Natasha Turner, ND
In the right places and amounts, bacteria can actually be valuable to our health and wellness. Beneficial bacteria found in probiotics such as yogourt and prebiotics such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) can keep the digestive system functioning normally.
In this anti-bacterial age, it’s hard to imagine that bacteria have any positive attributes. In the right places and amounts, though, bacteria can actually be valuable to our health and wellness. Beneficial bacteria found in probiotics such as yogourt and prebiotics such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) can keep the digestive system functioning normally.
The beneficial bacteria found in our digestive tract colonize our systems within days of our birth, especially if we are breastfed. These healthy bacteria are maintained and protected through proper nourishment and, if necessary, through supplementation.
Under normal circumstances, friendly bacteria found in our digestive system live in symbiotic harmony, but factors such as poor diet, infection, or medications, including the pill, antibiotics, and corticosteroids, can upset this balance and lead to diarrhea, cramping, bloating, or other unpleasant digestive symptoms.
Probiotics are Beneficial Bacteria
Research has found intestinal microflora are cancer-protective, immune-enhancing, and anti-inflammatory. Enriching microflora with probiotics can help prevent infections and yeast overgrowth by blocking harmful bacteria from attaching to intestinal walls and by maintaining intestinal pH. Probiotics improve digestive function and assist with the production of a number of vitamins, including vitamins K, B12, B5, and biotin.
The most abundant probiotic bacteria are known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (collectively known as acidophilus) and Bifidobacteria, while Saccharomyces boulardii is a common probiotic yeast. Bifidobacteria, the first to inhabit our digestive system, are present mostly in the large intestine, whereas Lactobacilli are normally present in higher amounts in the small intestine and vagina.
Prebiotics Feed Probiotics
Probiotic micro-organisms thrive only with the proper environment and food sources. That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are non-digestible, oligosaccarhides (complex sugars) in our food that become food sources for probiotics.
The prebiotics inulin and (FOS) are molecules of fructose and glucose that feed, nourish, and increase probiotic bacteria, especially Bifidobacteria. Both inulin and FOS are found naturally in chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, but FOS can also be found in foods such as onion, asparagus, garlic, bananas, barley, wheat, rye, and tomatoes. Both are also available as supplements.
Prebiotics have benefits beyond the positive effects on digestive flora. The butyrate produced when the bacteria break down the oligosaccharides in our digestive tract is known to be cancer protective. Prebiotics have also been shown to lower triglycerides, but just exactly how is unknown. Further, prebiotics regulate blood sugar, possibly through three mechanisms:
Taking probiotics and prebiotics can improve digestive health. Should you take them? The answer is a resounding Yes.
Take 1 to 2 billion cells of Lactobacilli and, Bifidobacteria once a day, away from food. During antibiotic therapy, increase the dose significantly to at least 15 billion cells per day and take the probiotics for twice the length of time of your antibiotic treatment. Take anywhere from 4 to 10 grams of prebiotics each day.