Probiotics 101

Probiotics 101, The basics of probiotics, choosing a probioticProbiotics 101, The Basics

Probiotics as supplements have been touted as a “cure all” for digestive issues, regularity, immune support, quelling yeast, diarrhea and regulating brain chemistry, even the most mainstream of doctors are recommending them for their patients.  If you have been into natural medicine for a while or are just getting your feet wet, you have undoubtedly heard about probiotics. The truth is they are a core aspect of health and recent research supports the many beneficial claims. In TCM our Large Intestine is considered the “seat of immunity”. In Western thinking our “gut” is our second brain and is actually the site of synthesis for neurotransmitters and immune cells that protect us from bad microbes that can potentially take root in our bodies like E Coli and Heliobacter Pylori.  Although many things can affect digestive health, we could all use a bit of help increasing our good bacteria in order to outweigh the bad. So heres the skinny and what you should know so you can make the best choice for your family.

History of Probiotics

Probiotics were not recently invented. The idea of a probiotic has been around since lactic acid bacterium was discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1857. Lactic acid is used as a base for producing lactobacillus acidophilus today. In 1907, Elie Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist working in the Pasteur Institute in Paris, developed an interest in the differences in the lifespan of villagers in Bulgaria who drank a fermented drink of yoghurt.  This drink made from sour milk was fermented with a single strain of bacteria, which he named Bacillus bulgaricus.  This was later renamed to Lactobacillus bulgaricus.  In 1989, probiotics were described by a note worthy veteranarian as “live microbial feed supplement, which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance”. He stressed two important facts of probiotics: the “alive” symbiotic nature of probiotics in the digestive tract and their capacity to inhibit pathogenic bacterial growth in the host. Hmm, sounds like a natural “antibiotic” doesn’t it?

Probiotics in Infancy

We build our “intestinal fortitude”, (aka our “Gut Biome”) in the womb and beginning at birth. How we come into the world gives us our first exposure to bacteria. Vaginal births expose us to our mothers flora-good, bad or neutral. Our first feedings (breast or formula) add the next layer of probiotic strains that introduced or encouraged. Followed this up with our history of prescriptions-antifungals, antibiotics, meds and vaccinations and then our very first solids.  What happens in the first year of life can profoundly set the stage for the digestive system that carries us forth in life. If there were some bumps along the road, that information will be another consideration in your probiotic choice.


The 4 Families of Probiotics

Meet the 4 main families of the probiotic supplements which the FDA now recognizes as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe)

  1. Lactobacillis
  2. Bifidum
  3. Yeasts, and strains derived from intestinal cultures (yup they are from cadavers or animals sometimes)
  4. Fibers which act as “food” for the probiotics them selves.
  1. Lactobacillis

The lactobacillis family are strains of bacteria that are grown or grow forth from the sugar in milk, thus the term Lacto (milk sugar) Bacillis (bacteria). They are naturally found in the digestive, urinary, and genital systems. There are probably close to 50 known strains and still more possible. Some of the lactobacilli found in foods and supplements are Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. acidophilus, Lactobacillus blugaricus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarium, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus johnsonii, and Lactobacillus gasseri.

Studies have shown some benefits linked to Lactobacillus and treating and/or preventing yeast infections, UTI’S, irritable bowel, antibiotic-related diarrhea, travellers diarrhea, diarrhea resulting from Clostridium Difficile, treating lactose intolerance, skin disorders such as herpes, acne, rashes, eczema and canker sores, and respiratory infections. More specifically, results from some of the studies are as follows:

  • Lactobacillus was given to children 5 to 14 years of age with irritable bowel syndrome over eight weeks’ time. They were given 3 billion cells twice per day. This reduced the frequency and severity of stomach and abdominal pain.
  • Lactobacillus was given to children taking antibiotics and there was a decrease in reported diarrhea.
  • Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus bulgarius, and Streptococcus thermophilus given twice daily during antibiotic treatment and for a week later decreased the risk of diarrhea in hospitalized adults.
  • Lactobacillus-containing milk was given to children 1 to 6 years of age who attended day care. They got fewer or less severe lung infections than those who did not drink it.
  • Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus rhamnosus vaginal capsules lengthened the time in between bacterial vaginosis infections. Lactobacillus reduced the risk of traveler’s diarrhea by 47% in a study with 245 people who traveled to 14 worldwide geographic region.
  • Lactobacillis reuteri given to women decreases vaginal yeast infections and is also found in breast milk.
  1. Bifidobacteria

There are approximately 30 species of bifidobacteria. The make up approximately 90% of the healthy bacteria in the colon. They appear in the intestinal tract within days of birth, especially infants that are breast-fed.

Some of the bifidobacteria used as probiotics are Bifodbacterium bifidum, Bifodbacterium lactis, Bifodbacterium longum, Bifodbacterium breve, Bifodbacterium infantis, Bifodbacterium thermophilum, and Bifodbacterium pseudolongum.

As with all probiotics, more research is needed to prove a definitive benefit, but studies have shown that bifidobacteria can help with IBS, dental cavaties, improved blood lipids, and blood sugar.

  • Bifidobacterium infantis was given to 362 patients with irritable bowel syndrome in a four-week study. They showed improvement in the symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, bowel dysfunction, incomplete evacuation, straining, and the passage of gas.
  • Salivary levels of bifidobacteria are associated with dental cavities in adults and children.
  • Bifidobacterium lactis is reported to have beneficial effects on metabolism, including lowered serum LDL-in people with type 2 diabetes, increased HDL in adult women, and improved glucose tolerance during pregnancy.
  1. Yeasts and intestinally derived strains of probiotics:
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
    This is also known as boulardii and is the only yeast probiotic. Some studies have shown that it is effective in preventing and treating diarrhea associated with the use of antibiotics and traveler’s diarrhea. It has also been reported to prevent the reoccurrence of Clostridium difficile, to treat acne, and to reduce side effects of treatment for Helicobacter pylori.
  • Streptococcus thermophiles
    This produces large quantities of the enzyme lactase, making it effective, according to some reports, in the prevention of lactose intolerance.
  • Enterococcus faecium
    Found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals and may be derived from living or post mortem subjects. Yes-I said that.
  1. Prebiotic Fibers, Enzymes and Supporters

These are the additional ingredients such as Glucommannan, Pectins, FOS (Fructooligiosaccharides) and enzymes that act as “food” for the strains of beneficial bacteria as they are introduced into the digestive tract.

Current FDA Data on Probiotics

Qualified experts have assessed several probiotics for GRAS status. As of January 2012, the following GRAS notifications for probiotics are on file with the FDA:

  • Bifidobacterium longum, for use as a food ingredient and in infant formula
  • Lactobacillus casei subsp. rhamnosus, for use in infant formula
  • Lactobacillus reuteri, for use in food
  • Bifidobacterium lactis + Streptococcus thermophilus, for use in infant formula
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus, for use in infant formula
  • Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis, for use as a food ingredient


Best Probiotic Supplements

  • Supplements can be made with or without dairy for those people who are lactose-intolerant if you feel this is important for you.  Some studies suggest strains of probiotics from the Lacto Bacillis family actually help digestion of lactose.
  • Choose a supplement that has a bit of each 4 groups, with a few in each family and not just one strain.
  • Even if you buy supplements that are sold at room temp they MUST be refrigerated after they are opened-much like mayonnaise. You buy it at room temp but HAVE to refrigerate it if opened or it goes bad.
  • Buy a product without fillers and sugar if you want the best results. If you find something in a capsule that suits you-you can always open it up and mix it in a fruit puree or yogurt for little ones.
  • Encapsulated or enteric-coated are good also to ensure that they make it past hard stomach acids and get into the intestines.
  • Colony Forming Units (C.F.U.) is the number of bacteria that’s expected to colonize in your intestine and start reproducing. If you find one with all 4 families you like-skip this and just double up.
  • Consistency is key. Try them for 7-14 days and see if you notice better stools and digestion and take first thing in the am on an empty stomach OR in between meals.
  • The proof is in the pudding–if you don’t feel your digestion is improving or your yeast issue/infection has resolved, you may need to a different brand of probiotic and new strains.
  • Probiotics are found in some, live culture yogurt and kefirs. The idea that a live culture helps digestion is intuitively known by many other cultures around the world that also have a element of fermented or cultured side dishes or drinks. Kimchee in Korea, Sauerkraut in Germany, yogurt or kefir, fermented wheat berry “Rejuvalac” and Kombucha tea all provide some probiotics.  Try to integrate them into your daily diet.  Not all yogurt has live cultures.
  • I recommend Klaire Labs Probiotics to my patients.  You can purchase specific ones for your needs such as Women’s health, antibiotic use, assistance with weight loss, detoxification or bacterial or yeast issues, infants and toddlers who are needing support.  Shop Klaire Labs products by entering Dr. Deanine’s access code N28 at: Klaire Labs Patient Direct
  • Men need probiotics also. They often eat yeasty foods like beer, pizza and bread. If you are getting yeast after sex-treat your hubby!
  • After mild antibiotics try and take probiotics for twice the number of days they were given. Strong antibiotics 3 times as long.
  • Trusted over the counter brands are Jarrow, Flora and Bio K.

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