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Probiotics and Their Effect On the Body

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/24/2006 | Nutrition
Probiotics are nutritional supplements that contain strains of beneficial bacteria. You might wonder why someone would actually introduce bacteria into their diet. Bacteria are living in your body right now, over 3 pounds of it just in your intestines. That probably makes you want to run to the doctor's office and pick up a prescription for antibiotics. But before you do, you should realize that not all bacteria are the same. Everyone's body has a combination of good bacteria and bad bacteria living in it. The object is to have more good bacteria than bad, and this is where Probiotics come into play. They replenish the good bacteria and allow it to thrive and crowd out the illness-causing bad bacteria. And overgrowth of bad bacteria can lead to, or complicate a variety of diseases and even in an otherwise healthy person can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. Doctors in Europe have long recommended probiotics to their patients, and finally, many doctors in the United States are starting to follow their lead.

Bad bacteria can enter your body in a variety of ways. It's in the food we eat. It's on the door handles that we touch the phones that we answer. In short, bad bacteria are all around us. It enters the body and takes up residence in the small and large intestine, and once there, it flourishes. It latches on to the intestinal wall and begins to affect digestion. It causes inflammation of the intestinal lining and begins to inhibit the absorption of many nutrients. It even begins to produce toxic substances, like alcohols and aldehydes. The least serious result of bad bacteria in the gut is gas and bloating, mild abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea. But there are serious side effects as well. Overgrowth of bad bacteria is thought to contribute to many of the intestinal disorders we suffer with, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chrones disease, and Leaky Gut Syndrome. All in all, bad bacteria are bad for your body.

Lucky for us, researchers discovered probiotics, or good bacteria. Most of you probably know more about good bacteria than you think. We've all heard of Acidopholus, right? It is the main culture of most commercially prepared yogurt. We've all been told to look for the label stating "Live and Active Cultures." In essence, yogurt is a very weak probiotic. It contains a specific strain of bacteria that is normally found in our bodies. But this is not the kind of bacteria that makes us sick. This is a good bacterium. And there are many different varieties of it. Good bacteria enter our system, and again take up residence in the intestines. It fights with bad bacteria for nutrients and food, and if there are enough good bacteria, it will crowd out the bad and leave us with a more balanced system. It reduces the amounts of toxic substances in the gut and allows for the more effective production of digestive enzymes, such as lactase, which is needed to digest dairy products. In many cases, people with food sensitivities notice a reduction of their symptoms when they begin a long-term regimen of probiotics. Good bacteria also protect the lining of the intestines and allow our bodies to more easily fight off infection.

There are even more benefits to probiotics. Pediatricians in Finland performed a double-blind placebo controlled study with pregnant and nursing women. They found that women taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding reduced the chance of infants developing eczema, and also helped to prevent allergies in babies. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a doctor who uses a combination of holistic measures and standard drugs to treat his patients, taking a probiotic every day can reduce or reverse problems like acne, eczema, psoriasis, bad breath or body odor, developmental delays in some children, yeast infections, high cholesterol levels, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and frequent colds and flu.

So, while we should all probably take a probiotic every day, there are some times in our lives when we should "double up". Antibiotics are quite effective at killing off the bacteria that make us sick, but they also kill off the good bacteria. And science has shown that the bad always grows back more quickly. You need to actively replenish your system with probiotics to rebalance your body. You should also increase your probiotic intake after vaccinations, when you are sick with a cold or flu, and any time you have diarrhea.

Also, it is important to note that just eating yogurt is not enough. You need a quality probiotics with at least 10 to 16 different strains of live bacteria. Each strain of bacteria works slightly differently with your body, and some strains only take up residence in the small intestine. Probiotics are available in a powdered capsule form, and also as a liquid mixed with dairy. For children, the capsules can be opened and added to their favorite cold drinks. Many brands suggest refrigeration, and probiotics in general have a relatively short shelf life. In a perfect world, you should never heat a probiotic, or add it to a warm liquid, as this will kill the live cultures. But, a study done by Eyal Raz from the University of California, found that good bacteria is just as effective dead as it is alive.

Your doctor may be able to give you additional information about probiotics, though many doctors in the United States are just learning about these supplements. You may find it helpful to search out a doctor who uses a combination of holistic remedies and standard drugs. In any case, you should look into probiotics as a way to improve your health.