|Eric Reardon, MS, CNC|
Probiotics comes from the Greek for "life." They are beneficial microbes that live in our intestines. Probiotics assist in digestion, help to alleviate gastric disorders, eliminate bad breath, prevent yeast infections, lower blood cholesterol, produce small amounts of B vitamins and vitamin K, and stimulate the immune system. They are essential to help us get the most out of the nutrients we eat and support overall health and digestive wellness.
The mass of microorganisms in our intestines can weigh up to 4 pounds-the size of the human liver. This mass can be made up of 400-500 different species of microorganisms, each of which has many types of strains. A surprising fact, throughout the digestive system their numbers can be as high as 100 trillion. The numbers of microorganisms in the body outnumber the cells of the human body by as much as 100 to one!
Intestinal bacteria are not static, rather they are highly active and constantly in a state of flux. Stress, unchecked consumption of refined or processed foods, excessive alcohol, birth control pills, some food additives, some cortisone-type drugs, radiation, exposure to toxic metals, pollutants, and antibiotic therapy favors the growth of harmful bacteria. When these outnumber the probiotics or good bacteria, ill health and accelerated aging are the result.
When potentially dangerous microbes predominate, the condition is called dysbiosis. An example of dysbiosis is a Candida albicans infection. In this situation, there have not been enough beneficial bacteria to hold the C. albicans in check. The results can range from yeast infections to a variety of complaints including fatigue, GI problems, and brain fog. A more serious condition that can develop from dysbiosis is "leaky gut." This means abnormal or increased permeability of the intestinal lining.
Common Probiotic Supplements
The two most common types of probiotics supplements are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. Although both kinds can be found throughout the digestive tract, acidophilus generally thrives in the small intestine and bifidobacteria in the large intestine. Both produce acid substances such as lactic acid. The acids produced by the probiotics help maintain the correct intestinal ph and inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. Besides the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, other beneficial bacteria are L. bulgaricus, L casei, L. salivarius, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, B. breve, Enterococcus faecium, Saccharomyces boulardii, and L. sporogenes. When choosing a probiotic supplement look for one with multiple strains and having at least 4-5 billion organisms per serving. This allows for some loss in their passage to the intestines.
What About Yogurt?
Often someone will ask, why not just eat yogurt? One reason is L. bulgaricus-the major yogurt culture does not colonize in the intestines. Another reason is that acidophulus is often not present in sufficient amounts to make a permanent difference. Also bifidusis seldom found in cultured foods, so while eating yogurt is good it does not make up for taking a supplement. In addition, artificially sweetened and flavored yogurt is worse since the sugar it contains actually feeds unwanted bacteria. Keep in mind an entire year may be necessary to change intestinal bacteria content using diet alone, while several months of supplementation is often satisfactory to gain sufficient bowel implantation.
Adapted from Nutrition News
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