What are Probiotics and what do they do?
Probiotics are live bacteria taken orally to supplement or replace bacteria that are beneficial to the body.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract–stomach, small intestines, and large intestines–contains over 400 bacterial species. Some of their functions are to aide digestion, synthesize vitamins and nutrients, promote regular bowel movements, and support the immune system (80% of which lives in your gut). A balance of these strains is necessary for optimal health.
What affects the bacteria in the GI tract?
- Medications (for example antibiotics kill both “good” and “bad” bacteria)
- diet (one example is that the over- consumption of sugar allows certain bacteria to overgrow affecting the balance)
- stress (affects the functioning of the digestive system)
- chlorinated water (kills all types of bacteria)
- numerous other factors can alter the bacterial flora in the intestinal tract.
Can probiotics be obtained through food?
Yes, fermented foods are full of good bacteria. However, many commercially available fermented foods are not good sources. Most commercially made yogurt and kefir are pasteurized which significantly decreases the quantity of live bacteria and many contain sugar. If you buy commercial fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, be sure that they are in the refrigerated section (Bubbies is one such brand.). Shelf-safe, canned sauerkraut and kimchi will not contain live bacteria. Fermented vegetables are usually high in sodium, so watch your intake. Be sure that fermented soy products (if you chose to eat soy) such as miso, tempeh, and tofu are certified organic so that they are not genetically modified.
If you choose to take a supplement. . .
Check for the strains of bacteria listed below. The supplement should be in the refrigerated section ensuring live strains of bacteria. Do your homework on the company to be sure you are getting a high quality supplement. My family takes Mega Food’s Mega Flora when we need to (always during a course of antibiotics and for 60 days after completion or when we are not eating any fermented foods).
What strains of bacteria are important for our health?
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactococcus lactis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bidifum
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Streptococcus thermophilus
If you don’t eat fermented foods, start with just a teaspoon a day to begin with to let your body adjust to the change in diet. When taking a probiotic supplement be sure to take it with food. And know that you may experience gas or bloating for a few days until your body adjusts.
Check with your doctor before starting on a course of probiotics if you have a compromised immune system.
One positive side effect may be an increase in overall energy. As the colon gradually becomes more efficient at removing waste material (and the toxins the waste carries), producing vitamins, and keeping pathogenic bacteria in check, an increase in energy is frequently a natural consequence.
One source of unpasteurized dairy products and lacto-fermented vegetables is a farm cooperative that has a drop point on Saturdays in Shrewsbury. They are also a good source for pasture-raised meat, poultry, and eggs. Click here to go to their website.
Gina Rieg of Simplified Wellnes for You holds classes in the area. Click here to see her list of upcoming events.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon contains information about and recipes for lacto-fermented foods. Click here to see Amazon’s listing for this book.
Acupuncture is very effective for improving digestive issues and supporting the immune system. Contact me if you have any further questions about probiotics or would like to consult with me to see how acupuncture or Zero Balancing might help you.