Probiotics, the new fad for health. We hear about them all the time. TV commercials, ads in magazines, books on the shelf and the foods they are in. But, why do we really need them and what’s the sudden interest?
Probiotic, originating from the Greek meaning “for life”, are our best friends in our gut. There are over 1,000 species of these microorganisms that are given to us at birth and boosted with breast milk. Comprising about 7lbs of your weight, this amazing gut flora is here to protect you by assisting in digesting food, protecting you from pathogens, helping you detoxify from harmful compounds, and producing vitamins & nutrients to keep you healthy. It makes sense to want to support this community in our gut, right?
Probiotics are living organisms, and we want to keep them alive. They adhere to the gut wall, where they live and thrive, and this is called colonization. Having a clean environment where they can easily get to the mucosal lining is like putting out the welcome mat. Things like stress, processed and acidic foods, antibiotics and medications cause for a bad neighborhood. Having an inhospitable environment froces the good bacteria to leave town, and your health declines. Fear not, getting it back on track is easy.
Oral probiotics are not all made alike. These microorganisms live several days after ingestion. You want to take them continually in order to keep the colonization going. When they’re able to proliferate, they improve gut ecology and overall health. This is why it’s important that the strains must be resistant to stomach acid and liver bile as they move through the digestive tract. They need to be specifically time released to meet this requirement.
Historically, probiotics were part of our regular diet. Today’s food based source of probiotics include anything fermented and not pasteurized. These foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables, non-pasteurized yogurt, kefir and cheese.
So how do you know if you need probiotics? I think we all need them, especially in our culture. One out of four Americans suffer from constipation, exacerbated by prescriptions, resulting in $1.2 trillion spent annually on remedies. Four out of five are prescribed antibiotics and many bugs are becoming resistant. With these numbers and a rise in symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, GERD, constipation, diarrhea, IBS and Crohn’s, you are most likely a good candidate for probiotics.
When you are out looking for a good probiotic to purchase, check the refrigerated section at the store. The most important thing to look for is a time-release capsule, which ensures they will live past the stomach and get to work. Next, having 10-12 different strains is great as they each work in different sections of the colon. Keeping numbers up is also important. Start with a 50 billion count for best results. As always, consult your physician before altering your supplementation.