According to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, 3.5 billion people worldwide—half the population of the planet—suffer from malnutrition.
While it’s easy to assume that malnutrition only affects developing countries, the reality is that we’re facing undernourishment issues at home as well. In fact, 85% of Americans don’t even consume the recommended daily intake of the many vitamins and minerals our bodies need to thrive.
For most of us, the problem is not how much we eat, but what we eat and how many nutrients we can effectively absorb from our food.
Facing the Bigger Issue: Poor Nutrient Absorption
Our modern diets, typically high in processed foods and full of empty calories, can often lack essential vitamins and minerals.
What’s worse, some of these foods might even be inhibiting the good microbes designed to absorb the nutrients from what we eat, even in people who are consuming plenty of calories.
The answer seems deceptively simple: eat high quality, nutritious foods and we’ll be well-nourished. Right?
Unfortunately, researchers haven’t seen the benefits they anticipated with this obvious approach.
It turns out that all kinds of things can influence how well our body absorbs the vitamins and nutrients from what we consume—from age and stress levels to (more specifically) the balance of gut flora in our digestive tract.
In fact, our body’s ability to absorb proper nutrition truly hinges on what’s happening within the microbiome.
The Missing Piece: The Microbiome
The microbiome is a wondrous world of trillions of bacteria, some good and some bad.
The beneficial bacteria that live within the digestive tract help us maintain our overall health by carrying signals to our organs, influencing our brain chemistry, and helping to break down the foods that we eat for our body to use as fuel and energy.
That means that our gut microbes support our nutrient absorption so we stay as thoroughly nourished as possible.
Here’s what’s troubling: even if we’re eating the most nutrient-dense diets imaginable, if we don’t have the gut microbes needed to synthesize and absorb those nutrients from our food, we too could suffer the effects of malnutrition.
Unfortunately, our beneficial microbes that work to keep us vibrant and healthy are often under duress due to our Western diets and lifestyles.
Things like over-sanitizing, eating processed or sugary foods, consuming antibiotics that indiscriminately target good bacteria, and even elevated stress levels can all play a role in both the presence of good bacteria in our gut and how well they support our ability to absorb the proper amount of nutrition.
Gut Microbes Matter
The good news is that we may have some solid answers as research connecting poor nutrient absorption to inadequate gut flora continues to expand.
Two recent studies published in the scientific journals Science and Cell point to restoring healthy gut microbes as the key to helping make sure we’re taking in the proper nutrients from our food.
In one study, researchers collected gut microbes from both healthy and malnourished Malawian children and injected them into young mice fed the same, typical Malawi diet.
Not only were the microbes from the malnourished group unable to absorb nutrients like they should, but the mice injected with these microbes showed reduced growth as well. On the other hand, the mice given the bacteria from the stronger microbiomes took in more nutrition from food and grew denser bones and more muscle1.
The differentiating variable between the two groups wasn’t access to food or the kinds of food being eaten, but rather it was the state of the gut microbes themselves.
In another recent study, scientists measured the development of two groups of mice: one with and one without gut bacteria. The bacteria-free mice had stunted growth patterns while the mice with a healthy balance of gut bacteria grew bigger bones and healthier organs because their bodies were properly synthesizing the nutrients needed for overall wellness2.
Health experts across the board are calling these studies “profound findings in human nutrition” because the implications are so pronounced: malnourishment isn’t necessarily about hunger, it’s about gut microbiota.
And because we’re 90% microbial as human beings (no matter where you live or what you eat)—the health of our gut flora affects all of us when it comes to proper nutrition.
Probiotics for Supporting Healthy Nutrient Absorption
Because probiotics (aka beneficial bacteria) help break down the food in our digestive tract for easy transport into the bloodstream—where nutrients work to nourish the entire body—we need to maintain as many of these friendly bugs as we can.
Fortunately, this is easier than you may think! You can support your health and your body’s ability to assimilate all the wholesome goodness you consume just by giving your gut a little TLC.
One very simple way to give your gut that love is to supplement with a high-quality probiotic that’s designed to survive stomach acids and reach deep within the intestinal tract—where the beneficial organisms can really get to work supporting your overall state of being.
Adding a premium probiotic supplement to your family’s healthy eating plan can replenish good bacteria to keep your digestion, immune function, and nutrient absorption going strong so you can stay on the path to your healthiest, most vibrant days ever.
- Blanton, L. V., Charbonneau, M. R., Salih, T., Barratt, M. J., Venkatesh, S., Ilkaveya, O., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2016). Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children. Science, 351(6275).
- Schwarzer, M., Makki, K., Storelli, G., Machuca-Gayet, I., Srutkova, D., Hermanova, P., . . . Leulier, F. (2016). Lactobacillus plantarum strain maintains growth of infant mice during chronic undernutrition. Science, 351(6275), 854-857.
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of two little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.