Post on: October 5, 2015.

Posted in: Read.

Probiotics are microbes, like bacteria and yeasts, that live in and on our body. They are superheroes that help fight off bad microbes, and fight for the health of your gut and ultimately your health.

 

What’s a Probiotic?

Probiotics are microbes, like bacteria and yeasts, that live in and on our body. They are superheroes that help fight off bad microbes, and fight for the health of your gut and ultimately your health. You may be saying, “Yuck, a microbe?!” Despite ‘microbe’ sounding a little creepy-crawly, it’s a good thing! You want billions of microbes in your gut, and you want them to be probiotics. Probiotics help you digest food, fight off infections, have better trips to the porcelain throne (hee hee…a little potty humour), make vitamins and much, much more! In fact, probiotics play so many important roles in your body’s health that one could argue probiotics are as important as vitamins to your health.

 

More than 400 Species of Bacteria in Your Gut

The human intestinal tract is home to over 400 species of bacteria, which we like to collectively call our “microflora”. Yes, that means the average adult is carrying around about four pounds of bacteria! Wow! Probiotics don’t just live in your gut. Probiotics also live in your mouth where they fight the bacteria that cause dental caries (cavities). They also live in your urinary tract and the vagina where they prevent  yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Like all epic heroic battles, there are both good guys and bad guys in our body’s microbial world. Microbes may be good (like probiotics) or bad. (like E.coli , Salmonella or the ever the dreaded Candida). Typically, in a healthy digestive system there are many more good bacteria (probiotics) than bad bacteria. However, when our bodies are exposed to antibiotics, stress, travel, a poor diet – probiotic levels can drop, allowing the bad microbes a chance to grow and cause health problems – we call this “dysbiosis”.

 

How do Probiotics Work?

There are hundreds of research studies showing the far-reaching abilities of probiotics. Probiotics prevent the harmful, bad microbes from growing in your body. They make your body inhospitable to these ‘bad microbes’ by “eating up” their available food sources, secreting acids bad microbes do not like, and by taking up receptor sites (you can think of those like parking spaces) along the intestinal lining. When probiotics are “parked” per se in your digestive tract (or even just on their way through) they do many things. They help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients by keeping the lining functioning optimally. Plus, they help get nutrients ready for absorption – for example, probiotics convert all of the relatively useless vitamin K1 you’re getting by eating those healthy green foods, into the very useful vitamin K2. Probiotics also lower blood cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol reabsorption.

Perhaps the MOST exciting thing that probiotics do while interacting with your digestive lining is they “talk” to your immune system! Just below your digestive lining are immune system communication centres – probiotics attach to the lining of the gut and positively talk your immune system. Thus, even though probiotics live on your skin and in your gut, they actually affect your entire body! By helping regulate the immune system, probiotics could help prevent the common cold to reducing inflammation in joints.

 

What Foods do we get Probiotics From?

Not many since we sterilize, pasteurize, microwave – we live in a very microbe-free environment. Yet, some foods contain small amounts of probiotics including fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. There are also probiotic yogurts that offer slightly higher amounts of probiotics. Sadly, we don’t eat very many foods that contain probiotics in a typical Western diet.

 

Foods Compared to Probiotic Supplements?

A rough estimation is that you would need to consume about 300 cups of plain yogurt to get the same amount of probiotics as that used in supplements given during research studies. Probiotic supplements offer dosages great enough to elicit health benefits, and fill the void of probiotics in our sterile diets.

 

How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement?

First, it’s important to recognize that there are two main families of probiotics: Lactobacilli and Bifidobaceria. In general, Lactobacilli live in your mouth, small intestine, urinary and vaginal tract. Bifidobacteria live in your colon. For ‘full-body’ probiotic coverage you need a supplement with both families. On product labels, you see these family names shorted to L. and B., then the species name listed after, such as L. acidophilus or B. bifidobacteria. There are over 40 known species of probiotics. Each species of probiotic offers your body different health benefits. If you were to take a probiotic supplement that contains one species, you’d get it’s unique set of benefits. If you were to take a probiotic supplement that contains two species, you’d get a few more health benefits. As such, it is no surprise that current research has shown that probiotic formulas with more strain variety and higher potencies offer greater activity and overall health.
More about probiotics, in Allison’s book Probiotic Rescue