Thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis, probiotics are on the map! The term is derived from the Greek words pro meaning “promoting” and bios meaning “life”. Dr. Alan Gaby, a renowned medical doctor and nutritional expert defines probiotics as “bacteria or yeast organisms that may have beneficial effect on human physiology and health”. These organisms normally cultivate our skin, digestive tract and genitourinary tract. Although beneficial organisms are normally occurring in our bodies, we ingest probiotics in fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and soy products. The most studied and widely known strains are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, which are staples in probiotic dietary supplements.
Probiotics are best known for their regulating effect on the bowels, useful for digestive irregularity and conditions such as IBS, constipation, flatulence, and colic. Patients often experience diarrhea after taking antibiotics, which not only kill the infection-causing bacteria, but also the beneficial bacteria. Taking probiotics can reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 50%. Certain strains have antibacterial activity and compete with harmful bacteria for space in the gut, crowding out infections including intestinal yeast, H. pylori and traveller’s diarrhea.
Our immune system is affected by probiotics, which increase certain antibodies, and immune cells that fight infections Studies show probiotic use reduces the incidence of dental caries in children, and respiratory and urinary tract infections. Probiotics have a role in regulating inflammation, demonstrating use in inflammatory conditions, such as milk allergies, eczema and IBD. Lastly, their effect on our immune system shows some promise for adjunctive cancer treatments, both to reduce conventional treatment side-effects, and possibly prevent DNA mutations that contribute to cancer development.
With all this talk about probiotics, prebiotics should also be mentioned. Prebiotics are carbohydrate based substances, that are indigestible to humans, but provide nutrients for probiotic growth. Apples, asparagus, bananas, and maple syrup contain high levels of prebiotics.
Not all bugs are bad. There are many health benefits of probiotics. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about the best strains and dosing for your health needs!