Probiotics – The Gut Flora

In an ecosystem, we have many organisms living in harmony where they mutually benefit from each other. Just like an ecosystem, our human bodies are a home to many bacteria that help us maintain our digestive tract. For decades we are starting to learn that there are good bacteria versus bad bacteria that lives within our digestive tract. The good bacteria are what we call the gut flora, microbiota, microbiome, and other names. These bacteria mostly live in the large intestine and they digest the food that could not be processed, aka indigestible food, by the body into nutrients. These indigestible foods are called fiber that is found in fruits and vegetables. Fiber is digested by the gut flora into butyrate and propionate, which is absorbed by the cells in the large intestine as nutrients. Many of you might be thinking how exactly could bacteria be considered a flora or a fauna since they are single cell organisms that are neither plants nor animals.

In many ways, the flora of the gut is a metaphor for bacteria that helps nourishes the body. Just like plants that allow the ecosystem to thrive, the bacteria ensure that the bad bacteria does not populate in the area. The body temperature and moisture is such a perfect environment for many infectious critters that many of them are trying to occupy the area. The good bacteria, however, occupies the area in a large enough group to prevent the bad bacteria from thriving.

Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics is non-selective in what they kill and the gut flora gets eradicated with the pathogens. This is an opportunity for pathogens to grow in the vacant areas of the gut to cause problems. In many cases, the pathogens that occupy the area lead to a decrease in intestinal movement leading to poor digestion. Luckily these microbiome can re-flourish through the use of probiotics. According to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation, “probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” Probiotics do not perfectly repopulate the gut with the same strains of bacteria, but is still able to return some of the flora back enough to prevent pathogens and intestinal problems.

Click here for probiotics-containing food.

Interested in probiotics supplements yet?  This is one of my favorite: Click here

Disclaimer: The next 3 paragraphs will confuse you if you do not have a background in science especially in immunology.

If we could imagine how plants provide energy at the bottom of the food chain, we can think of bacteria, aka microbiome, that help provide nutrients to the body. Plants also provide a home and a camouflaging terrain to many animals; the microbiome also provides protection to the body by regulating the immune system. Reviewing the histology briefly of the digestive system, the Peyer’s patches are found in the ileum portion of the small intestine. Because nutrients get absorbed in the small intestine, the body needs a defense system that detects pathogens and foreign substances before pathogens can affect the body systemically. The Peyer’s patches, in a sense, screen and destroy foreign particles when needed in the digestive tract. The microbiome plays an important component in maintaining immune tolerance. What is immune tolerance?

Our immune system is very intelligent at detecting foreign particles such as a protein from a virus or a structure from a bacterium. The immune cells must be good at distinguishing foreign particles from self. The immune cells that I am specifically referring to are called T-cells. Whenever T-cells attack its own body, these are called self-reacting T-cells and they would usually lead to an autoimmune condition. Immune tolerance is the reason why T-cells do not attack our own body. The body is able to have an immune tolerance through regulatory T-cells. The regulatory T-cells suppress self-reacting T-cells.

The microbiome that lives in the intestine influences the opportunity for immune challenges allowing them to influence the function of regulatory T-cells. Studies have shown that the lack of microbiome leads to an increase in unnecessary inflammatory processes. The gut bacteria are then very crucial to maintaining the immune system.

For more information on this topic, like this post and I will post more information on probiotics.


Jafarnejad S, Shab-Bidar S, Speakman JR, Parastui K, Daneshi-Maskooni M, Djafarian K. Probiotics Reduce the Risk of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Adults (18-64 Years) but Not the Elderly (>65 Years): A Meta-Analysis.Nutr Clin Pract. 2016 Apr 29. pii: 0884533616639399. [Epub ahead of print] Review. PubMed PMID: 27130655.

 Ford AC, Quigley EM, Lacy BE, Lembo AJ, Saito YA, Schiller LR, Soffer EE, Spiegel BM, Moayyedi P. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Oct;109(10):1547-61; quiz 1546, 1562. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2014.202. Epub 2014 Jul 29. Review. PubMed PMID: 25070051.





BCNH Probiotics Handout

Probiotics and Prebiotics

The small and large intestine naturally contain bacteria, or “normal flora”. These flora contain more than 400 species of bacteria, which provide many beneficial functions and include specific varieties including Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics are the most important nutritional contributors that can be included in the diet to help to nourish the normal flora to promote health and wellness.

 Functions of Normal Flora

  • Helps to prevent infection by pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.
  • Helps maintain the integrity of the lining of the digestive tract.
  • Aids in digestion of food.
  • Supports immune function

 Probiotics — Supplements and foods containing microorganisms to improve digestive and overall health as “healthy bacteria”, adding to the population of normal flora.

Health Benefits of Probiotic Foods

  • Prevent infection by pathogenic bacteria
  • Decrease the duration of diarrhea associated with multiple causes.
  • Decrease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, and lactose intolerance.
  • Keep the GI tract healthy, thus preventing leaky gut syndrome and food allergies.

Especially beneficial for people who have frequently taken antibiotics, because beneficial bacteria in addition to pathogenic bacteria are killed off.

Probiotic Foods

  • Yogurt — Contains Lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus thermophilus. Be wary of yogurts with excessive amounts of added sugar (5 grams = 1 teaspoon). Instead use plain yogurt and add your own honey, maple syrup, fruit or jam.
  • Sour cream — Cream cultured with Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
  • Acidophilus Milk — Milk cultured with Lactobacillus acidophilus.
  • Kefir — Similar to yogurt, but kefir is cultured by bacteria and yeast to produce an acidic effervescent yogurt-like drink. Can also be found as dairy-free coconut or water Kefir
  • Kombucha — A non-dairy fermented beverage rich in probiotic cultures.
  • Sauerkraut — Cabbage fermented with Lactobacilli and other lactic-acid producing bacteria. Most commercial sauerkraut is pasteurized which kills the beneficial bacteria, however sauerkraut still has many other health benefits, including high glutamine content. Glutamine nourishes the cells lining the GI tract.
  • Kimchi — Another lactofermented probiotic originating in Korea containing cabbage, onions, peppers, ginger, and varying other vegetables and spices.
  • Raw pickled vegetables — Cucumbers, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, beets … many vegetables can be fermented and eaten as a condiment with meals.

Prebiotics — Foods that contain fiber that beneficial bacteria feed on, stimulating their activity and growth, thus improving colony numbers and viability.

Health Benefits of Prebiotics

  • Nourishes beneficial bacteria.
  • When beneficial bacteria break down fibers in the colon, butyric acid is produced. This is the preferred fuel for the cells of the colon.
  • Butyric acid and other organic acids, such as lactic acid are produced by our beneficial bacteria which acidify the environment in the colon. Harmful bacteria often cannot survive this acidic environment.

Prebiotic Foods

Yogurt and kefir often have inulin or FOS (fructooligosaccharides) added to them. These are some naturally occurring prebiotic whole foods.

Asparagus Jerusalem artichoke
Banana Leeks
Barley Maple syrup
Chicory root Mushrooms
Dandelion greens Onion
Garlic Oats
Honey Rye


  1. Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and Nutrition Care Process. 13th St. Louis, MO: Elsevier text; 2012.
  2. Mateljan G. What are some of the best food sources for probiotics and prebiotics. World’s Healthiest Foods web site. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2013.
  3. Newjent J. Prebiotics and probiotics: the dynamic duo. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics web site. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2013.


The Sleep-Wake Controversy for Health

Within a 24-hour day cycle, it is recommended that we use 1/3 of it for sleeping. Many people have compromised sleep to increase work productivity and some of us may even go as far to say that sleep is overrated. During our sleep, all voluntary muscles are relaxed and we go into an anabolic state, the state of building muscle, enhance nerves, and the immune system. Some of us can relate to these experiences, whether it would be muscles not growing efficiently from working out due to lack of sleep, memorizing a speech or information for a test becomes harder as the night progresses, or even losing sleep to meet a deadline resulting in getting sick immediately after completing a project. This is all due to sleep deprivation; therefore, we should never take sleep for granted. Just like setting a schedule for certain activities, planning a sleeping agenda is as essential to planning the rest of your productive day.

We have seen in the past decade with sleep studies using MRI to see the brain responding to sweet, salty, and fatty food. We have investigated how neurons shrink during sleep to allow metabolic wastes, such as amyloid and tau-protein that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, to be released and cleared from the cerebral spinal fluid. A recent study conducted by Hanlon et al., investigated how sleep deprivation leads to circulating endocannabinoid in our blood, which results in the indulgence of poor choices of food.

The word endocannabinoid was derived from two words, endocrine and cannabinoid. Endocrine refers to hormones, while cannabinoid is derived from the molecule found in marijuana or Cannibis. Due to the psychoactive effects of Cannibis and the influence it has on hunger based on the receptors that the constituent of Cannibis, cannabinoids, can bind to in our body, we call them cannabinoid. The effects of cannabinoids have been reported to induce “munchies”, which led to a false sense of hunger. 

This study compared 4 nights of 8.5 hours of sleep to 4 nights of 4.5 hours of sleep in healthy participants. Blood samples were then taken to measure for an endocannabinoid called 2-araichidonoglycerol (2-AG). The sleep-restricted event led to a higher 2-AG concentration in their blood than the 8.5 hours of sleep. In the sleep-deprived state, participants had more cravings and pleasure in palatable snacks that were salty, sweet, and fatty. The study concluded that sleep deprived state may contribute to obesity.

Beyond our immune system, brain function, and other physiological effects of sleep-deprivation, having a healthy sleep also influences the type of things we eat and the quantity of food we eat. I definitely do crave fast food during these moments of little sleep. What are your opinions on this? You may comment below.


Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, Stuhr KL, Doncheck E, de Wit H, Hillard CJ, Van Cauter E. Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):653-64. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5546. PubMed PMID: 26612385; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4763355

Click here to see a handout I received regarding my sleep hygiene.

Try checking out Sleep Factors on Amazon.



Sleep Hygiene Handout

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, it usually starts from our poor sleeping habits that we created for ourselves.  Below is a handout on the foundations of sleep hygiene.  These are simple tools that are absolutely free and I would like to share them here.


  • Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine production, causing more difficulty getting to sleep later. It is good to have a “getting ready for bed” routine to relax and prepare your body for sleep. Avoid taking naps if you have trouble sleeping at night.
  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only. Do not read, watch TV, eat, or worry in bed. Solve daily dilemmas outside of the bedroom. If you find that you’ve been lying awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something mundane until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Repeat this as often as needed.
  • Your sleeping environment should be quiet, cool and comfortable. The room should be clutter-free. Reduce the amount of ambient light as much as possible. Electronic devices such as clocks, stereos, TVs and computers generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people. Experiment with moving these into another room or using EMF shields. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of placement, can be valuable in creating an optimal sleeping environment.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising during the day or early evening decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained. Most people do better avoiding exercise late in the evening.
  • Exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon or evening encourages a strong circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness.
  • If you have problems with waking during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night. Consistently get exposure to sunlight as late in the day as possible.
  • Improving overall health will improve the quality of your sleep. Work towards improving or eliminating health problems. Treatment modalities such as massage, acupuncture or cranial sacral will help to relax the body. Effective stress management is essential.


  • Warm baths, possibly adding Epsom salts or lavender oil
  • Meditating for 5-30 minutes
  • Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation (various recordings are available) or any other means of inducing the “relaxation response”. Daily practice brings greater results.
  • Special acoustic recordings that increase specific brain wave patterns for relaxation and sleep
  • Botanicals treatments and aromatherapy using herbs and their essential oils (examples include chamomile, valerian, vervain (verbena), hops, lavender, passionflower, avena (oat straw), lemon balm and scutellaria (skull cap). Consult your physician for dosages and recommendations.
  • Calcium and magnesium supplementation. Consult your physician for dosages and recommendations.


  • Although alcohol may make you fall asleep, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light.
  • The stimulating effects of caffeine may last up to 10 hours in some people. Avoid it in the afternoon if getting to sleep is a problem. Caffeine is present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications (pain relievers, decongestants, thermogenic weight loss products, energy supplements, etc.)
  • The stimulating effects of nicotine (first- or second-hand smoke) can last several hours.
  • Sleeping pills, aside from being highly addictive and full of side effects, decrease the amount of time spent in deep sleep and only increase light sleep.
  • B-vitamin supplements can increase energy that keeps some people awake, if taken before bed. Take B-vitamins earlier in the day.
  • Do not go to bed with a very full stomach. Large quantities of protein are stimulating to the body as digestion occurs. It’s best to finish eating at least three hours before going to bed.


  • Dement MD PhD, William. The Promise of Sleep. 1999. Dell Publishing. New York, NY.
  • Jacobs PhD, Gregg. Say Goodnight to Insomnia. 1998. Henry Holt and Company. New York, NY.
  • Ross DC, Herbert, Brenner Lac, Keri and Goldberg, Burton. Sleep Disorders. <> Tiburon, CA. 2000.