Probiotics aren't just essential for digestive and colon health, they also
boost your health in general...
Probiotics are the beneficial microbial flora that we all need for optimal
health. These "good" bacteria (and yeast) colonize our digestive and urinary
tracts and the vagina in women where they grow and help to maintain the
health of our mucous membranes. You can think of this in the same way as
sowing your lawn with grass seed to create a thick, lush carpet of grass
that can protect against the growth of weeds.
Probiotics seed your body with beneficial bacteria to help protect against
the growth of pathological ("bad") microbes like E. coli and Candida. This
helps no matter the location of the mucous membrane in the body: whether the
vagina, bladder or GI tract. In the gut they also promote proper digestion
and in some cases actually produce or functionally convert essential
nutrients for our absorption and use. Many normal, bodily functions require
healthy gut flora, and their effects range from healthy immune function to
proper heart function and skin health.
The Types of Friendly Bacteria
In general, probiotics can be categorized by where they are used in the
body. For example, there are friendly bacteria, which only grow in the small
intestine and those that proliferate only in the large intestine (colon).
But, believe it or not, beneficial bacteria exist in the mouth, urinary
tract, stomach, vagina, and even on the surface of the skin. Certain strains
colonize certain areas of the body more easily than others. More specific
information can be seen below.
Lack of Healthy Gut Flora
Without healthy gut flora, a number of conditions can result including: poor
assimilation of nutrients, intestinal irritation, diarrhea or constipation.
Both naturopathic and medical doctors recognize the importance that the gut
flora plays in overall health. Certain strains of Lactobacillus have been
shown to be crucial for producing important immune factors, while others
have been shown to be crucial for the reduction of bad cholesterol.
Many infections are more common in those without proper body flora,
including: gastroenteritis (the "stomach flu"), vaginal yeast infections,
urinary tract infections (UTIs), and even skin conditions like acne.
Proper colonization of the gut by beneficial bacteria helps to regulate our
entire immune system. Well over 70% of our immune cells are actually located
in our gut tissue as "gut associated lymphatic tissue (GALT). These cells
are constantly interacting with the bacteria in our gut, and having good
bacteria present can help to train our immune system to be properly active
against pathogens and tolerant to everything else. This is how probiotics
can help to reduce and prevent autoimmune diseases such as: lupus,
rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, psoriasis, and eczema.
Anti-infection and Detox
Candida infections can be particularly stubborn and often require long-term
use of a probiotic in addition to the use of other therapies. The same need
for probiotics exists in instances of food poisoning, which not only deplete
gut flora, but can also cause damage to the intestinal lining; the use of a
high cell count, therapeutic probiotic is therefore appropriate if you've
had food poisoning. Another common use for probiotics is for preventing
parasites and diarrhea while traveling. Whether the gut flora has been lost
due to diarrhea or due to an intentional cleanse, probiotic supplements can
perform a "rebuilding" function, helping to replenish friendly bacteria that
have been depleted.
What to Look for in a Probiotic
There are literally thousands of probiotic supplements available in health
food stores today; with so many available it can be difficult to know which
one is best for you or your family. A multi-strain probiotic is frequently
the best way to go for most people. This type of probiotic can supply you
with at least 6, 8 or even as many as 10 or 20 different strains of healthy
bacteria. Your body naturally contains a wide variety of strains, so it
makes sense to take a supplement with as broad a spectrum as possible. This
will give you the greatest coverage to replenish or maintain the natural gut
flora. The greater the diversity, the greater the strength of your body's
There are a number of different sources of probiotics. Some companies get
their strains from soil sources (like HSO's), while some get them from lab
strains, and still others from strains extracted from healthy human sources.
There are a mind-boggling number of strains of bacteria available of each
species of bacteria. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a species of bacteria and
it has a vast number of different strains that are labeled using a chain of
letters and numbers. We know very little about the specific differences of
each species, and so the medical community tends to group the bacteria by
species and ignore the strain in most cases. In addition to bacteria, some
probiotics are other organisms; one great example of this are beneficial
yeast called S. boulardii.
Targeted Probiotic Therapy
That being said, there are particular therapeutic probiotics, which are
targeted towards certain health concerns. The homeostatic soil organism (HSO)
type of probiotic contains healthy bacteria from soils. In years past we
would have ingested these from root vegetables grown in the ground, but in
our modern sanitized world, where we purchase cleaned vegetables from
supermarkets, it's difficult for us to get it from food unless we're growing
them ourselves. This particular type of beneficial bacteria has been
clinically proven to help remove Candida.
SPECIES OF PROBIOTIC
Probably the most commonly known probiotic available on the market,
Lactobacillus has a number of health benefits. There are four major species
of Lactobacillius that are commonly supplemented: acidophilus, rhamnosus,
casei, and plantarum. Each has its own unique beneficial effects, although
all share the common digestive, immune and anti-cancer benefits provided by
Lactobacilli in general.
This genus of bacteria is another group of lactic acid bacteria that also
colonizes the gastrointestinal tract and the vagina. These are the species
of bacteria that make up the vast majority of the digestive flora in
infants, and some species may be the first beneficial microorganisms to be
introduced to our guts through our mother's breast milk. In addition to the
benefits common to most probiotics, certain strains of Bifidobacteria are
particularly able to help reduce allergies and help to prevent and treat
Irritable Bowel Sydrome and Irritable Bowel Disease. Some strains may also
help to prevent and treat certain tumours.
Although most of us associate Strep with a sore throat, this particular
species has been found to be extremely beneficial for preventing and
treating diarrhea in chemotherapy patients and those being treated with
antibiotics. It may also help us digest lactose, and so may help those with
sub-optimal lactase production, and Lactose Intolerance.
S. boulardii is a beneficial yeast that acts as a probiotic in the digestive
tract. It is particularly useful for those who have had chronic diarrhea
from C. difficile infection or even from food poisoning.
Because they are living organisms, probiotics have a shorter shelf life than
standard nutritional supplements. It is best to store them in fridge,
especially if you aren't going to finish the bottle quickly. When exposed to
cooler temperatures, microorganisms slow their metabolism, which brings them
near to a point of stasis; This allows them to be stored for longer periods
of time without a nutrient source. At room temperature, the organisms must
be preserved in some other manner: either chemically in a protective coating
(microencapsulation) or they must be stored in much larger concentrations
and with a food source such as FOS and glucose so they can "eat" in order to
survive. Most high quality supplements intended for the fridge will remain
shelf stable with their label count for up to two weeks at room temperature,
but prolonged time exposed to elevated temperatures will eventually result
in a die off of your chilled probiotic. Research is conflicted about how
long probiotics degrade naturally at room temperature, which is likely the
result of differences between strains and manufacturing methods. Some
healthy gut flora supplements will degrade at less than 5% of the total
active cell count under normal cupboard conditions over the span of about
thirty days, which will allow them to last for several months without
significant losses. Often these are the brands considered to be more shelf
stable. Other supplements will lose their entire living microbial count
within 2-3 weeks. In general, it is best to follow the instructions on the
bottle for storage. Those that say "shelf-stable" are ones that have been
properly preserved or have initial counts high enough to last until their
expiry date with the counts stated on the label.
Take Them With or Without Food?
Very recent research has finally solved the "with or without food" debate.
It was found that taking probiotics with food helped larger numbers of them
(up to 90%) survive into the intestines, vs. 50% survival on an empty
stomach. Before, it was thought that taking probiotics on an empty stomach
would help more viable bacterial cells to pass through the stomach to reach
their destination in the small or large intestines than taking them with
food. It turns out that food actually acts as a buffer to reduce stomach
acidity and also promotes increased motility in the gut, helping to speed
the probiotic to its destination. So it is best to take your probiotic
supplement with a meal to improve its function.
Active Cell Count – How potent is your probiotic?
Unlike vitamins, minerals, and herbs, probiotic supplements are measured by
active cell count rather than milligram weight (some bacteria are "fatter"
than others). A high potency probiotic would be considered in the 10 billion
cell count or higher. These are excellent for use in times of depletion and
stress on the gastrointestinal tract. They are also useful during times of
infection, where higher probiotic counts can help to out-compete
pathological "bugs". For regular maintenance, lesser counts may be
sufficient, such as 2-4 billion daily.
Some recent research has suggested that following an initial period of
high-dose supplementation to seed the gut (perhaps 4 weeks), probiotic
supplementation can be dosed in pulses and still maintain its beneficial
colonization. Maintenance supplementation can involve 3 weeks of daily
supplementation, followed by 4 weeks without supplementation, and beneficial
levels of healthy gut bacteria will still be maintained. Unfortunately,
because our diets are so far removed from natural sources of beneficial
probiotics, maintenance supplementation is often necessary, particularly in
individuals with compromised digestion.
How can I take probiotics?
Most probiotics come in powder or capsule form for easy supplementation.
They can be mixed with warm or cold food directly (not hot), or simply taken
with meals. Other supplements may come in powder and lozenge form probiotics
help to inoculate the mouth and esophagus with millions of helpful bacteria.
Multi-strain formulas are always the best option to ensure a wider base of
colonization and protection. It is best to try to get at least 4 strains,
although better products will contain 8 or more. Keep your counts in mind –
10 billion range for initial colonization and maintenance doses can be
lower, in the 2+ billion range. Dosing may have to be adapted in times of
added stress on the intestinal tract, during time of chemotherapy,
antibiotic treatment, or diarrhea. Some foods are enriched with probiotics,
but many do not provide their dose, and they often fall short of what is
required. Be sure to use the same requirements in your food sources as in
your supplements when choosing where to spend your money on probiotics. When
dosing children, the strain ratios and dosages will be different than those
for adults. It may be best to purchase products targeted at your child's age
PROBIOTIC – QUICK FACTS
· Colon health, detoxification, digestion, chemotherapy, antibiotic
treatment, cancer (tumours), eczema, allergies, and diarrhea.
WORKS WELL WITH
· Food, multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, essential fatty
acids, lecithin, betonite, pancreatin, bromelain, chlorophyll, chamomile,
fennel, gymnema, milk thistle, enteric-coated peppermint, psyllium, slippery
elm, and lemon balm.
· Some probiotic supplements may contain dairy or other allergens, be sure
to read the label closely if you suffer from any allergies or intolerances.
· Taking extremely large doses of probiotics can cause gas and bloating.
Reducing your dose should eliminate these effects.