Bacteria to the rescue
They live among us, unseen but always active. They are probiotics - and their presence in the gut is one of the components crucial to good digestive health.
They live among us—billions of them—unseen but always active. Their impact on our daily lives is large, yet few people are aware of it. They are probiotics—and their presence in the gut is one of the components crucial to good digestive health.
Digestive issues don’t make the most scintillating dinner topic, but they are increasingly common. Symptoms can be relatively minor, such as feeling bloated after a meal or having excess gas, or can be more serious, such as complaints associated with irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease.
Too much stress, a frenzied lifestyle, rushed eating habits, and the standard Western diet of largely processed and packaged foods—all of these wreak havoc on our gastrointestinal tract. Interestingly, many people miss or ignore the warning signs that their digestion is off until their condition has graduated from one that could have been easily addressed to something harder to correct.
Internal food processor
The seeming simplicity of the digestion process is misleading. Think of our gastrointestinal system as a highly evolved processor. The digestive tract runs for 30 feet inside the body.
Through a combination of mechanical (chewing) and chemical (enzymatic) means, whatever we consume is broken down into smaller parts as it makes its way into the mouth, down the esophagus, through the stomach, intestines, and colon, to finally be eliminated.
Without well-functioning digestion, we lack much-needed energy, nourishment, and the body’s nutritional building blocks. A lack in any type of food molecule—from macronutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates to micronutrients, such as calcium and magnesium—can have acute and chronic health implications.
If we don’t digest enough protein, for example, the body can’t harvest the amino acids from protein that are responsible for the growth and repair of muscles and tissues.
Digestive enzyme supplements taken with meals is one solution to ease the gastrointestinal distress caused by an inability to digest various nutrients. Enzymes come in varying strengths and blends to match even the most sensitive system.
Trillions of bacteria live in the digestive tract where their key role is not just to absorb nutrients but also to boost immunity. The two main friendly bacteria in the human body are Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria. It is their job to help the digestive tract absorb nutrients; ferment foods for further breakdown; and stop foreign toxins, bacteria, and viruses in their tracks.
When we are bacterially balanced, the body can breathe a sigh of relief. But when unfriendly bacteria take control, health issues such as bloating, constipation, skin conditions, yeast infections, and compromised immunity may occur.
Too much sugar, alcohol, coffee, and stress as well as antibiotics and birth control pills can contribute to bacteria imbalance in the gut. Supplementing with friendly bacteria or probiotics can make a difference digestion-wise and health-wise.
Probiotics are found in cultured dairy products such as yogourt and kefir, although we don’t generally eat enough to fully benefit. The supermarket cooler is full of probiotic-enhanced products, but truly therapeutic probiotic supplements contain 10 billion to 70 billion active units.
Supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes is just one piece of advice that Kevin Patrick of Vestta Whole Health Centre gives to his clients. If anyone has witnessed the effect that diet and lifestyle can have on digestion, bowel health, and overall health, it’s Patrick. He’s a certified colon hydrotherapist, instructor, and member of the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy.
“An individual who might not call themselves sick but whose digestive system is not working correctly will be setting up [internal] changes which can result in grave disease,” he says. He recommends his clients try the following:
This is an increasingly popular method of cleansing the body of accumulated toxins. “People seek colon hydrotherapy for many reasons, but common ones are abdominal bloating, constipation, excessive gas, and skin problems. I see tremendous benefits in all cases of digestive complaints,” Patrick tells alive.
Patrick advises people to follow a diet rich in fibre; vegetarian proteins such as those made from rice and hemp; unprocessed oils including olive oil, flax, borage, and coconut; and fermented vegetable cultures such as raw sauerkraut.
Drink water one hour before a meal or one hour after but never during meals, Patrick says, to avoid diluting gastric juices. Build up your alkaline mineral reserves by eating vegetables, fruits, and soaked nuts and seeds. “The more raw food you eat, the more you support the live digestive enzymes,” he adds.
The expression “health is real wealth” is truly significant when it relates to digestion. Keep yours in good shape and reap the long-term rewards.
Probiotics versus antibiotics
Antibiotic use is a common culprit of bacterial imbalance contributing to digestive and immunity issues. Antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria in the body, both the bad and the good.
A 2001 Canadian Medical Association Journal research letter noted that between 3 and 22 percent of hospital patients have antibiotic-related diarrhea. Therapeutic probiotic use continues to be overlooked, however.
Only 32 percent of Canadian family physicians recommend antibiotics and probiotics be taken together, and only half do so on a regular basis.
More recent articles have echoed this message—that probiotics remain underutilized despite their helpful effect on yeast and bladder infections, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, intestinal infection, childhood eczema, and more.
Anyone who takes antibiotics, or who has taken antibiotics, should consider supplementing with probiotics to support recolonization of friendly bacteria in the digestive system. Consult your natural health practitioner for dosage information that’s right for you.