If you have been into natural medicine for a while or are just getting your feet wet, you have undoubtedly heard about probiotics. Touted as a “cure all” for digestive issues, constipation, immune support, quelling yeast, diarrhea and regulating brain chemistry, even the most mainstream of doctors are recommending them for their patients. Research supports the many of the beneficial claims. According to Chinese Medicine, the health of the Large Intestine is our “seat of immunity”. In Western thinking our “gut” is our second brain and is actually the site of synthesis for neurotransmitters and the immune cells that protect us from bad bacteria and yeasts such as H. Pylori, E. Coli and Candida that can over ride the balance in our bodies. 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 here is the skinny and what you should know about choosing probiotics so you can make the best choice.
Probiotics were not recently invented. The idea of a probiotic has been around since lactic acid bacterium was discovered by Pasteur in 1857. Lactic acid is used as a base for producing the most common probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus found 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 (hence its founding birthplace). This was later renamed to Lactobacillus bulgaricus. In 1989, Fuller described probiotics 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 living nature of probiotics and the capacity to help inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. Hmm sounds like a natural “antibiotic” doesn’t it?
We build our “intestinal fortitude” at birth. Intestinal fortitude starts in the small intestine and the large intestine, mouth and skin. How we come into the world gives us our first exposure to bacteria. During gestation, a mothers use of antibiotics during pregnancy can adversly effect her gut flora and set up an imbalance in the fetus. Vaginal birth exposes a baby to a mothers flora-good, bad or neutral. Therefore babies born vaginally may have a stronger foundation of gut flora provided a mother is in balance. C-Section deliveries unfortunately do not expose babies to the natural vaginal flora and thus may influence the gut and digestion. A baby’s first feedings (breast or formula) contributes to the addition of probiotic strains as well with breast milk being optimal. Any ingested or IV rendered prescriptions-such as antifungals, antibiotics, medications and vaccinations to either a pregnant, breast feeding mother or her infant directly will effect both mom and baby and influence gut flora and microbial balance. What happens during pregnancy and in the first year of life of a baby can profoundly set the stage for the health of the digestive system. Too often antibiotics are prescribed during pregnancy and the post partum period to breast feeding moms for mastitis with little concern for the infants gut health. When a baby develops a classic diaper rash following the antibiotic course given to mom this is often misdiagnosed as thrush. For “thrush”, Nyastatin, a strong antifungal is prescribed-which further depletes healthy gut bacteria. This cycle of gut injury sets a baby up for gas, colic, constipation, painful burning diarrhea and subsequent “food sensitivities”, skin issues, eczema and respiratory weakness. Often this is overlooked yet profoundly effects children ongoing into adulthood for the duration of their life.
Trusted brands are Jarrow, Klaire Labs, PB 8, & Ultimate Flora.
Meet the 4 main families of the probiotic supplements.
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. They are also known as Pre-Biotics
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). If you are wondering if Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements can help with lactose intolerance or should be avoided in the case of, researchers are split. In 1995, an article published in the “Journal of Dairy Science,” suggested that Lactobacillus helps lactose intolerant individuals to digest the lactose in dairy. In another study in 1999, published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” lactobacillis had no effect on lactose digestion. Lactobacillus supplements won’t hurt you, so you may wish to try them in order to determine whether you’ll get any benefit. 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, antibiotic-related diarrhea, bacterial vaginitis, Group B strep infections, diarrhea, colitis, treating lactose intolerance, eczema, skin disorders, and mimimizing recurrent respiratory infections. More specifically, results from some of the studies are as follows:
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, improve blood lipid balance and improve sugar metabolisim.
4. 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. They act as “food” for the beneficial bacteria strains.