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The Benefits of Monsieur Bifidus

Posted Feb 01 2010 6:50pm


I have been taking probiotics for quite some time now.  In fact, I started to take it for granted that most everyone knows what probiotics are.  Then I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about the supplements we both take.  We compared our lists and we discovered only one difference.  My friend doesn’t take probiotics.  Fortunately, she doesn’t have gut issues like me.  Perhaps this is the reason she never came across the word before.  After talking to her though, I thought that maybe I should write up a little something on probiotics since it appears that is still not a household term.

I discovered probiotics back in 1990.  Wow.  That’s twenty years ago!  I wish I could tell you I have been taking some form of probiotics for that long, but I haven’t.  You see, I discovered probiotics back in the summer of 1990 when I lived in France and I ate a lot of yogurt. (Yes, I ate other things too!)  I remember I liked going to the grocery store because it gave me the opportunity to study all the words in French on the food packages.   More often than not I would see this sentence on the yogurt containers: “avec du Bifidus” (with Bifidus).  I thought to myself, “What is it with these French people and their Bifidus?  What exactly am I putting in my stomach when I eat this yogurt?  Why don’t American yogurt containers say anything about Bifidus?  What a funny name…especially in French.”  “Que-ce que tu manges, Jennifer?  Je mange le yaourt avec du Bifidus!”

Well, as funny as the word sounds, I was actually putting something pretty darn important in my stomach: it’s called healthy bacteria, or probiotics.  The problem was that my encounter with “Monsieur Bifidus” would be cut short because I only spent the summer in France.  It seemed to take years before I started to see the word “Bifidus” on yogurt containers in the United States.  By then, I had already been diagnosed with IBS and not one doctor ever told me anything about healthy bacteria for my gut except for one doctor who practiced integrative medicine in a town about 40 minutes from my home.  It took me forever to find him and once I did, I only had him as my primary doctor for 2 years before he closed his practice.  If there was anything I took with me from that doctor-patient relationship, it was the benefits of taking probiotics.

Fast forward to the year 2009.  I am now gluten-free, taking a daily probiotic supplement, and I find an article about a Spanish research study that suggests that the gluten-free diet has a negative impact on intestinal bacteria.  When I read this article, I never thought that I should stop my gluten-free diet.  The article simply indicated to me that my daily probiotic would become even more important in maintaining healthy intestinal flora.   I was surprised to see that some people thought they should stop the gluten-free diet because of the findings of that very limited study.  Part of the problem was that the study did not expound upon how easy it is to take a probiotic supplement.

Probiotics are not cheap.  If you want a good probiotic, you end up spending about $1 a day.  Yes, my probiotic costs $30 per month.  I used to struggle to justify that amount of money for a supplement, but then I thought about all the other extra groceries I buy that I probably could do without.  A less expensive coffee brand, water instead of sodas, fewer coffees at Starbucks, there are surely a few areas where we can cut corners if we need to take a daily supplement.  Some people who are not lactose intolerant may even be able to bypass the need to buy the probiotic supplement.  They can get their healthy bacteria  in a daily cup of plain yogurt.  That probably turns out to be less that a $1 a day, and it’s even less expensive if you make your own yogurt at home.  What an idea!

Rather than tell you specific brands of probiotics that I have tried or recommend, I would like to leave you with a few articles to peruse.  And then I suggest you visit your local health food store if you are thinking you would like to try a probiotic.  Usually there is a refrigerated section where probiotics are kept.  Ask the sales clerk in that section to make a recommendation.  As a general rule, I find that the sales clerks who work in the vitamin section of a natural food store can be quite knowledgeable.

One little tip: the probiotics that are refrigerated are better than the ones that aren’t.  That’s just my personal experience.  It’s also good to switch brands every so often so that you take different strains of bacteria.  Don’t they say the same thing about shampoo?  Yes, they do!  Switch your shampoo every 14 days!  It’s the same with our gut.  Our gut gets used to the same supplement and it becomes less effective.  Best to switch things up a bit when you can!

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