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The Importance of Probiotic Bacteria

Posted May 25 2011 11:18pm

Probiotic bacteria aka good bacteria or beneficial bacteria are one of the most commonly prescribed supplements in my private practice. This is simply because I believe that most patients benefit from the addition of probiotic bacteria to their regimen; many patients don’t know the reasons for taking them in the first place. I see extremely effective results for taking them when there is any type of digestive related issue including diarrhea, constipation, bloating or IBS. IBS is potentially caused by an imbalance of natural flora. I choose the most indicated probiotic depending on the particular problem.

Over 500 species of bacteria colonize your inner gut mucosa. Over 80% of your immune system resides along your intestines. These bacteria protect us from any pathogens that come into your body via the air you breathe, the liquids you consume and the solid food you ingest. They do this by changing the pH of the intestines, crowding out other strains of bacteria, yeast or fungi by competitive inhibition, and releasing substances that kill other pathogens. These bacteria secrete enzymes that help you digest your food, synthesize B vitamins and Vitamin K, regulate your immune system from the level of your gut and help with absorption of vitamins and minerals into your bloodstream. They help promote the integrity of the intestinal lining reducing the tendency for food allergies.

Some of the most promising research focuses on the use of probiotic bacteria to reduce reactivity starting from the age of young babies. Newborn babies that were supplemented with specific types of beneficial bacteria saw their potential for developing allergies be reduced by 50% even in high risk populations. Probiotic bacteria stimulate the immune system in the upper GI tract to produce suppressor T cells which produces a gradual production of suppressive cytokines; this is especially beneficial to anyone that is dealing with an autoimmune disease. I often suspect a GI infection that I was hospitalized with (C. difficile in my teenage years) put me at risk for developing an autoimmune disease later on. I did not know about supplementing with probiotic bacteria post antibiotic use back then.

The upper GI mucosa replaces itself every 72 hours and the lower GI mucosa replaces itself every 12 days therefore this is an active system that needs ongoing attention. The most detrimental substances to the intestinal mucosa include antibiotics which can destroy 90% of the bacterial flora causing more resistant antibiotic resistant bacteria to overgrow (eg. clostridium difficile). If you are on a strain of antibiotic bacteria, I recommend supplementing with probiotic bacteria during the course of bacteria (away from the AB) and after you are finished for at least a month or six weeks. This will help restore the beneficial flora to your system and reduce the chances of having further immune setbacks.

Antibiotics and many prescription drugs like oral contraceptives destroy your good bacteria. Dietary factors like a higher intake of meat, processed foods and sugar can negatively affect beneficial bacteria. In contrast, fermented foods such as miso soup, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt can be beneficial additions to your diet. These foods support the growth of good bacteria in your intestines. Most people benefit from taking supplements at least part of the year; taking frequent courses of probiotic bacteria are perhaps necessary if you are taking prescription drugs that are getting rid of them in the next breath. If you have an altered bacterial flora, you will certainly experience some gas when you first start taking probiotics. This gas will disappear as your healthy bacteria start to flourish in your system. Always take probiotics with food as they will not make it pass the acid system of the stomach unless there is food in the stomach.

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