As many of you know, probiotics are products that contain bacteria. These bacteria are the “good” bacteria, and they are called probiotics to make it clear that they are designed to produce the opposite effect of antibiotics which kill bacteria. The most familiar of the good bacteria are the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter.
The GI tract contains around 100 trillion bacteria. Everyone has good bacteria in their digestive tract, but not everyone has the same kinds of good bacteria, or in the same amounts. For the last few decades we have seen the rise of antibiotics, considered wonder drugs because of the lives that they saved. Unfortunately, we have also seen that too much of a good thing can be harmful.
The overuse of antibiotics has directly contributed to the development of antibiotic resistant bad bacteria, such as MRSA. We are only beginning to appreciate that there is another downside to taking antibiotics – they kill good bacteria.
In response to this we are now seeing a rise in the popularity of probiotics. Probiotics are a wonderful tool when used properly, but they are not a cure all, and they are still largely misunderstood. Some processed foods, such as yogurt and acidophilus milk, contain good bacteria. It is now becoming fashionable to put probiotics into all sorts of processed food products in an effort to come up with new and creative ways to give people these good bacteria.
Good bacteria have been around for a lot longer than we’ve been around, and were available well before the invention of yogurt. Where did we used to get our good bacteria? You may be surprised to learn that many fruits and vegetables are naturally covered in good bacteria. For example, that natural wax on your organic apple (which by definition is not coated with man-made wax) is a film of Lactobacillus. Not only that, but plant foods also help to support the good bacteria in your digestive tract. These are two excellent reasons to eat more plants.
When we are born, there are no bacteria in our digestive tract. But as soon as we are born, bacteria begin to populate the gastrointestinal system. This is not only normal, but it’s imperative to life. Studies have shown that without bacteria animals do not develop properly and cannot live very long.
Some of the very first good bacteria to which we are exposed come from breast milk. One fascinating aspect of this is that studies now show that these bacteria are transferred directly from the digestive tract of the mother via the lymph system. This brings up an interesting question. Could problems in the mother’s digestive ecosystem carry over to her chilren?
It’s only recently that we have begun to gain a better appreciation for what good bacteria do for us. They inhibit the ability of bad bacteria and other microbes to affect us, both directly and indirectly. They modulate many immune functions and decrease inflammation. They are critical for digesting our food and for absorbing nutrients. They synthesize numerous vitamins. And they stimulate the motility of the digestive tract. Different bacteria have different positive effects. No two are quite alike.
Taking probiotics might seem like a no-brainer. It is certainly worth trying if you are suffering from digestive problems, but there are numerous probiotic products on the market and they vary widely in quality, quantity, and effectiveness. Equally important, the ecosystem of the digestive tract is a very complex area that is often affected by numerous other variables. People with digestive problems often find that probiotics are of no benefit, or only help a little. And sometimes they even make symptoms worse.
The reasons for this are too numerous to get into here. However, we specialize in the testing and treatment necessary to help you gain a better understanding of your unique bacterial environment. And we only recommend probiotics, if they are needed at all, once we have a clearer understanding of what is causing your symptoms.
Article Courtesy: Dr. Stephen Wangen
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