Don't Take the Good Bugs for Granted

For every one human cell in our body there are 10 bacterial microorganisms, that is 100 trillion of these critters, all living in our intestinal tract. This so called “intestinal microbiota” generates such an enormous amount of metabolic activity and performs such a wide variety of physiologic functions that it can collectively be considered an accessory organ, weighing about three pounds. This organ like system works synergistically with our body to promote overall health.

More specifically, our immune system and GI system rely on these microorganisms for a variety of vital functions. Since 70% of our immune system is in our gut in the form of gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), these bacteria work directly to enhance immune function. Studies have shown that they boost innate and acquired immune responses. Digestively, this intestinal microbiota breaks down many dietary substances that resist digestion such as certain carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. This is important because enhanced protein digestion can benefit people with allergies by reducing the likelihood of partially digested proteins crossing the intestinal barrier, into the bloodstream, and ultimately provoking an immune response. Further, our gut flora plays a role in mineral absorption and vitamin production, mainly B12, folate, and Vitamin K. Research also suggests these “good” bacteria play a role in reducing cholesterol, minimizing food sensitivities, helping treat “leaky gut”, supporting detoxification, and modulating the biofilm. Furthermore, they have been shown to help manage irritable bowel disease (IBD), improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), support autism spectrum disorder (ASD), combat obesity, protect brain function, and help multiple other chronic conditions.

Given all these vital functions, it is crucial for us to preserve and replenish our intestinal microbiota. However, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to sustain this vital organ like system in this day in age. For example, our good gut bacteria are negatively impacted by ever increasing antibiotic use, high carbohydrate diets, pesticides, and stress. We are also more exposed to environmental pollutants which also kill off the population of our intestinal microbiota. As a result, supplementing and/or incorporating in our diet probiotics are vital. Probiotics, as defined by a consensus document by the International Life Sciences Institute Europe, are “viable microbial food supplements which beneficially influence the health of humans.”

In all, it is advisable to incorporate regularly in your diet foods from fermented vegetables (such as pickled sauerkraut, turnips, cabbage, eggplants, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots), tempeh, kim chee, natto, and even homemade kefir or yogurt from raw milk. If consuming these foods on a regular basis is not possible, choosing a high quality multi-strained probiotic supplement that has a colony count in the billions will be an excellent alternative. Chewable or powdered forms of probiotics for kids are also readily available. It is especially important to take probiotics while on antibiotics because antibiotics wipe out our “good” bacteria. Moreover, it is best to take the probiotics at least two hours before or after taking the antibiotic. Generally speaking, it is best to supplement with a good quality probiotic daily.

I hope this sheds some light on what probiotics are and do, and how to best incorporate and/or supplement probiotics into your regular regimen to help maintain overall health and improve the effects of chronic conditions.

 

References:

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  • Rautava S, Kalliomaki M, Isolauri E. New therapeutic strategy for combating the increasing burden of allergic disease: Probiotics-A Nutrition, Allergy, Mucosal Immunology and intestinal Microbiota (NAMI) Research Group report. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2005; 116:31-7.
  • St-Onge MP, Farnworth ER, Jones PJ. Consumption of fermented and non-fermented dairy products: effects on cholesterol concentrations and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71:674-81.
  • Rosenfeldt V, Benfeldt E, Nielsen SD, et al. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in children with atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003; 111:389-95.
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