According to a survey done by Women’s College Hospital, 30% of women feel empowered when it comes to their health and their health care. Of the 70% of respondents that didn’t feel empowered, many reported feeling like their symptoms were dismissed or brushed off by health practitioners.
Many of us don’t realize just how powerful our gut health is for everything from mood and sleep quality to sexual health and overall physical wellbeing. So how exactly can we make sure we’re keeping our gut health in check?
According to Dr. Sara Celik, a Toronto-based Naturopathic Doctor and spokesperson for Renew Life, probiotics are the key to keeping the gut microbiome balanced and healthy. “Probiotics are live, beneficial microbes or bacteria that deliver health benefits when you consume them in adequate amounts,” says Dr. Sara.
Since gut health can be disrupted by a number of things including stress, our environment, our diet and certain medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and the birth control pill, probiotics are a simple way to help you heal, maintain balance and feel empowered to make the best decisions about your own health. Here’s what you need to know about probiotics, gut health and how they connect to your overall wellbeing.
The right food will fuel and heal
A nutritious diet is made up of whole foods that provide a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats while avoiding processedfood and refined sugars. According to Ciara Foy, Registered Nutritionist and author of Empowered by Food, fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut and miso contain natural probiotics and can help maintain healthy gut bacteria.
While there are general guidelines for nutrition, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, and your needs may change over time. “Tune into what works for you. It doesn’t matter if a food is labeled healthy or not. What matters is how you respond and if you’re getting the results you want. When you’re eating the right diet, there’s absolutely nothing your body can’t heal from,” says Foy.
For example, if you’re trying to manage or heal an inflammatory condition like IBS, you’ll want to follow what Foy calls the 4 Rs:
- Remove foods that are causing irritation and inflammation.
- Replace unhealthy foods with anti-inflammatory options that are high in fiber.
- Re-inoculate and repopulate healthy bacteria with probiotics.
- Repair any damage that has been done.
Probiotics and vaginal health
Beyond digestion, probiotics are critical for vaginal and urinary tract health. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 40-45% of women will have two or more yeast infections in their lives and they’re more likely to experience recurring infections if they’re using antibiotics.
“When I talk about probiotics, we want to acknowledge the importance for gut health and immunity but also think about the benefits for vaginal health. The vagina is home to mostly Lactobacilli species, which helps create an acidic environment. With a more acidic pH, you’re more likely to fight off yeast and pathogenic organisms. If you want a healthier body and healthier lady parts, it’s very critical to have healthy vaginal flora,” says Dr. Sara.
Probiotic supplements that include the Lactobacilli strain will take things one step further than digestion and replenish bacteria critical to vaginal health because that’s the type of bacteria that is naturally found in a woman’s body.
Gut health and your mood
From sleep quality and mood to your social and sex life, gut health can impact a lot more than just how you feel physically. Nicole McCance, clinical psychologist and bestselling author of 52 Ways to Beat Depression Naturally reports that 90% of serotonin—the happy hormone—in your body is found in your gut. “I’ve personally found that when the gut is off, it impacts the mood, but it also impacts people’s whole life. I even see it impact the sex life—women aren’t in the mood when they’re feeling bloated, they’re more irritable, or they’re in pain.”
Certain probiotic strains have been found to help specifically with mood, like Renew Life’s Mood + Stress probiotic. Dr. Sara says to look for clinically studied strains. “It’s important to read the label and make sure you’re getting clinically-studied bacterial strains for mood and stress. Not all probiotics are the same and I think that’s a common misconception.”
Insomnia and lack of sleep can also affect your health in a number of ways including decrease bacteria species in your gut. To improve your sleep quality, McCance recommends developing a bedtime routine that allows you to unwind. Journaling and getting your to-do list on paper can also help you stop stressing and relax enough to fall—and stay—asleep which will, in turn, improve your gut health.
Choosing the right probiotic for you
It’s important to remember that not all probiotics are created equal. “Probiotics are an investment in your health. You’re looking at about a dollar a capsule, so it is an investment. Quality and potency matter. And if you want to make sure the bacteria arrive alive at their destination, choose a probiotic with a delivery system (eg. acid-resistant capsules),” says Dr. Sara.
If you’re shopping for probiotics, Dr. Sara says to pay attention to a few key factors:
- Number of strains: Look for a combination of Lactobacillistrains for vaginal health and Bifidobacteria strains for overall digestive health.
- Delivery system: Acid-resistant capsules like those used in Renew Life products make sure probiotics will make it through the stomach and into the intestines.
- Potency: There are approximately 1 billion live cultures in a small cup of yogurt, but supplements contain 50 billion or more live cultures to more effectively target chronic issues.
- Live bacteria: Make sure the brand you choose guarantees the bacteria are alive at the time of expiry, not just when the product is made.
Whether you’re looking to heal a specific issue like IBS or you want to feel better both physically and mentally, a daily probiotic can be a simple addition to your routine. As Dr. Sara says, “Nobody knows your body better than you do. You are your strongest advocate when it comes to your health. Keep listening to your body. Don’t underestimate your symptoms. Trust your gut and know that it’s not in your head.”
This post is brought to you by Renew Life but the opinions are our own.