By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

There are certain things that stick with you through the years. For instance, I still can hear the echo of my wonderful teachers’ voices in Naturopathic Medical School. As my fellow interns and I gazed at them eagerly with anticipation of their expertise to our latest clinical conundrum, they would proclaim, “When in doubt, REMEMBER, treat the cause and treat the gut!”

What has been well understood by Naturopathic Physicians for years is now becoming common knowledge, as this ancient wisdom is being explored and verified by modern science. Today, what seemed like a (excuse the expression) detour downstream is becoming not only somewhat accepted by conventional doctors, but borderline trendy by stars and weight loss gurus.

Why so much attention to the gastrointestinal tract?

The GI tract is home to over 70% of your immune system (GALT) and the major site of your neurotransmitter production (ENS)! In other words, your belly is a powerful force in modulating inflammation and mood. With a current focus on calming inflammation for weight loss, it’s no wonder that our society is paying so much attention to the little buggy bacteria that live in our colon. Recently, studies have verified this gut-inflammatory-obesity link to the balance of gut micobiota.

According to nutritionist, Claire Whitman, the balance of microbes in our gut influences fat cell signaling processes and energy metabolism:

…it was also shown that gut microflora influence expression of fasting-induced adipocyte factor (FIAF). This compound is a form of angiopoietin protein that serves as a major inhibitor of lipoprotein lipase (LPL). Alterations in FIAF levels directly affect activity of LPL and therefore, blood lipids and the storage of calories as fat. These findings suggest that GI microflora may not only inhibit energy metabolism at the absorption level but also influence endogenous pathways that modulate storage and utilization of macronutrients. Gut microfloar-FIAF(angiopoietin protein) inhibits LPL lipase-LPL and blood lipid storage

The fact that our gut plays a role in our metabolism has also been confirmed by finding different ratios of bacteria species in obese and diabetic adults in comparision to healthy individuals.

Shifting the focus of weight loss to overall health, Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O. and Natasha Trenev explain some of the many other benefits we acquire by homing beneficial probiotic bacteria in our gut.

Good microflora has the following roles:

  • They manufacture B-vitamins, such as biotin, niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid.
  • They act as anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) factors, with powerful anti-tumour potentials.
  • They act as ‘watchdogs’ by keeping an eye on, and effectively controlling, the spread of undesirable microorganisms (by altering the acidity of the region they inhabit and/or producing specific antibiotic substances, as well as by depriving rival unfriendly bacteria of their nutrients). … lactobacilli is”Candida albicans,” now implicated in many health problems in people who are malnourished or whose immune systems are depleted.
  • They effectively help to control high cholesterol levels, thereby affording us protection from the cardiovascular damage which excessive levels of this nevertheless important substance can create.
  • They sometimes act to relieve the symptoms of anxiety
  • They play a role in protecting against the negative effects of radiation and toxic pollutants, enhancing immune function.
  • They help considerably to enhance bowel function. Where bowel bacteria are absent, the function of peristalsis is impaired, and the amount of time it take for food to pass completely through the system is much increased.
  • ü  60 percent of the circulating female hormones such as estrogen are excreted into the GI tract in the bile. (That is, probiotics help remove inflammatory hormones and prevent their recirculation)

Today, there are a plethora of studies supporting further evidence of the positive effects of a healthy ratio of microflora in our gut. One study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed the effect of imbalanced gut flora on motor function and mood in mice. The researchers found that the mice that were germ free had different neurotransmitter patterns in the enteric and central nervous system which produced modified activity and anxiety-like behaviors. This was in comparison to mice that had been colonized with different pathogenic bacteria in the gut.

I have included some other abstracts found at my Saratoga Blog which look at the microflora’s ability to aid in detoxification, oxidative stress, inflammation, skin health, and mood support.

So, should we all take probiotics?

Currently, it is estimated that there are over 400 species of microflora in the gut and research has yet to reproduce them all. We all have our unique bug blueprint in our gut, which causes everyone to have different metabolic and nutritional needs. In fact, current research is suggesting that the beneficial actions the probiotics play on our biochemistry are more important than the number of probiotics. I have to agree. I have seen cases where the wrong probiotic for the wrong amount of time actually produced more gastrointestinal irritation.

This is why I recommend different probiotics for different conditions, and to rotate strains and brands, to my patients. I tend to use products that differ in their actions according to the specific strains that modulate inflammation, weight loss, gastrointestinal motility and so on, depending on the patient’s condition.

Bugs aren’t the whole story

I do recommend probiotics to most of my patients, and certainly eating fermented foods such as organic kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh are a wise idea. However, as an integrative doctor, I don’t just use supplements to treat conditions; I want to know why someone is off balance. A healthy diet and a good probiotic sometimes isn’t enough to produce a reversal of chronic conditions, but usually it is a good start!

When diet and bug pills aren’t enough

There are other things to consider for digestive and overall health. These include digestive enzymes, removing small intestinal bowel overgrowth (a condition in which probiotics are actually contra-indicated!), hormonal balance, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter formation, energy metabolism, and inflammation. Furthermore, the whole body must be addressed to find the underlying cause of the dysbiosis. For example, one could be experiencing chronic yeast (Candida) or adrenal fatigue.

Therefore, remember what my wonderful teachers always said, “TREAT THE GUT!”, BUT, remember to treat the cause.

What about antibiotics? Read about it here.

Now, I want to hear from you!

Comment below…

In health,
Dr. Sarah 🙂


Whitman, Claire. Controlling obesity: Is it more than just diet and exercise?. Biogenesis Newsletter. January 2010.

Larsen NVogensen FKvan den Berg FWNielsen DSAndreasen ASPedersen BKAl-Soud WASørensen SJHansen LHJakobsen M. Gut microbiota in human adults with type 2 diabetes differs from non-diabetic adults (abstract). PLoS One. 2010 Feb 5;5(2):e9085.

Stephen Daniells. Gut health linked to excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Nutra. March 2010.

Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O. and Natasha Trenev.  Probiotics. Thorsons Publishing Group, Northamptonshire England, c1990 ISBN 0-7225-1919-2

Anti-infective mechanisms induced by a probiotic Lactobacillus strain against Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium infection. Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 Apr 15;138(3):223-31. Epub 2010 Feb 1.

Rochellys Diaz Heijtza,b,1, Shugui Wangc, Farhana Anuard, Yu Qiana,b, Britta Björkholmd, Annika Samuelssond, Martin L. Hibberdc, Hans Forssbergb,e, and Sven Petterssonc,d,1. Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior. PNAS.

Dr. Mercola. The food that helps you detox pesticides. July 16, 2011.

Cho KM, Math RK, Islam SM, Lim WJ, Hong SY, Kim JM, Yun MG, Cho JJ, Yun HD. Biodegradation of chlorpyrifos by lactic acid bacteria during kimchi fermentation. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Mar 11;57(5):1882-9.

Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan 31;3(1):1.

Neufeld, K. M., Kang, N., Bienenstock, J. and Foster, J. A. (2011), Reduced anxiety-like behavior and central neurochemical change in germ-free mice (abstract). Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 23: 255–e119. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01620.x