Go with Your Gut
By Vera Tweed
Why probiotic supplements may be the closest thing to a cure for digestive distress.

Never underestimate the power of a healthy gut. It harbors microorganisms, or bacteria, that are made up of 10 times as many cells as the entire human body, according to scientists in England. Gut bacteria also contain genes that influence our overall health, so it pays to keep those tiny organisms in good shape—with probiotics.

Bacteria can be harmful or helpful. Probiotics, often referred to as friendly bacteria, are the good guys that keep invaders from doing damage, help to regulate the immune system, and keep our digestive system functioning optimally.

“Millions of Americans experience digestive problems, but few know that the key to digestive health is maintaining a balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the colon, a vital part of the digestive system,” says Anish Sheth, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. “But there are things consumers can do,” he adds, “such as taking a probiotic to address digestive symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating, as well as overall colon health.”

Poor eating habits and stress contribute to compromised digestion. A recent survey found that most Americans have experienced increased stress due to the economy, and in response, nearly 40 percent eat more comfort foods, snacks, and fast food.

“Probiotics can be especially helpful when the digestive system is under stress from all sorts of issues,” says Sheth, “ranging from occasional diarrhea to constipation.” Probiotics have been ingested for thousands of years in fermented milk to enhance health and longevity.

Benefits

The full potential of probiotics is just beginning to be discovered. So far, numerous studies, summarized in a review of research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have shown that probiotics can both prevent and help to treat diarrhea. According to the Mayo Clinic, these friendly organisms may work in the following ways:

  • They compete with harmful bacteria to nullify or reduce damage.
  • They help to maintain or restore optimum balance of bacteria in the digestive system that may have been disrupted by antibiotics or harmful bacteria.
  • They enhance the immune system.
  • They calm harmful overreaction of the immune system.

Other research, published in Nature and other scientific journals, has found that the balance of gut bacteria differs between obese and lean people, and that this delicate balance changes during weight loss. The balance also differs between people with and without diabetes. However, it’s too early to tell whether taking probiotics has a significant effect on weight loss or diabetes.

Choosing Probiotics

Probiotics are living organisms and provide benefits when they are ingested while alive. Heat can kill some or all of these tiny organisms if they are not protected. To maintain efficacy, some probiotic supplements are refrigerated, while others use various technologies to encapsulate and protect the live organisms until they reach the intestine. Make sure to follow product directions to maintain the integrity of any product you choose, and take note of any expiration dates.

Probiotics in therapeutic amounts are found in a variety of supplements, and to a lesser degree in yogut, kefir, fermented soy, and other foods. In addition, new ways to protect these organisms from heat are increasing options for food and beverage manufacturers. For example, Bigelow has developed an herbal tea with probiotics (Lemon Ginger Herb Plus) for digestive health, using a patented process that protects live organisms from being destroyed by heat or stomach acid, enabling them to reach the intestine in a therapeutic form.

Dosages of friendly bacteria are stated as colony forming units, or CFUs. For therapeutic effects, the Mayo Clinic recommends a daily dose of 10 billion CFUs.




Product Examples (from left)

ReNew Life Ultimate Flora Advanced Immunity provides S. boulardi cultures for powerful immune support. It also helps strengthen the intestinal lining.

UAS Labs Probioplus dds has 10 billion CFUs from several strains of probiotics.

Nature’s Way Primadophilus Kids Orange Flavor Chewables provide 3 billion live units of bacteria in a kid-friendly form.

American Health Probiotic Acidophilus, Natural Strawberry Flavor provides a natural balance of three strains of specially selected lactobacillus.

Good Belly Plus is packed with 20 billion belly-balancing bacteria, plus vitamins and minerals in a dairy-free fruit drink “shot.”

Related Articles: