Did you know that your digestive tract is full of trillions of bacteria? We often associate bacteria negatively with disease and illness when we think of bacteria. But the bacteria in our gut are good. Well, most of it is, hopefully. That’s where probiotics come in.
The “good” bacteria in our digestive tract help protect our bodies against disease and assist indigestion. However, when the ratio of good bacteria to harmful bacteria becomes unbalanced, our gut becomes overwhelmed, and our bodies not only miss essential nutrients, but our entire digestive system begins to function poorly. Consuming probiotics keep this balance in check and boosts sluggish digestive systems.
Probiotics mean “for life,” and it is no wonder why. The following are just a few of the healthy benefits of probiotics:
- Kill disease-causing microbes
- Produce vitamins A, B, and K
- Protect us from illness
- Enhance peristalsis
- Produce lactase for milk digestion
- Ferment dietary fiber
- Produce essential short-chained fatty acids—Ex. Butyric Acid
And that is to name a few of the benefits of these healthy bacteria. Due to the popularity of probiotics, their use has continued to be studied, and research has already shown that the benefits of probiotics go beyond the gut. For example, ingesting probiotics daily enhances your overall immune system. This is due to 70% of your immune system being located in your digestive tract. In other words, if your gut is overrun with harmful bacteria, you can probably imagine it is difficult for your immune system to function at its best.
Other discoveries of the health benefits of probiotics are the following:
- Prevent post-surgery infections
- Treatment of acute and chronic diarrhea
- Relief of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Protect against and prevent cancer development and progression
- Prevent eczema in children
- Prevent and treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections
- Assist in weight loss, the reduction of weight gain, and maintaining ideal weight
- Help soothe allergies and allergic responses
So why do some people have more lousy gut bacteria than others? We aren’t born that way. We are all born with our own “good” bacteria. After birth, breast milk helps those good bacteria continue to grow and multiply. Unfortunately, our diets ultimately drive the number of good bacteria down and allow the harmful bacteria to take over. Diets full of processed and pasteurized foods may be yummy, but they are practically devoid of the healthy bacteria necessary for a balanced intestinal environment.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. The main exception is naturally fermented foods consumed in their natural state. In other words, fermented and unpasteurized foods such as kefir, kvass, yogurt, sauerkraut, and natto (fermented soy) are excellent healthy, happy bacteria sources. In addition, consuming these foods is a great way to prevent the detrimental damage of other harmful substances to your gut, such as antibiotics.
Antibiotics are one of the worst offenders for creating an unhappy, unbalanced digestive tract. The drugs kill the terrible bacteria likely causing your illness when you take antibiotics. But here’s the catch. Antibiotics also kill good bacteria. Killing both the good and bad bacteria creates an environment welcoming to all sorts of trouble. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider. Many may recommend taking a probiotic supplement following a round of antibiotics. Other doctors suggest taking a probiotic supplement daily. I tell my patients to both take a probiotic supplement and eat fermented food—but as always, consult your physician before making any dietary changes. (This is meant only to be a suggestion.)
If a probiotic supplement is right for you, there are many to choose from, and it is essential to know what you are looking for. You will want a dietary supplement that has supported research showing immune system protection, allergy reduction, and effective and enhanced nutrient protection. Strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most commonly used “good” bacteria in supplements. There are over 35 species of Bifidobacteria and 125 species of Lactobacilli, up from the majority of good bacteria also known as microflora in your large bowel or colon.
When you choose to supplement your diet with probiotics or include fermented, unpasteurized foods, your gut will become balanced and healthy, and your immune system will be restored to optimum functioning. As a result, you will no longer have to worry about the illness, and you can rest assured your body is properly absorbing the nutrients you are providing it.