The body, as we know, is intrinsically linked. When one thing is out of balance, chances are, the rest of your body is going to take note. This philosophy is what Blair Norfolk, founder of Activated Probiotics, has built his brand upon. The importance of gut health in 2020 is no new phenomenon, but what about the link between gut health and mental health? Or gut health and bone health? According to Norfolk, probiotics are part of the solution, and integrating them into your routine can have a much larger effect than glowing skin and protection against UTIs. Below, Norfolk tells us all there is to know about probiotics to prevent osteoporosis, asthma, and even support your mental wellbeing.
Can you talk a bit about your history with probiotics, and why it felt right to start a company founded on them?
I began my career in the fashion industry, but after falling ill, quickly realised my passion was in scientific research, with a goal of both preventing serious diseases and improving the quality of life of other sick people. Our global team of microbiologists, professors and practitioners have worked together to completed breakthrough clinical-research into mood and mental health, producing the world’s first, clinically-proven probiotic, ‘Biome Lift,’ to significantly reduce symptoms of depression – depressed mood, anger and fatigue - and improve sleep quality, free from side-effects. My mission now is to raise awareness on mental health and the future of preventative medicine.
Looking forward, we have now completed new medical breakthrough research which have lead to the development of the worlds first probiotics to prevent and intervene in osteoporosis, asthma and iron absorption. Probiotics are safe, natural and have no side effects often association with medication. In probiotics I saw a significant opportunity to solve a number of major community health issues.
The action of our probiotics covers conditions that lie beyond the digestive system, and impacts the health of the lungs, the bones, the brain, the blood, and the immune system.
What role does gut health play in overall health?
If you think about it, all of the nutrients that we need to thrive and survive comes from the food we eat, which needs to be broken down by our digestive system. When our gut health is compromised, our ability to extract essential nutrients from our food suffers and as a result- our health suffers. Our gut microbes play such an important role in digesting our food, and producing health-promoting metabolites, such as short-chain fatty acids and key nutrients.
When you think about all the different areas of the body that the microbes in our gut have been shown to impact, which is reflected in the wide range of our products, you really want to be taking care of your gut health and the microorganisms that live inside them.
There are a lot of different, targeted probiotics in the range, why is it important that there are so many?
To understand why it’s so important to have so many different products, you need to understand that the health benefits of probiotics occur at strain-specific levels. Different strains within the one species can perform completely different functions within the gut.
When we developed our range of condition-specific probiotics, we looked at the exact strains being used in clinical research for a range of different health conditions. We then selected the most effective strains for each condition we wanted to target and put them into one product that we can say is specifically indicated for that particular condition.
Can you explain the link between gut health and mental health?
We are starting to understand that underneath many mental health conditions are chronic inflammation that we believe plays a role in disrupting brain function. The immune system is responsible for controlling levels of inflammation in the body.
Because our gut houses such a large component of our immune system, poor gut health can increase levels of inflammation.
Our gut is what we use to absorb nutrients, but it also protects us from invading harmful bacteria. One proposed mechanism of action implicated in increased inflammation in the body is a phenomenon known as intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. Leaky gut allows endotoxins from these harmful bacteria to enter circulation by travelling through ‘leaks’ in our gut. This stimulates the immune system, which increases systemic inflammation.
How do our gut microbiomes change the way we think and feel?
This is a great question, and one that we are continuing to answer and understand on a deeper level every day. There are a few different mechanisms by which gut microbes alter the way we think and feel. Some gut microbes are believed to alter hormone levels which, for example, can change our hunger signals and make us crave different foods. Some produce different neurotransmitters, such as GABA and dopamine, which may alter our emotions and how we feel and how easy it is for us to get to sleep. Like we said before, by changing levels of inflammation, this can determine how well our brain functions too. Inflammation can get in the way of proper communication signals in the brain.
Do you have any long-term advice for maintaining gut health, and in turn mental health?
The number one thing you can do to maintain your gut health and keep your microbiota happy is eat a high fibre diet. That means lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. These foods are all really high in fibre, and this is what our gut microbes feed on. In exchange for the fibre we feed them, they produce lots of health-promoting metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids and even some key nutrients which in turn allows us to thrive.
The other thing I would recommend is to eat a range of different coloured plant foods. The diversity of plant fibre that we eat directly reflects the diversity of our gut microbes - and in this case, diversity is key because different strains offer different benefits.