Your friendly bacteria

Some bacteria in your digestive tract, termed “good” bacteria, are a very important aspect of our digestive system and overall health.  Before you read this much simplified crash course on “good” bacteria, you must familiarize yourself with a few terms.  The first term commonly used when discussing “good” bacteria is “flora”.  Gut flora is just a different way of saying digestive microbes or small living organisms living in your digestive system.  Maybe just as common as “flora” is the word “probiotic”.  Probiotic is the term given to foods and supplements that contain live beneficial microbes that when administered in an adequate amount gives a health benefit to the host.  There is somewhat of a mutual partnership between you, the host, and the “good” bacteria in your digestive system, where both the host and bacteria can live and be healthier together.  Another common word is prebiotic.  Prebiotic refers typically to the fiber component found in certain foods or supplements that support the growth of probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract.  Basically good bacteria feed on fiber; where as the less desirable bad bacteria like to eat refined sugars and fats.

What do probiotic organisms do?

  • fermentation of non-digestible dietary residue resulting in more digestion of your food
  • support the absorption and production of B vitamins, vitamin k, minerals, and ions
  • Supports your protein and carbohydrate digestion with enzymes
  • Aids in dairy digestion in people who are lactose intolerant
  • Maintains your ideal “good” to “bad” bacteria ratio by promoting the optimal environment for the growth of good bacteria, “good” and “bad” bacteria compete for the same location and if the digestive tract is full of the “good” then there is no where for the “bad” to stake claim and grow
  • Helps you maintain appropriate bowel transit time
  • Produces lactic acid for your support of digestive processes and colon pH balance which makes the colon a hostile environment for some invaders
  • Healthy amounts of “good” bacteria has been shown to boost your immune system, it has been said that 80% of your immune system lives in your digestive system

Where did all the good bacteria go?

In short, poor diet, not eating probiotics, not eating traditional fermented foods, our endless efforts to be clean, such as antibacterial products and hand sanitizers, and clear of diseases, such as antibiotics, have left many of us short of optimal digestive balance.  To begin with, the process in which we make food convenient and fast, tends to remove all bacteria, throwing the good out with the bad so to speak.  This process is called pasteurizing or sterilizing, and this destroys the helpful bacteria needed to promote intestinal health.  Secondly, when taking antibiotics we often overlook what all is taking place.  The definition of antibiotic is a drug that kills or reduces the growth of bacterial infection.  Antibiotic medication can not differentiate between good and bad bacteria, and thusly kills the good normal intestinal and vaginal bacteria. Which is partially why so many women get urinary tract infections after taking antibiotics

Who may benefit from probiotic supplementation or food?

As always it is best for you to consult with your healthcare provider about if probiotic supplementation is right for you.  However, research is showing positive findings for patients with the following issues: signs of digestive imbalance such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, cystitis, urinary tract infections, food allergies, ulcers, chronic yeast infections, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, research is continuously coming out on obesity, intestinal cancers, other chronic diseases and more.  Otherwise healthy people may consider taking probiotics after a course of antibiotic treatment, or if they are traveling abroad and are concerned about their immune system.

Where can I get probiotics in my diet?

Scientists estimate that there are 100’s of different species of bacteria alive inside you numbering about one hundred trillion. The weight of these bacteria is estimated at about two to three pounds.  Currently, scientists are working to identify these different species and their role in our digestive system.  There are approximately 10 different species that are more researched, and of those 10 species only two species of bacteria seem to be of main focus; Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.  Typically, you will only get the 10 more researched species in supplement form.  From your diet the most common way to get the good bacteria is in yogurt, milk enriched with acidophilus, some cheeses, raw sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh. In fact, it has become increasingly popular for yogurt manufactures to advertise their products as being probiotic and good for your digestive system.  But as stated above, our food safety regulations, means less bacteria (including the good ones) survive the manufacturing process. Many types of food will undergo pasteurization or sterilization during the manufacturing process and thusly killing most of the bacteria.  While this is helpful in disease prevention, it also means we get less good bacteria though our diet.  Therefore it is even more important to consider supplementation with probiotics, while getting prebiotics to support the probiotics. Some dietary sources of prebiotics are breast milk, onions, tomatoes, bananas, barley, garlic, jicama, chicory, apple,
Jerusalem Artichoke, and wheat.   Prebiotics occur naturally in foods, but supplements provide a more concentrated source of this substance.  For those who are avoiding dairy, there are supplements of probiotics that are in a non-dairy form.

Are There Any Potential Side Effects Or Drug Interactions?

It is recommended to introduce probiotics slowly to avoid excess gas and bloating; even with slow introduction, it may still happen but usually stops after a few days. Probiotics may not be recommended for individuals with weakened immune systems, pregnant or lactating, or taking immune weakening medications.  You should consult with your healthcare provider and ask if taking probiotics would be advised as part of your effort to replenish your good bacteria.

The topic of probiotics maybe a little confusing, partially due to the over simplification necessary to keep this article an article and not a book, but also due to the probability this is new news to you.  However, to summarize not all bacteria will cause disease and sicknesses to our body.  Many healthcare providers recommend that in order to get back on track to building your ideal health, you need to start with a good foundation in your digestive system.  This comes from not only the good bacteria, but by adding extra fiber and water to your diet to enhance the benefits of the probiotics.  Laying this foundation will therefore allow the good bacteria to work for you, helping your digestive system and immune system be strong and healthy.

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