Probiotics have become more than a buzzword in our increasingly health-conscious society. We're slowly coming around to the fact that germs are all around us and that we need to live in harmony with them, or suffer the consequences.

Those consequences are making themselves known loud and clear with the epidemic rises in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, allergies, autoimmunity and an array of chronic and degenerative diseases. All of these have ties to microbial balance, and therefore getting more of the "good guys" to help us out with our digestion, metabolism and immunity is now paramount.

In one popular recent blog, we looked at the 10 best food sources of probiotics. Many of them are easy to find and easy to add to the diet, and it's particularly interesting to see that almost every culture on earth has some sort of fermented food in their traditional diet. Clever folks!

There are also a myriad of probiotic supplements on the market, and plenty of posts on MindBodyGreen, all giving their best advice as to which probiotic products or strains are best. The real truth about probiotic supplements is that, although many of them prove to be valuable, we really don't know for sure which strains in which combination are best for the widest cross section of the population, and even if that sort of thinking process is valid in this case.

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Furthermore, there's similar potential for overuse of probiotic supplements as there is with antibiotics. On the surface they both do amazing things (antibiotics kill the bad ones, probiotics replenish the good ones), but our concept of "good" and "bad" is much more of a human mental concept than an accurate reflection of nature, or even science. It seems as the more we learn, the more our previously held assumptions prove inaccurate. This research on microbes is fresh, so jumping to any conclusions too quickly can backfire in either direction.

It does seem sensible, given the way our microbes have suffered over the last century via antibiotics, obsessive cleanliness and other salient factors, that adding probiotics through food or supplements is a good strategy for most of us, especially those with the conditions mentioned above. But what if there were even more effective, free ways to be able to get a healthy balance?

There are, and they might surprise you!

Some of the most exciting science being done right now is mapping the human microbiome. "Citizen science" is taking over, and for under $100 you can map your individual microbial makeup and compare it to others.

Having spoken with the founders of the two companies taking the lead in this exciting endeavor, uBiome and the American Gut, they shared that from their admittedly small data set thus far, lifestyle factors played a bigger role in microbial richness and diversity than diet.

Grew up on a farm? Top of the class!

Own a pet? They’re our best friends for a reason!

Work in a building with good airflow? It’s a good start!

Get into nature regularly? Impressive improvement!

All of these strategies not only improve microbial richness, but also are also good for reducing stress and accessing a plethora of health-improving factors. So, if you know someone who needs a healthy boost, take him out into nature — you might just save his life!


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