How Do Probiotics Help Me?
Probiotics have been around for many years. It was not until the earlier part of the first decade of this century that the study and evaluation of probiotics has accelerated. Many claims have been made, but what are the benefits of probiotics to your health and your family? What are the dangers? Are all probiotics the same? This article attempts to answer some of these questions and provide you with an understanding of probiotics.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are multiple microorganisms (bacteria) that are present in the human digestive tract and are provided to the body through food intake, liquid or in tablet form. Liquid and tablet forms generally have a higher concentration than foods, such as yogurt.
How do Probiotics Work?
Our gastrointestinal tract (digestive tract) is extremely important in the defense of our body against disease. The study of probiotics is expanding at a rapid pace as scientists discover more information on how this bacteria affects our body systems.
The microorganisms or good bacteria are distributed along our digestive tract and they play an important role in not only defending us from infection and disease but aiding in digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. Researchers have found a relationship between a healthy digestive tract and our immune system. A healthy immune system helps fight infections and disease. There are reports that the digestive tract has nearly 500 different bacterial species which are common to humans.
The intestinal lining and digestive organisms are a first line of defense against invasion of the bacteria that cause diseases. They can assist in the production of vitamins, particularly the vitamin B complex. The good bacteria keep the body in balance and prevent the bad organisms or bacteria from taking over the body which can result in sickness and disease.
What are Some Benefits of Probiotics?
Doctors may recommend probiotics for patients with certain gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Dietary changes such as adding more roughage to the diet are also recommended. Probiotics are helpful in stool softening, reduction of gas, bloating, digestion of nutrients from the intake of food, and regular bowel movements. This is particularly true in patients with diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or gastroenteritis. Dr. Weil, a medical doctor and nutritional expert, has reported that probiotic ingestion for lactose intolerance may be helpful. A patient taking an antibiotic not only destroys the disease producing bacteria causing the illness but also destroys the normal or good intestinal bacteria. Taking probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics therapy assists the body in returning to normal intestinal balance. Without balancing the digestive tract, antibiotic-induced diarrhea and other serious problems could develop in the form of Clostridium difficile.
Studies have shown that probiotic therapy may have a positive effect on children with allergies. Research is ongoing in this area. Research has also indicated a possible relationship to the successful care and treatment of inner ear infection (acute otitis media) and respiratory infections in the young.
In addition to using probiotics in respiratory and immune system response, studies are ongoing for the benefit with cardiac and neurological patients. Reports have been published on the use of probiotics in decreasing the intensity and duration of the common cold.
In Which Foods Do Probiotics Occur Naturally?
We are able to obtain good bacteria with ingestion of some foods. Good sources of probiotics include the following:
- Yogurt – Read the label to confirm it contains lactobacillus or bifidobactera.
- Unpasteurized Sauerkraut – When sauerkraut is pasteurized, it destroys the good bacteria. Sauerkraut also is a good source of vitamins.
- Soft Cheese – Soft cheese such as Gouda has lactobacillus present due to the fermentation process.
- Milk – Those milk products which have Lactobacillus acidophilus added to the product. Read the label!
- Kefir – Found in your dairy case in liquid form.
- Capsules – Provide a concentrated dose of multiple strains of bacteria. Vitamin and nutrition stores have a wide variety. These should be kept in the refrigerator to preserve potency.
The benefits of eating food rich in probiotics or taking probiotic supplements have continued to expand. In addition to supplementing your diet with probiotics, other products can assist the good bacteria that you have in your digestive tract. These are called Prebiotics, which are specific foods that provide nutrition to organisms living in the digestive tract. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not bacteria. Some examples of prebiotics are:
- Bananas and Most Fruits
- Red Wine
- Asparagus and Legumes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Maple Syrup
What Are The Dangers of Probiotics?
As with most nutritional products, controversy swirls. Some authors report there are little or no problems taking probiotics yet others caution the use for elderly people, women during pregnancy, women nursing, and individuals with compromised immune systems such as those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Like all medications, probiotics should be kept out of the reach of young children.
Our gastrointestinal tract (digestive tract) is extremely important in the defense of our body against disease. The study of probiotics is expanding at a rapid pace as scientists discover more information on how this bacteria affects our body systems. This research includes double-blind and randomized controlled studies as well as observational studies. The research has included thousands of people in various settings throughout the world. The conclusions of many of the researchers support the benefits of probiotics. Scientific research is ongoing in the field of probiotics. Researchers are looking for more connections with our intestinal bacteria and health. Probiotic capsules have been tested and some have been found to have fewer organisms in the capsule than advertised. Look for products that have a laboratory confirmed dosage and ingredients. In the meantime, adding a probiotic to your diet can be helpful for your health.
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