Doc’s note: Today, I’m sharing an essay from my friend Dr. Param Dedhia. He’s a physician trained at Johns Hopkins who practices both modern and traditional medicine – a integrative doctor. Param serves as the Weight Loss Program leader and the director of sleep medicine at Canyon Ranch, a wellness retreat in Tucson, Arizona.
In the essay below, Param details one of the keys to good health that most people ignore…
The key to good health is hidden in the middle of our digestive tracts.
Nutrition and health are about more than picking the right foods. We need to absorb the nutrients within the food. Absorption occurs at the inner lining of the digestive tract. The health of this lining contributes to our overall health.
As I wrote in my last essay, good digestion consists of three parts: digesting the food, absorbing it, and eliminating it. While you might read a lot about the best nutrition and the best health for elimination, we often overlook the middle step: absorption.
Absorption happens after our bodies break down our food into the nutrients we need. Those nutrients – the building blocks of our health – then need to pass through the lining of the gut so that we can use them.
Absorption works when the digested food is able to pass into the blood vessels in the wall of the small intestine. The inner wall of the intestine is covered in wrinkles or folds. These create microscopic finger-like projections, often called a “brush border.” This area has many enzymes that further allow nutrients from food to be absorbed onto a larger surface area.
When there is injury or inflammation along this inner lining, absorption may be limited or halted. It leads to problems like: brain fog, fatigue and joint symptoms. But this field is just beginning. We are learning more and more about how digestion and absorption affect us from head to toe. It comes down to taking care of something that lives on this lining of our gut…
The real stars of absorption are the bacteria that live in these folds of our intestinal lining. The healthy bacteria that grow in our intestines are called probiotics. Probiotics are associated with promoting digestion and absorption as well as protecting the inner lining. There are many theories as to what exactly probiotics do. They’re associated with improved enzyme activity, which breaks down food… reducing or eliminating unhealthy bacteria or viruses… helping the movement of the bowels during constipation, slowing of the bowels in diarrhea, and reducing autoimmune attack on the inner lining of the intestines.
When I studied under Dr. William Greenough at Johns Hopkins, I saw firsthand how important these bacteria are. We had a patient suffering from sepsis, or a bacterial infection in his bloodstream. He had to undergo a few courses of very powerful antibiotics.
The drugs worked, but not only did they kill the bad bacteria, they also wiped out all of his healthy gut bacteria. Dr. Greenough introduced us to the concept of probiotics. He explained there were reports in medical journals about healthy bacteria – at the time, we were bewildered by the idea that bacteria could be healthy. But Dr. Greenough showed us capsules containing new colonies of healthy bacteria…
After seven days, our patient not only recovered, but was well enough to go home. I knew that I had witnessed something special. But I had no idea how big this would become.
Thirteen years later, in 2012, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a study that the healthy bacteria in the human body outnumbered the number of cells by 10 to 1.
Today, the industry of probiotics outweighs the research. Probiotics have been correlated with weight loss, hormonal health, cognitive function, mental health, and reduced inflammation. As you have heard Doc tell us, correlation does not always mean causation. We do know there are benefits to using probiotics to address infections, as well as problems like food allergies, diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. But many probiotics overpromise for other conditions that we just don’t have evidence for yet.
I get asked all the time about probiotics and if I prescribe them to everyone. I don’t believe that they are helpful for all people. In my years of practice, I recommend probiotics when I put someone on an aggressive course of antibiotics, if someone has infectious diarrhea, or for a person is struggling with food allergies.
For that last group, that means people who experience frequent belching, bloating, or cramping. Of these, I would estimate that anywhere from a third to half the people note some benefit with probiotics. Like Doc, I always seek food-based solutions first.
Some common foods that contain probiotics include…
- Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
- Kimchi (a Korean favorite of fermented cabbage)
- Miso (a Japanese fermented seasoning)
- Tempeh (fermented soy)
- Kombucha (fermented black or green tea)
I recommend getting probiotics from foods like these if you have any digestive discomfort. If you have conditions like the ones I described earlier, then consider pill-form probiotics. I recommend pills with multiple strains to cover the spectrum. They will include between 3 to 12 different probiotic species. The doses sound impressive given that they are listed in the billions (yes, billions!) of “colony forming units” (CFU)… Please know that this is only a small- to medium-size capsule. I still recommend most people start at 5 to 10 billion and move up to 25 billion CFU.
One of the pills I recommend is Klaire Labs’ Ther-Biotic Complete… I have personally seen their quality reports and have had third-party testing results to confirm their quality and purity
Again, probiotics in pill form are still being researched. We are still learning who to prescribe probiotics to and how best to prescribe them. The list of specific healthy bacteria continues to get longer and longer each month. The last that I read, it was up to 500 different species. The questions we still need to answer are, “Which strains help which people under which conditions?” We have yet to see the results of the research being done.
Healthy bacteria are so important to the body because of their role in the lining of the digestive tract and for absorption. Eating probiotic-rich foods will benefit everyone, and some people may benefit from the pills. I know Doc and I both follow this topic and we’ll be sure to update you with all the current research.
P.S. In February, Doc and Dr. Steve Sjuggerud will be joining me at Canyon Ranch for the first Canyon Ranch Immersion Week, hosted by Stansberry Research. You’ll hear from Doc, Steve, and wellness architects to help you start living a healthier, wealthier life. Learn more at http://stansberryimmersion.com/.