As scientific interest in the human microbiome grows, research has turned up its fair share of strategies aimed at transforming bacterial health. There’s just one problem: So far, these strategies aren’t simple or accessible enough for the general public.
For instance, the science of fecal transplants—a transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of someone with an impaired microbiome—is starting to look promising. (But obviously, these treatments aren’t for the faint of heart).
You can also now have your own microbiome analyzed. However, so far, these analyses can only tell you what species of bacteria are present in your gut, and how diverse your microbiome is in comparison to others who’ve been tested. Many claim these limited results leave them feeling unclear as to whether or not their microbiomes are healthy or not.
The catch with all of these approaches is that the science is still developing. And as interesting as it is, it’s simply too early for us to know how to use this new information on a practical, targeted level.
Until then, I recommend giving your microbiome the proverbial “kitchen sink” treatment. And my main goal in writing this “microbiome makeover” guide is to show you that, ultimately, it really isn’t difficult, expensive, or complicated to do.
Let’s start with the obvious—probiotics
When it comes to microbiome-nourishing supplements, I generally have one core recommendation—probiotics. But not just any probiotic supplement will do. I only ever recommend Dr. Ohhira’s. And there’s a good reason for that.
A lot of the probiotic products out there will try to “wow” you with the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) they deliver. But don’t be fooled—bigger is NOT always better, especially when it comes to CFUs.
In my mind, quality always trumps quantity. And probiotics are certainly no exception. The most important thing to remember about probiotics is that you need to get the right kind of bacteria—and not too many of the same kind. Because at the end of the day, research shows that diversity is the most important feature of a healthy microbiome.
What you need is a probiotic that features multiple strains of bacteria. That’s because your gut hosts thousands of different types of bacteria, so you can’t just supplement with one type alone and expect it to make a difference.
And that’s why products boasting billions of CFUs actually aren’t that great for you. In fact, ingesting too many of any one type of bacteria can trigger an auto-immune response and wreak complete havoc.
Fortunately, Dr. Ohhira’s probiotic features a dozen different strains of friendly flora. And all of these beneficial bacteria have research-supported roles in digestion, detoxification, and immune support. But that’s not all. Dr. Ohhira’s supplement is also a cut above the rest in that it features prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics.
I’ve written about the importance of these components many times (including a brief discussion last month). But since they’re all gaining traction as buzz words in the nutrition industry, it’s probably worth going over again.
Prebiotics feed the good guys
In order for probiotics to function optimally in the body, they need support from prebiotics. The two are designed to work together.
You can take one without the other, of course—and that’s exactly what you’ll get with most of those freeze-dried products on the market. But I don’t advise it. (It’s not dangerous—but it is a waste of money.)
As I mentioned last month, prebiotics help stimulate the production of probiotics. Simply put, prebiotics are a type of fiber. But not the common kind you find in whole grains—that’s insoluble fiber. Prebiotics are soluble—or water-absorbing—fiber.
You can’t digest soluble fiber—in fact, it’s estimated that 90 percent of prebiotics simply pass through your gastrointestinal system fully intact while functioning as food for all the good, probiotic bacteria in your gut.
Inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are the most common types of prebiotics. They both belong to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans. You can find these prebiotics in many of my favorite foods, like onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks, jicama, sunchokes, and dandelion greens.
And yes, they can be problematic for some people with IBS. But for the rest of us, they’re an essential component of good gut health—and a practical necessity for a thriving microbiome.
Postbiotics do the heavy lifting
So let’s break this down before moving on: Prebiotics feed the probiotics, and probiotics generate postbiotics.
Postbiotics are biochemical compounds that are the main reason why bacterial diversity is so important. You see, different types of bacteria produce different types of metabolites—each with individual roles that protect your health.
These postbiotic metabolites run the gamut, and include:
- Amino acids, the all-important protein building blocks I often talk to you about
- Bacteriocins, which kill bad bugs
- Enzymes, which enhance digestion
- Neurotransmitters, which affect everything from mood to appetite, and key immune-signaling compounds
- Nitric oxide, which boosts blood flow throughout your entire body
- Short-chain fatty acids, which reinforce your gut’s lining—and organic acids that balance our gut’s pH
- Vitamins, including B-vitamins, which help your body perform basic metabolic functions, and vitamin K, which supports heart and bone health
So nourishing your microbiome with all three components—prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics—is instrumental in helping your body’s good bacteria thrive.
Like I said earlier, Dr. Ohhira’s probiotic is one of the few products available that checks all three of these boxes. Which is why it’s the only one I recommend. I generally advise taking two soft gels daily. And if that’s the only supplement you take, you’ll be a giant step ahead of the game.
But to really maximize your microbiome’s health, you shouldn’t stop there…
Critical vitamins for a thriving microbiome
Aside from a high-quality probiotic, your gut also needs the right kinds of vitamins.
And studies have shown that your microbiome suffers when you don’t have adequate levels of vitamin D. (And unsurprisingly, 80 percent of the population is deficient.)
The good news? Recent studies show that just five weeks of high-dose vitamin D supplementation can significantly reduce populations of certain potentially harmful bacteria in the upper GI tract. All while boosting the richness and diversity of beneficial flora.1-2
As an added bonus, research also shows that high-dose vitamin D can improve IBS symptoms. And considering what it does for your bacterial population, it’s no wonder why.
I recommend at least 2,000 to 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3 every day—but you can safely take up to 10,000 IUs with regular monitoring. And in the winter, when sun exposure is minimal—or even in the summer, if you’re cooped up indoors all day—10,000 IUs might be necessary.
I also advise taking vitamin D3 with regular doses of pantethine (vitamin B5)—1,500 mg, three times per day. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency impacts your gut bacteria’s ability to generate pantethine—resulting in inflammation and immune dysfunction. Replacing both, however, helps to restore a normal microbial population.3
On top of that, pantethine plays a role in helping your body fight fungal infections. This nutrient helps produce a chemical called acetaldehyde, which spikes in your body when processing the toxic byproducts of Candida overgrowth. (And as your microbiome comes back into balance, this process will almost certainly happen.)
The best artillery for your gut’s defenses
A healthy gut lining is essential to a healthy microbiome, for fairly obvious reasons. The mucosal barrier of your GI tract acts as home base to your gut bacteria. And its job is to keep the good guys in—and the bad guys out.
That’s why I recommend taking 40,000 IU of vitamin A per day. You need plenty of vitamin A to reinforce the junctions of your intestinal walls and ensure proper function of the cells lining your gut. So needless to say, deficiencies can have serious consequences for gut barrier function.
I also recommend:
- Aloe vera leaf extract: 250 mg per day
- Deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL): 500 mg per day
- Marshmallow root: 100 mg per day
- N-acetyl glucosamine: 250 mg per day
- Slippery elm bark: 200 mg per day
Along with vitamin A, these botanicals and nutrients can help heal a leaky gut and strengthen the mucosal lining of your digestive tract. This extra support is especially important if you’ve struggled with food sensitivities, which can do a number on your intestinal barrier.
Starve bad bacteria with enzymes
One last thing to mention here are enzymes. These tiny molecules help your body break down food so it passes through your system more easily. Without enough enzymes, food will move largely undigested through your gut.
This robs your body of vital nutrients… feeding the bad bacteria and paving the way to dysbiosis (microbial imbalance). To make matters worse, the older you get, the fewer enzymes your body produces.
The best and easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough enzymes is to take a supplement with six key digestive enzymes:
- Cellulase. This enzyme helps break down fiber. Without cellulase, fibers from vegetables and fruit will just sit in your large intestine and ferment, causing uncomfortable gas and bloating. I recommend 10 mg daily.
- Papain, bromelain, and lactase. This trifecta is vital in helping your body digest protein. Papain, which is found in papayas, and bromelain, which comes from pineapples, break down everything from steak to fish to eggs. I recommend 50 mg of each, daily.
- Lipase. This enzyme helps you digest fats. And it releases the important fat-soluble vitamins D and K, along with omega-3 fatty acids and lutein. I recommend 16 mg daily.
- Amylase. This enzyme helps break down two of my least-favorite food groups: sugar and carbohydrates. I recommend 200 mg daily.
The good news is, there are products on the market that include most—if not all—of these enzymes in one supplement, including my Enzyme Logic formula. (For more information, visit www.NuLogicNutritionals.com or call 1-877-899-9219. I recommend starting with a low dose of digestive enzymes with every meal. (And taking it separately from your probiotic, which works best on an empty stomach.)
So there you have it. A smart lifestyle, a good probiotic, and a handful of gut-nourishing nutrients. As with most things in life and health, that really is all it takes.
It’s a small investment… but one that will ultimately yield years of vibrant, ageless health in return.
Three more cornerstones of a happy microbiome
While this article focuses on supplement recommendations, I would like to take a moment to talk about lifestyle recommendations. Because no matter how many pills you pop every day, the buck truly does stop here.
Detox. Clearly, a gut-healthy diet is important. But periods of planned, safe detoxification will give your gut the rest and recuperation it needs for optimal function. You’ll find a step-by-step plan outlined in my A-List Diet book. It’s been working wonders for my patients, and I strongly urge you to follow suit.
Destress. Double down on stress relief and find an activity that brings you peace. Do something that you enjoy every day—something that takes your mind completely away. Even if you don’t do it every day in the beginning, stick with it and make it a lasting habit. Exercise does it for me, but so does mediation and yoga.
Get sufficient sleep. Because it’s not just important for you—it’s important for all those little bugs in your gut as well. They have circadian rhythms, too, and sleep deprivation has been found to alter your gut’s bacterial population for the worse. So make sure you’re getting your 7 to 8 hours of quality shut eye, every single night.
- “Effects of high doses of vitamin D3 on mucosa-associated gut microbiome vary between regions of the human gastrointestinal tract.” Eur J Nutr. 2016 Jun;55(4):1479-89.
- “Vitamin D Signaling through Induction of Paneth Cell Defensins Maintains Gut Microbiota and Improves Metabolic Disorders and Hepatic Steatosis in Animal Models.” Front Physiol. 2016 Nov 15;7:498.
- “Vitamin D deficiency changes the intestinal microbiome reducing B vitamin production in the gut. The resulting lack of pantothenic acid adversely affects the immune system, producing a ‘pro-inflammatory’ state associated with atherosclerosis and autoimmunity.” Med Hypotheses. 2016 Sep;94:103-7.