Everywhere you look people, magazines, commercials, Dr. Oz, and even your friendly neighborhood colon hydrotherapist (me), are all talking about probiotics.
If you haven’t heard about probiotics you probably live in a cave…they’re like the Justin Bieber of the health industry.
Despite all of the advertising available touting the superpowers of the probiotic, many clients who come to see me still don’t understand their benefits or why they might need them, and they come armed with the following questions:
1. What are probiotics?
The term probiotic means “healthful to life” and is commonly used to refer to the supplemental form of the friendly bacteria that live in our colon. Let’s back track a bit. There are 10 to 1 more bacteria in our intestinal tract than there are human cells in our body, and there are about 400-500 different types1. Some are good, some are bad, but if the digestive system is working properly the good will crowd out the bad and make living conditions extremely inhospitable.2 However, the good guys are greatly reduced by excessive use of antibiotics, chlorinated water, junk food, pollution, preservatives, and if we live in modern society then there is also the stress of our daily lives, unless of course you live in that cave. A lack of beneficial bacteria can cause all kinds of digestive problems from gas to bloating, constipation and diarrhea to throw just a few out there.
2. Are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria the same as probiotics?
You’ve also probably heard probiotics referred to by their fancy pant’s Latin names. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifodobacteria are just two of some of the most common strains of bacteria that are found in probiotic supplements and fermented foods – but more on those in a moment. Each strain of bacteria provides different healthful benefits such as, but not limited to:
– Manufacture vitamins like B’s, K, and sometimes Vitamin A.
– Produce antibiotics that prevent harmful bacteria and fungus from taking over.
– Manufacture essential fatty acids.
– Increase the number of immune system cells.
– Break down and rebuild hormones.
– Normalize cholesterol levels.
– Promote healthy metabolism.
– Healthy digestion through functions like peristalsis and regular bowel movements.
– Reduce symptoms of Candidiasis, gastritis, gas, heartburn, IBS, Crohn’s, colitis,1
3. I hate taking supplements, are there foods that provide healthy bacteria?
Yes. The use of probiotic bacteria in the form of fermented foods dates back to pre-Christian times3. You can include popular fermented foods in your diet like sauerkraut and other fermented veggies, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, but you really have to consume them on a regular basis. Why? Go back and reread above about the stress of modern life and how it depletes bacteria and causes all kinds of issues.. Plus – if you’re constipated, like most people are, they probably aren’t doing you much benefit right off the bat until you get your poop moving out everyday! The first parts of the colon, known as the cecum and ascending colons, have the important function of lubricating the entire colon with intestinal flora. When the bowel is packed with crusty old feces it’s not possible for the colon to function normally and the probiotics can’t flourish very well!4
4. But I eat yogurt, isn’t this enough? Why do I still feel bloated?
The yogurt debate is another beast all on it’s own and deserves it’s own post. Stay tuned.
5. What’s with all of the media hype, why are probiotics so popular now? Are you sure I really need them?
As I mentioned we’ve been eating fermented foods that contain healthy bacteria for a long, long time, and even having farm fresh food pre great war times would give us some bacteria from the soil its grown in. Now we spray copious amounts of pesticides on our food, and have to wash it thoroughly before consuming. At the beginning of the 20th century a Russian scientist put probiotics on the science map, but as soon as antibiotics came along probiotics fell to the way side for years.5
Now due to the fact that we are under constant stress – job, family, environmental pollution, chemicals, drugs and antibiotics, poor diets containing junk food, preservatives, etc, the need for probiotics is even greater and we’ve capitalized on this need. It’s not a gimmick; we’ve just finally seen the need to take care of our digestive system.
6. How many and what kind of probiotic supplement should I take.
The market offers a wide variety of probiotics supplements, so please work with a qualified practitioner to ensure selection of a high quality probiotic, and correct dosage but for a wide spectrum probiotic, look for one that contains many different species of bacteria.
1. Lipski, Elizabeth. (2005). Digestive Wellness. McGraw Hill
2. Jensen, Dr. Bernard. (1999). Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care. Avery.
3. Campbell-McBride, Dr. Natasha (2004). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Medinform Publishing.
4. Walker, W. Norman (1979). Colon Health. Norwalk Press.
5. Dash, S.K. (2005). The Consumer’s Guide to Probiotics. Freedom Press.