Healthy Bacteria?

Understanding the Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics

What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

When we typically think of bacteria we typically don't think of something that has any health benefits at all. The reality is that there are a multitude of health benefits that can come from having healthy bacteria.

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can provide a health benefit for us. We have these bacteria all over our body both inside and out and they have been clinically proven to provide many health benefits that we will discuss in this article. These bacteria outnumber the cells of our body by 10:1.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that help probiotics to grow and flourish. You can think of prebiotics as the food of probiotics. You can find them in legumes, honey, oats, wheat and other grains as well as vegetable and fruit skins.

What are the benefits of healthy bacteria?

There are many benefits of probiotics. We will focus here on the ones that have been clinically proven, although there are many other suspected or hypothesized benefits in addition to these.

  • Aids in the digestions of foods, especially hard to digest food that may be the source of some sensitivities like lactose, gluten, and spicy foods
  • Reduces systemic inflammation - studies have shown that CRP(C-Reactive Protein), an inflammatory marker found in our blood, reduces with healthy probiotic supplementation.
  • Aids in the synthesis of B vitamins like folic acid and B12 as well as Vitamin K
  • Improves calcium absorption
  • Improves Immune function and reduces immune hypersensitivities
  • May help lower serum cholesterol levels
  • Can help reduce the symptoms of diarrhea, gas, and constipation
  • Promotes vaginal health

What makes probiotic levels decrease?

There are quite a few reasons why our healthy bacteria levels reduce over time. Here are a few of the major killers of healthy bacteria.

Antibiotics - The role of antibiotics is to kill bacteria that may be causing sickness. Antibiotics do a great job of this, unfortunately they are not specific to unhealthy bacteria. Antibiotics kill every bacteria that may be in our body including the healthy ones.

Fever - Fever is the body's natural defense mechanism to fight off unhealthy bacteria. Just like antibiotics, fevers do not kill the unhealthy bacteria only. We need to be diligent in supplementing with probiotics after we are sick and have a fever or use an antibiotic.

High Sugar diets - sugar does not feed healthy bacteria, prebiotics do. Sugar feeds unhealthy bacteria, and when these unhealthy bacteria grow and become prolific they act just like the weeds in your garden...they choke out the healthy bacteria.

Drinking water with chlorine and using anti-bacterial soaps - sometimes we just need to play in the dirt and not worry that we may have dirty hands. How do you think kids get all that healthy bacteria in their system? Their first exposure to bacteria is in the vaginal canal at birth. Then as they start to move around and explore, everything they pick up goes in their mouth from their own toys to the dogs toys, it all goes in. When was the last time you saw an infant sucking on the finger of the person that was holding them? I'd be willing to bet that that person did not run and wash their hands before sticking their finger in the babies mouth. The point is we pick up bacteria throughout our life and if we are too clean, we won't get the healthy stuff that has some great health benefits.

The myth - I'll just replenish my healthy bacteria levels by eating yogurt!

The truth - It just won't happen with yogurt

Unfortunately most of our yogurt today is pasteurized. This means that it has been heated to kill what...bacteria. So the bacteria that is available in yogurt is typically in such small doses that we need to supplement for therapeutic benefits anyway. Also, most yogurt has quite a bit of sugar which increases inflammation and lowers bacteria levels.

The best way to replenish these bacteria is to take a probiotic supplement. Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing a probiotic.

  • Don't use an enteric coated supplement. These are much more expensive and may actually lower the effectiveness of the probiotic.
  • Look for a product that has multiple strains of bacteria. It needs to contains specific super-strain Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1.
  • Is non-dairy, free from soy, corn, wheat, and gluten.
  • Is acid- and bile-resistant to naturally survive the stomach and intestinal transit
  • Utilizes nitrogen packaging and is freeze-dried.
  • Comes available in vegetable-based capsules
  • Look for a product that has more than 10 Billion cells per serving.

When should I take a probiotic?

Probiotics should be taken after any antibiotic regime, after a fever, or if you are suffering from a poor immune system. You may also consider taking probiotics if you have ongoing gut issues. For example, you may have symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation or you may have diagnosed health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Chrone's disease, or ulcerative collitis.

You don't have to wait until you have an issue to start supplementing with probiotics. This is one of those supplements that will be beneficial for you whether you have problematic symptoms or not.

As noted above, please consult your health care practitioner before starting a probiotic regime.