Heather Von Stackelberg, BSc
Without these probiotic microorganisms, we could not survive. They help digest food, especially fats and proteins, they make vitamins like vitamin B12 and vitamin K that our bodies can't make and they inhibit pathogenic bacteria.
Humans are teeming with inner life. In fact, only about 10 percent of the cells that make up our bodies can truly be called our own. The other 90 percent are bacteria, single-celled organisms that live in symbiosis with a healthy body, mostly in the large intestine, stomach, mouth and vagina. Some of the bacteria are pathogens ones that make us sick when we are stressed, run down or otherwise vulnerable. Most are bacteria called probiotic microorganisms that help us stay healthy.
Without these probiotic microorganisms, we could not survive. They help digest food, especially fats and proteins, they make vitamins like vitamin B12 and vitamin K that our bodies can't make and they inhibit pathogenic bacteria. Most of the bad bacteria like slightly alkaline environments, but most of the probiotic bacteria are acid loving and actually help keep our bodies slightly acid. As a result, bad bacteria don't grow well, are out-competed by the probiotic species and unable to cause problems.
There is good evidence that probiotic organisms can also increase the nutritional value of food through better breakdown and absorption, produce antibiotics and anticareino-gens and break down and recycle toxins. They can also boost the immune system, improve digestion and help prevent urinary tract and vaginal infections as well as inflammatory bowel disease. Probiotic supplements are safe to take during pregnancy. They may even help the infant through breast feeding, since mother's milk is the best way for infants to establish a healthy population of beneficial bacteria in their colons.
Humans have a long history of increasing and encouraging probiotic organisms. The history of using lacti-cacid bacteria to ferment foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut goes back so far that the origins have been lost.
Near the end of the 19th century, new school of thought gained popularity. It was based on the ancient South Asian idea that ill health begins in the colon, as a result of autointoxication or poisoning ourselves. This is a process in which waste products that are not promptly expelled from the colon seep into the bloodstream and cause aging and disease. Therefore, to combat ill health, the goals of diets and therapies become speeding waste through the colon and reducing putrefaction in the colon.
Probiotic microorganisms can help with both of those. Fermenting meat into sausage with lactic acid bacteria can reduce spoilage in meat. In the same way, probiotics can reduce putrefaction in the colon. Milk with extra lactic acid bacteria added, called acidophilus milk was used to treat constipation and diarrhea in the 20s and 30s quite effectively. When commercial tablets came on the market, interest waned because the tablets had low viable levels of bacteria and gave little benefit.
Now, a wide variety of effective supplements are available, and there are even more reasons to take them. Many things in modern life kill our beneficial bacteria or inhibit their action; foremost is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill probiotic species just as effectively as they do pathogenic bacteria. This allows species like Candida albicans, the microorganism generally responsible for yeast infections, to grow and thrive.
Dr Shahani, one of the world's leading probiotic specialists, recommends that antibiotics be used short term and only when absolutely necessary. He also advises to use narrow rather than broad spectrum antibiotics. He also recommends that all people on antibiotics take probiotic microflora supplements.
Even if you are not on antibiotics, probiotic supplements can be beneficial. Chlorine in most city water can kill the probiotic microorganisms in our intestines. Antibiotics in pesticide or herbicide residue on fruits and vegetables can inhibit the beneficial action of friendly bacteria, as can some of the compounds found in raw vegetables and alcohol. Excessive sugar, fat, red meat and refined foods may promote undesirable species. All of these conditions can be helped by supplementation.
Tablet, powder, capsule and liquid form are all available, as well as many species and combinations of species. Combinations of species are usually more effective since they have greater adaptability to internal conditions. Capsules generally provide more protection from contamination, oxygen and moisture so that viability is higher. Experiment with different types and see what works best and gives the most benefits.
Watch for a production date on the supplement bottle, since commercial forms lose potency in four to 10 months. It is also a good idea to refrigerate the bottle, especially after opening. Starting supplementation may increase gas for a short while before it normalizes, so it might be a good idea to ease into it by taking a half dose for a week or two to start.
If commercial supplements are inconvenient, probiotic organisms can be taken in yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. These might not work as well, since many commercial strains of bacteria used are animal form. These strains may not stick to the intestines or grow as well as the strains in commercial supplements that specifically work with humans.
Supplementation or even a dish of yogurt as a frequent snack are easy ways to get a major health benefit. Our lives have become increasingly harsh on both the inside and out. For all they put up with and all they do for us, the friendly bacteria living inside us deserve a hand.