Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in the digestive tract which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits. These benefits include:
- Aid in healthy digestion
- Stimulate immunity
- Assist in the production of certain vitamins including the B vitamins, Vit. K, Vit A
- Assist in the production of digestive enzymes
- Crowd out potentially harmful pathogens
Probiotics may also be of benefit to those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), c.dif infection, or antibiotic associated diarrhea.
There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria cells in our body accounting for 2 to 4 pounds of our total body weight. Most of these bacteria are found in the large intestines; bifidobacteria being the most prevalent, whereas lactobacilli are found mainly in the small intestine.
In a healthy person, most bacteria are beneficial with a ratio of good to bad bacteria averaging 80% to 20%. When this ratio is altered, a condition called dysbiosis occurs. Some consequences of dysbiosis are the production of ammonia increasing the work on the liver and kidneys, breakdown of the protective mucous of the intestinal lining, inactivation of intestinal enzymes needed for digestion and absorption, production of carcinogens from ingested foods and the inactivation of dietary antioxidants.
An imbalance of intestinal bacteria has also been implicated in disorders such as asthma, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, food allergies and sensitivities, and possibly mood disorders.
Factors that influence intestinal bacteria are age, oral contraceptives, poor diet, stress, antibiotic therapy, alcohol and poor immune status. Diet plays a major role in maintaining an optimal balance of bacteria in your GI tract. A well balanced diet consisting of whole, natural, unprocessed foods, limiting alcohol and eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and acidophilus milk.
When purchasing yogurt look for the “live active culture” seal on the label, preferably organic and low in sugar. Consume soluble fiber food sources such as fruit, vegetables, grains such as rice, quinoa and barley that provide a food source for the good bacteria, known as prebiotics. Also recommended is antibiotic free meat. Conversely, a diet high in meat, fat, and refined simple carbohydrates encourage the growth of “bad bacteria.”
Recommendations for purchasing probiotics are to look for products packaged in a dark, opaque container since light, heat, and moisture can cause damage. Also, enteric coated is preferred to survive stomach acid. Look for products with at least 1-10 billion organisms per dose.
At this time it is not known the exact dose and strain necessary for specific conditions, although, some studies have shown the use of s.boulardii for c.dif infections and b.infantis for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome. Further studies are necessary to determine doses and strains for various conditions.
To maintain a healthy balance of bacteria:
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
- Chew your food well. The digestive process begins in your mouth, where saliva begins to break down food.
- Consume a diet rich in whole, natural, unprocessed foods, limit alcohol, eat fermented foods.
If you decide to take a probiotic look for at least 1 – 10 billion organisms per dose.
Article written by Barbara Freedland Masters in Nutrition Education and Dietitian MSRD/LD