It seems like you can’t turn around these days without hearing something about probiotics. Haven’t we all seen Jamie Lee Curtis in a magazine or on television touting the benefits of Activa and the probiotics contained therein? But what are probiotics, really, and why should we care?
Twelve years ago when I started taking probiotics, not many people were familiar with them. Certainly it was new for me. I participated in an herbal healing weekend in 2003 and was officially introduced to probiotics. I’ve been taking them twice a day ever since.
There are literally countless twists and turns to the human digestive system, and I’m certainly no expert on the subject. So, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend, Maureen West, a certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner, to be this week’s guest blogger. I’ve asked Maureen to give us a probiotic primer for everyday healthy living, so here she goes.
Probiotics and Your Immune System
Did you know that 70 percent of your immune system “lives” in your digestive tract? That’s right, the digestive tract, which I affectionately refer to as “the gut.” It is your body’s front-line defense system against viruses, rogue cells and bacterial infections. When poor eating habits, stress, chemicals, environmental toxins, and heavy metals compromise your digestive system; your whole body is at risk.
Probiotics are often referred to as “good bacteria.” These microscopic organisms help the body absorb many important vitamins and minerals, including: calcium, iron, chromium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Probiotics also manufacture vitamins that not only modulate your “energy” levels and nerve function, but are also necessary for healthy brain activity.
What goes on inside the human body every second of every day is as fascinating as it is complex. Your intestines are home to literally millions of bacteria, some good and some bad, each fighting to tip the balance of power in their favor. Recent research suggests that the more good bacteria, AKA probiotics, living inside your intestines, the stronger your immune system will be.
A probiotic supplement, used to bolster the probiotic bacteria already living in your gut, is only as good as the bacterial components it is made from. There are approximately 20 strains of probiotics available today; most are multi-strain and a few are single strain. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium are the two most common strains of good bacteria, and an effective probiotic supplement should contain both. Probiotic supplements are expensive, so if you have a particular health issue you’re dealing with, I highly recommend that you consult with a certified nutritionist before purchasing, to avoid selecting the wrong one.
Specific strains of probiotics can have a positive affect on such health conditions as:
- Food allergies
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Acid reflux
- Lactose intolerance
Probiotics can also decrease total serum cholesterol levels, cause remission of ulcerative colitis and help to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). Probiotics also facilitate the production and absorption of essential nutrients like: Biotin, Choline, Folate, Inositol, PABA (Para Aminobenzoic Acid), Vitamin B2, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin K.
How Much Do I Take?
Probiotic supplements come in a range from 5 billion to 100 billion active probiotic cells, so recommended dosages will vary. Taking between 5 billion and 20 billion viable bacteria per day more often than not obtains a successful outcome. If you get stomach cramping or diarrhea, you need to reduce the amount of probiotics you’re taking.
More important than quantity, is to consider what kind of probiotic you should be taking. What do you want to focus on, healing or prevention?
For example, here are some factors that can compromise your body’s existing population of probiotics residing in your digestive tract:
- If you are currently on an antibiotic or have been on one in the last 12 – 24 months, it will be beneficial for you to start taking a probiotic that is targeted to counter the negative effects of antibiotic use.
- Long-term usage (e.g. more than one month) of grapefruit seed extract, large amounts of raw garlic, goldenseal, oregano oil, silver solutions and pasteurized foods.
For Extra Credit, include Probiotic Foods in Your Diet!
A diet with a variety of fermented foods further supports the healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut. Some good examples of healthy fermented foods:
- Sauerkraut (finely-cut, fermented cabbage)
- Kimchi (a Korean side dish, made from fermented Nappa cabbage)
- Kombucha (a lightly effervescent fermented drink of sweetened black and/or green tea, low-sugar variants are best)
- Organic Miso (fermented soybean paste)
- Organic Greek yogurt (low-sugar yogurt that has had the whey strained out)
- Organic Kefir (a refrigerated beverage made from cow, goat, or coconut milk)
- Sourdough Bread (bread products made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli)
Seven Points to Remember about probiotics:
- They are safe to take for all ages.
- Most require refrigeration, but some are manufactured as shelf-stable (the bacteria stays intact even at room temperature).
- Not all of them are the same; particular bacterial strains can target specific health condition/diseases.
- They promote overall good health.
- Foods that contain naturally occurring “good bacteria” are important to incorporate into an overall healthy diet.
- When purchasing kefir, kombucha, or other probiotic drinks, pay attention to the sugar content. (Select ones that have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.)
Maureen West is a Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner helping Baby Boomers feel like 40 again! She creates a custom program that empowers her patients to lead a happy, healthy life in a way that is flexible, fun and supports your bio-individual needs. She consults with clients in her Denver office, in their homes, by phone or Skype; and works with clients in all areas of the country.
West received her Nutritionist Certification from Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado and Masters Degree from Simmons School of Management, Boston. www.MaureenWest.net. Maureen loves the outdoors, she enjoys: walking, hiking, bicycling, snow shoeing and skiing. She is an active yoga practitioner and has a spiritual meditation practice. She frequents the Denver Art Museum and Botanic Gardens. She loves great food, especially the food she cooks for herself, family and friends.
If this article has sparked your interest in your nutrition and lifestyle, West provides FREE 30-minute consultations by phone or Skype. She can be reached at 407.921.9192 or Maureen@MaureenWest.net
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