spinach, kale, eggplant, tomatoes and avocado for this reason.
In general people with histamine intolerance should avoid old, aged, and preserved foods in which the ingredients were high in the amino acid histidine. This includes canned fish, aged meats, cured meats, canned beans, smoked fish, and high protein left overs.
Obviously if you have a diagnosed histamine intolerance, follow any recommendations provided by your doctor.