What's the big deal with probiotics?
(Originally published August 30, 2016)
You may have heard the term probiotics. You may have seen the commercials telling you to eat yogurt. What's all the fuss?
Our bodies are full of bacteria! They are supposed to be; it's natural. We have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in our guts: they keep us healthy and even make some vitamins for us (like vitamin K). When we are born, we are inoculated with flora (ie bacteria) from our mom as we pass through the birth canal. It then relocates to our colon where it sets up shop.
There are good guys and bad guys. You can think of it as a space issue: the more space taken up by the good guys, the less room there is for the bad guys to exist and wreak havoc. What happens when the flora is unbalanced? The unnatural flora can cause inflammation. This leads to gastrointestinal symptoms that can include constipation and bloating. In addition, all the inflammation makes the intestines "leaky": basically molecules from our digestive tract are absorbed into the body before they have been completely broken down. Once inside the body, these can be seen as foreign invaders and lead to immune reactions (causing you to experience allergies, migraines, achy joints, etc.)
Traditionally, our diets contained much more fermented foods, and these foods, containing live cultures, helped replenish our normal flora. If we add the change in diet to the over exposure of antibiotics, we set up a picture of dysbiosis (too many bad guys in the gut.) Antibiotics are everywhere: in our medicine, in our handwash, in our meat, milk, and produce; even in paint for the walls of your home! Antibiotics don't care which type of bacteria they kill, and make no distinction between the good and the bad. In order to stay healthy, we need to replenish on a regular basis.
One of the ways the body can do this is via the appendix. Yes! all the parts of the body have a purpose. The appendix is a storehouse of bacteria that helps re-seed the gut after an illness.
We can also incorporate fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, and sauerkraut into our diet. I don't mean the yogurt that is full of as much sugar as a cup of ice cream, but fresh, local yogurt from the dairy and other fermented foods containing live cultures.
And then there are probiotics. Usually they come in a capsule or pill, sometimes a powder. These consist of a variety of strains of bacteria that normally live in our gut. Taking these are a great way to help balance the bacterial playing field. Patients often see immediate relief of digestive symptoms. You can find them at the local health food store or talk to your Naturopath. In addition to the general strains, research is being done on utilizing particular strains medically for different health disorders. You may also hear the term "prebiotics" and this refers to the food for the probiotics. Many formulas will contain these as well. Side effects are minimal, but if you take too much you may experience loose stools.
I recommend most people taking probiotics from time to time. Especially if taking antibiotics or suffering from allergies or intestinal disorders. For more information on how probiotics can help you, contact Dr. Zurich at Infuse Health Clinic.