Unraveling the Mystery of Probiotics
Getting to Know Your Microbes
Bacteria are dangerous, according to cleaning supply companies. Most of us born after the 1950s have grown up in environments hyper-sensitive to germs. Commercials for Lysol and Mr. Clean terrify consumers with microbial close-ups of our table-tops and door handles. The only way to save our families, according to that famous bald man with bulging muscles, is to douse them in chemicals and kill the germs once and for all.
Though certain bacteria are dangerous to human health, the truth is that we need bacteria to survive. Our immune system, which allows us to coexist with surrounding microbes, requires a healthy dose of microbial sustenance to stay strong and resilient. Treating bacteria as the enemy has been implicated in numerous public health emergencies such as an exponential rise in asthma and the appearance of so-called “super-bacteria,” bacterial strains that are impervious to existing antibiotic treatments. In order to protect our health, we need to fully understand our relationship to bacteria, not treat them as public enemy #1.
Probiotics are healthy and supportive bacteria. Understanding their role in our health is fundamental to living with disease-causing bacteria, and revitalizing our immune system. Choosing the appropriate probiotic supplement and brand, however, can be exceedingly frustrating and confusing. A simple google search for “probiotic supplements” brings a flood of new questions: Capsules or chewables? Powders or liquids? Lactobacillus acidophilus
or Lactobacillus casei
? Should we choose supplements from large corporations, such as Activia, that dominate the probiotics conversation, or discover less well-known options that are more affordable and effective?
Sales for so-called functional food products such as Dannon's Activia have skyrocketed in the past 10 years. However, Federal Trade Commission officials have recently cracked down on some dubious health claims by companies such as Kellog and Dannon. According to an article in the New York Times released in May 2011, “regulators...concluded that the commercials, and similar claims on Activia packages, were deceptive” since “many of the company's scientific studies actually found that Activia helped no more than a placebo.” (Foods with Health Benefits, or So They Say
). The truth is that there are many other places to find probiotics besides over-priced yogurts sold by an enthusiastic Jamie Lee Curtis. Fortunately, appropriate health practitioners can pinpoint the supplements your unique microflora footprint requires to stay healthy.
While we cannot rely on machine-gun mechanisms that annihilate all bacteria indiscriminately, we do need some form of protection against harmful bacteria. Probiotics are one of the most effective methods of keeping disease-causing bacteria at bay. These safe and natural treatment methods are integral elements in preventing debilitating and chronic conditions, and maintaining vibrant health.
So What Exactly Are Microbes?
Microbes are living organisms too small to be seen by the naked eye. They are generally single-celled. Microbes fall into seven groups: bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, microscopic animals, microscopic plants, and viruses. Scientists debate whether or not viruses should be considered microbes since they cannot live on their own without a host.
9 Fun Microbe Facts
1. The human body consists of about 10 trillion cells.
2. Each of us is host to 100 trillion microbes.
3. 80% of the bodies microbes live in our intestines.
4. Our body's microbes, or microflora, perform functions which are essential to our health.
5. Microflora is greatly affected by environmental factors such as antibiotic use and diet.
6. Gut microflora is unique to each individual and can be thought of as an intestinal “fingerprint.”
7. The gut microflora is made up of healthful bacteria and strains of yeast.
8. Similar microbes are found in all living creatures, water and the earth.
9. Just one teaspoon of soil contains over 100 million bacteria!
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are many types of microbes including both bacteria and yeast. Another name for probiotics is microflora, or gut flora. The word probiotics comes from the Greek words, “pro” (promoting), and “biotic” (life). Probiotics are live bacteria found in healthful foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt. When ingested, this healthy bacteria passes into the digestive tract and enters the intestine, where it serves two main functions essential to human life.
The 2 Main Functions of Probiotics:
5 Groups of Conditions Treated by Probiotics
1. Colds and Flu:
Population control for potentially harmful microbes in digestive tract. Probiotics do not eradicate all challenges to the immune system, but help maintain a balance between harmful and healthful bacteria. Probiotics accomplish this by utilizing most of the available nutrients and physical space in the digestive tract, crowding out “bad” microflora and making it difficult for them to prosper.
Streamline immune system function. The immune system serves as our body's security force. When over-active, this security force can instigate rather than prevent diseases. An over-active immune system is guilty of arresting innocuous substances, like dust, or healthful substances, like peanuts. In worst case scenarios our immune system can even turn against us, causing autoimmune disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, among many others. Probiotics help by keeping our immune system healthy and balanced, ready to fight disease when necessary.
Probiotics boost the immune system and can help prevent the onset of viral infections, or encourage a speedy recovery.
2. Digestive disorders:
Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers, travelers' diarrhea.
Asthma, Eczema, Allergic Rhinitis, hay fever, sinusitis, food allergies and intolerances.
4. Urogenital diseases:
Vaginitis, Yeast infections, Kidney Stones, Urinary Tract infections.
5. Autoimmune Diseases:
lupus, fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type I Diabetes, among others.
Encouraging Potential in the treatment of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Tooth decay and gum disease
History of Microbial Knowledge
If probiotics and bacteria are so good for us, how did we develop such an ardent passion for bleach? The history of our relationship to microbes can help us understand how we developed an unfounded fear of bacteria, and the strides science has made in recent years to rectify this mistake.
Antibiotics: Microbe Crisis Averted?
Antibiotics are bacteria-fighting medicine derived from a biological source (plant, mold, or other bacteria). After their advent in 1928, antibiotics became wildly successful and their use expanded. Antibiotics revolutionized the medical system. It seemed as through medical researchers and doctors had finally understood and successfully surmounted the dilemma posed by the germ theory. While some scientists were celebrating their victory over microbial onslaught, others questioned the veracity of the “us-versus-them” battle between microbes and humankind. Nobel-prize winning immunologist Ilya Mechnikov had always been interested in health and longevity studies. His most famous work involved a detailed study of the uncommonly long life spans of Bulgarian peasants. These peasants, isolated from modernity in almost every way, lived longer than any other ethnic group in Europe, even the most privileged. Mechnikov noticed their diet was rich in fermented foods and yogurt. Could this be an alternative answer to germ theorists?
Alarming Public Health Changes: Replacing Germ Theory with Microflora Theory
Unfortunately, Mechnikov's ideas remained largely ignored by the scientific community. It has only been in recent years that scientists have noticed alarming public health trends, especially among children, that directly correlate to the destruction of our natural microbial balance. The dramatic rise in disease and chronic conditions for which no germ-based cause can be determined has revolutionized our previously held medical assumptions. Doctors and medical researchers now question the germ theory. Mounting evidence points to the importance of supporting the immune system by supporting healthful bacteria, rather than labeling all bacteria as “germs” and machine-gun blasting them with antibiotics.
3 Ways to Support Your Gut: Diet, Prebiotics, and Probiotic Supplements
Armed with mounting evidence of the importance of probiotics and a healthy gut micro flora, we must be proactive about protecting and supporting our gut. Here are a few helpful and simple tips.
Over the past 40-50 years, Americans have made two drastic lifestyle changes: increased dependence on medications (such as antibiotics, NSAIDs and steroids) and radically changed diet. These two changes have resulted in a severe lack of probiotics, which manifests in an altered intestinal microflora balance, disastrous effects on our immune system and alarming public health concerns. With this in mind, it's important to remember that everything we eat also feeds our guts. Each microbe has a favorite food, so some microbes may starve while others gain strength, depending on our own diets. Harmful bacteria thrive on sugar and fats (especially animal fats), so avoiding these foods will keep their numbers low. It's also important to avoid antibiotics, and not just those prescribed to combat illness. Livestock are fed a steady diet of antibiotics to encourage more rapid growth and prevent the onset of disease in unusually inhumane living conditions. Exposure to low-grade doses of antibiotics found in meat and dairy products can wipe out healthful bacteria.
Besides omitting certain foods and biochemicals that either feed harmful bacteria or eradicate all bacteria indiscriminately, we must also make sure to support helpful bacteria. We can do this by eating prebiotics. Prebiotics are different from probiotics in that they are not bacteria. Prebiotics provide nutrients that nourish and create a more suitable environment for probiotics. These foods are rich in fiber and antioxidants and found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and certain fats, teas, herbs, spices, red wine and dark chocolate.
3. Probiotic Supplements
If we are facing a chronic condition or attempting to heal our gut after years of poor diet and excessive antibiotic consumption, sometimes a simple diet change is not enough. Probiotic supplements are an excellent way to spring-clean our digestive tract. Since these supplements help maintain homeostasis in our guts and rarely cause adverse reactions, they can be taken indefinitely to boost our immune systems. CFU stands for colony forming units, which is the measure of viable microbes in a probiotic. Generally, a 3-4 billion CFU dose is recommended for general maintenance and support for the immune system, 25 billion CFU for a therapeutic dose and up to 250 billion CFU for an emergency dose. It is also important to note that the actual number of live microorganisms in a probiotic formula declines over time, therefore it is imperative to check the shelf-life before you proceed to check-out. A variety of probiotic supplements is recommended to support the diverse array of microbes that should exist in our intestines. Since our gut microflora is unique to each individual, you must consult a medical practitioner to see which microorganism strains and CFUs are the best for you.
New Beginnings at Digestive Health Ann Arbor
Supporting a healthful microflora balance is essential for the health of our entire body. The symptoms of an altered microfloral balance can manifest throughout the body and lead to debilitating conditions. Though facing a probiotic deficiency can be daunting, it is imperative that we heed these messages and remember that there is hope. After slight modification to our diets and lifestyles, and taking appropriate supplements as needed, our bodies can heal. If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of a compromised digestive system, make an appointment with one of the digestive health experts at Digestive Health Ann Arbor.
Gratitude: A Gift for the New Year
We at Digestive Health Ann Arbor invite you to take 10 minutes and watch this beautiful and inspiring TED talk.
Let's embrace the fresh start of a new year with a sense of thankfulness, awe, and the knowledge of our own, unique strength.
Please call 734-222-8210 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic strategy of healing. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life. Please visit our website at www.digestivehealth-annarbor.com
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