Lisa had been complaining of gas and bloating for years.Changing her diet, trying herbs, and cutting out foods like wheat still brought no relief. It was only after adding a probiotics supplement to her regime that Lisa found digestive ease.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live organisms, which can be advantageous for digestive health when supplemented in proper amounts and combinations. In addition to housing our bones and muscles, our bodies are home to a variety of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our body's surfaces, including our skin, and most importantly, our colon. These symbiotic hitchhikers are responsible for a host of necessary functions, including many of the processes of digestion, proper functioning of the immune system, and production of vital nutrients like vitamin K. Proper balance of beneficial bacteria is also instrumental in keeping pathogenic or disease-causing invaders at bay.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (commonly known as acidophilus) is the most famous of these invisible organisms. But it is by no means the only or the most important. Some other common probiotic species are Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidus, Bifidobacterium infantis, and Strep-tococcus thermophilus.
Although we are born without probiotics, when we begin eating and interacting with the world around us, colonies of beneficial microorganisms take up residence. This is one of the benefits of breastfeeding infants; breastfeeding aids in the transfer of organisms like Bifidobacterium from the mother's skin to the baby's developing digestive system.
To maintain these colonies, fermented foods have been an important part of many traditional diets, as they actually help add these healthy bacteria to the digestive system. Ayurvedic Indian menus include yogurt, Russian diets incorporate kefir, and unpasteurized miso is used throughout Asia. Other foods like sauerkraut not only improve hot dogs but also promote digestive health. Traditional medicinal systems continue to utilize these foods to support digestive health. Cathy McNease, chair of the herb department and herb clinic director at the Santa Barbara College of Oriental Medicine suggests unpasteurized miso to harmonize the stomach, and Ayurvedic nutritionist Jennifer Workman in Boulder, Colorado, includes yogurt or kefir in a dietary plan when appropriate.
To support the growth of these beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are important substances often found on supplement labels. Prebiotics are complex sugars, including inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, found in fruits and vegetables. These sugars are important foods for ensuring that probiotics colonize the digestive system. If antibiotic use, digestive problems, or other issues have caused a disruption in the normal digestive flora, then prebiotics alone are not necessarily enough to restore balance, however. But they are an important part of a daily regimen. Some foods high in prebiotics include chicory root, onions, garlic, bananas, raisins, prunes, burdock root, wheat, and artichokes. Stonyfield Farm adds inulin along with live cultures to their yogurt, and the herbal coffee substitute Teeccino is high in chicory root inulin. According to current research studies, prebiotics are also important for regulating cholesterol and improving calcium absorption.
Dysbiosis and Digestive Health
Dysbiosis occurs when something goes awry in the delicate balance of our gut, often as a die-off of beneficial bacteria. This can happen after taking antibiotics (even after a short course of strong drugs), from drinking chlorinated water, surgery, or illness. Dysbiosis can lead to a host of other problems, including chronic yeast infections, which can occur as Candida and other yeasts multiply to fill the subsequent void.
Dysbiosis and digestive system imbalances can also exacerbate chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), aggravate skin conditions like eczema, as well as weaken the immune system. In these types of situations, supplementing with probiotics has been shown to be an effective solution to bring the body back into balance.
Research shows that a healthy balance of intestinal flora reduces gut permeability, decreases the incidence of vaginal infections and sexually transmitted diseases, helps the immune system stay intact, decreases cholesterol and lipid levels, and even assists the body in coping with stress.
Dr. Steven Faber, a gastroenterologist practicing in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, has treated hundreds of people using probiotics. He first became interested in using these supplements in 1998 after years of frustration trying to treat people with IBS. In Western allopathic medicine, there are limited options available to the millions of people who constantly battle with the diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas characteristic of IBS.
Physicians including Faber describe a destructive pattern that occurs with repeated use of antibiotics. After multiple rounds of the drugs, people may often end up feeling worse instead of better. But after incorporating probiotics in an overall plan to improve digestive health, people improve, even after years of digestive problems. Examining probiotics and intestinal flora is one piece of what nutritionists like Workman identify as foundational nutrition, which examines if a person is obtaining enough of the basics in their diet. This includes not only probiotics, but also primary vitamins and minerals, electrolytes, and essential fatty acids.Next Page