If you watch television you've likely seen one of the many commercials touting the benefits of probiotics. An advertising campaign by Activia brand yogurts has actress Jamie Lee Curtis explaining the benefits of the probiotics found in their product. There are several other commercials like it. But what's all the hype about?
There was a time when doctors would prescribe probiotics along with antibiotics. In 1954 Ferdinand Vergin wrote about the benefits of using probiotics to combat the upset of the microbial balance in the body caused by antibiotics. It is rare now that the two would be prescribed together. At best your practitioner may suggest eating yogurt while taking your pills. I don't think a cup Activia's actually going to do the trick.
We carry about 3-5 pounds of microbes in our digestive system. In fact we have more bacteria than we have cells of our own! We have what some call friendly bacteria, and pathogenic (bad) bacteria that are intricately balanced in our gut. It is important to have both. The bad bacteria helps to build our immunity so when we encounter that bacteria again, our immune memory knows exactly how to keep it in check. The friendly micro-flora (gut bacteria) is part of what keeps that pathogenic bacteria in check. Friendly bacteria also produces some of the vitamins and nutrients that we need to be healthy, like Vitamin K. Bacteria is very much a part of our health and immune system.
One of the many things about the media that bothers me is the over concern with bugs and germs. We are constantly hearing about new strains of bacteria infecting our food, etc. We also hear about all the people that get sick, and some who even die from these things. But you never hear the media talking about the immune system of those people that get sick and even die. We will always encounter germs, bacteria, viruses and disease. Our immune system's ability to combat those pathogens is what determines if we get sick or not.
Having a healthy balanced micro-flora in your gut is essential to living in a world full of bugs and germs! Sadly, the Standard American Diet (SAD) actually feeds bad bacteria and yeast in our bodies and hampers our immune system. Perhaps this is part of the reason so many get sick from these scary germs. Sugar and refined foods helps pathogenic "bad" bacteria multiply in our gut. Then when we come into contact with more of these buggers, we get sick. If we have a strong, healthy, balanced microflora with lots of healthy, friendly bacteria, our chances of getting sick from this contact is slim.
I'm not suggesting that we stop talking about the dangers of pathogens and bacteria in our environment. But I'm advocating that we also educate ourselves on how to combat them. You need a strong defense. Sure, it starts with your skin and keeping your hands and body clean. But what if they get inside? And they will. You need a healthy microflora and immune system. That's your defense against the bad guys.
There are many foods and beverages that have been traditionally fermented to provide us with good doses of healthy bacteria. But modern day refinement and processing of those foods will often destroy the living bacteria. For example, milk is pasturized at high heat before bottling. This kills the healthy bacteria. Yogurt has bacteria added back into it after pasturizing.
I will discuss in a later post the many foods you can prepare at home to provide this healthy gut flora. There are many you can purchase this way as well. However, those who have digestive issues and challenged immune systems (most of us) should supplement with good, strong probiotic supplements. There are some great products on the market now to do this. I suggest choosing the supplement with the most strains of bacteria, and with the strongest dosage. You may need to work yourself up to the strong ones. Many who start supplementing with probiotics experience some discomfort initially as the balance in the gut begins to restore. It's also important to purchase probiotics that will make it past the stomach acid. It's doubtful that the powdered kind will survive the stomach, but it really depends on the strains. Some are less affected by the HCl and gastric fluids.
Here's a list of the many health benefits of taking probiotics:
- Increases absorption of minerals and vitamins
- Relieves constipation and irritable bowel syndrome
- Reduces urinary and vaginal tract infections
- Inhibits the bacterial cause of stomach ulcers
- Prevents intestinal tract infections caused by bacteria, viruses or yeast
- Improves kidney and liver function by eliminating toxins
- Reduces allergic reactions
- Reduces blood cholesterol
- Stimulates the immune system
- Alleviates bloating
- Increases resistance to infectious disease
- Improves lactose digestion
- Reduces blood pressure
- Prevents osteoporosis
- Supports weight loss
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