Probiotics, wonderful and beneficial microbiota that inhabit every normal, healthy bowel, aid nutrient absorption, proper digestion and elimination, while supporting immune function and keeping harmful gut-dwelling pathogens in check. That’s a lot to ask of these tiny helpful bacteria, even when there are more than 100 trillion microflora representing 500 different species living in our digestive system, battling invading destructive bacteria and working to keep us healthy 24 hours a day, every day. According to Harvard Medical School Health Publications, “Clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.”
Your digestive and immune health is directly influenced by your diet and lifestyle choices. If your overall health is good, your beneficial bacteria are thriving and well balanced. It doesn’t take much, however, to upset the delicate balance between beneficial and deleterious organisms. Along with certain medications, medical conditions and environmental factors, poor lifestyle choices such as, consuming a nutrient and fiber deficient diet, skimping on sleep, neglecting to exercise, ignoring chronic stress, failing to maintain a healthy weight, smoking, and high alcohol consumption, can all negatively influence the health of your gut.
But fear not, reinforcements are on the way! In addition to a healthy lifestyle and possibly a newly found respect for your gut health, regularly consuming pre- and probiotic-rich foods along with high quality probiotic supplements tilts the bacteria in favor of the good guys, allowing them to effectively inhibit the growth and colonization of unfriendly strains and aiding the immune system in zapping the powerful and opportunistic bad guys. Why is gut health so important? Because, according to John R. Taylor, N.D., author of the book, The Wonder of Probiotics, “Everything that happens in your gut significantly impacts every cell, tissue and organ system in your body.”
A healthy gut filters out not only harmful pathogens, but also other damaging substances such as toxins, parasites, chemicals and waste products, preventing their absorption into the bloodstream, while at the same time absorbing and distributing essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and water. Some refer to the gut as the “second brain,” as science shows that chemical and electrical signals continuously pass between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal system. While many of us recognize the importance of our brain functions, we are pretty hard on our digestive systems, consuming whatever we want, whenever we want, without giving much thought to what happens afterward and how those decisions affect our overall wellness.
When we have insufficient beneficial microflora our health suffers, as damaging substances gain the upper hand. If the gut becomes damaged and inflamed, toxins can enter the bloodstream and health may begin to decline. A poorly functioning gut can result in nutrient deficiencies and incomplete elimination, even when your diet is relatively healthy. Many medical conditions are associated with dysbiosis, essentially an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. There’s good reason why treatment of chronic conditions, inflammation and autoimmune disorders often begins with healing the gut. If you are like most people, your diet could likely be improved, you occasionally come down with a cold or gastrointestinal upset, you have stresses related to work, home or school and you don’t have much choice about the air quality in your neighborhood. Think of probiotics as a health insurance policy. Regular intake of probiotics helps to ward off infections or other health problems and provides a foundation for wellness.
While we now know that there are hundreds of species of beneficial bacteria, you may not have known that they provide different health benefits. Who knew that there are actually more than 50 species of the well known Lactobacillus sp and that 30 species of Bifidobacteria have been identified. Scientists, using advanced technology, can now select specific strains of microorganisms to provide precise benefits. When selecting a probiotic, it may help to know that CFU, or colony forming unit, seen on bottle labels describes the density of viable bacteria. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of the more commonly known species:
Lactobacillus acidophilus – Found naturally in both the large and small intestine, the mouth and the vagina, this highly protective species is capable of producing natural antibiotics that can inhibit the growth of pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.
Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1- This extensively researched friendly strain is resistant to heat and the harsh environment of the GI tract, which makes it better able to destroy harmful bacteria and maintain a healthy gut balance. This strain is also antibiotic resistant, making it a good choice to take while undergoing a course of antibiotics.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG – This strain has the superior ability to prevent and treat gastrointestinal disorders, especially diarrhea in both children and adults. Additionally, it’s stomach acid and bile resistant, ensuring its ability to colonize the intestinal tract.
Bifidobacteria bifidum – The Bifidobacteria species represents about 90% of the friendly bacteria found in the colon. Found in both the large and small intestine and the mouth, this species is especially effective against pathogenic activity. Plus, B. bifidum produces B vitamins and helps to metabolize carbohydrates.
Bifidobacteria lactis – The species has the ability to lower body pH and excels at destroying pathogens because it produces hydrogen peroxide, an antibacterial agent. B. lactis is resistant to stomach acids and bile, allowing for travel to the colon where it helps protect against inflammation and toxins.
Bifidobacterium longum – This species excels at preventing gastrointestinal problems by crowding out harmful bacteria in the gut. Present in both the vagina and breast milk, this species is one of the first to colonize an infant’s GI system, providing a well needed immune system boost.
Saccharomyces boulardii – Largely used to treat diarrhea associated with antibiotic use and as a maintenance probiotic for those with Crohn’s disease, this species establishes itself quickly and helps to eliminate harmful yeast species. This species is often recommended for use while traveling as it is effective against bacterial diarrhea.
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – As a natural sugar, FOS provides food that probiotics need in order to thrive. This beneficial prebiotic has the ability to reach the large intestine, where it promotes the growth and activity of the beneficial bifobacterium species. Prebiotic foods, such as beans, garlic, onions and whole grains, contain soluble fiber, which help to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar, improve insulin response and relieve constipation.
Fermented foods, such as unflavored yogurt, sauerkraut or tempeh, all help to support beneficial bacteria. Raw foods, including fruits, veggies and sprouts, support probiotic health by providing the fiber that probiotics need to thrive. Avoiding refined sugars, which feed and support disease causing bacteria, will also help to stimulate the growth and production of beneficial bacteria. Taking a high quality multi-strain probiotic daily provides a broad range of protection against harmful pathogens and helps to build and maintain a strong foundation for overall good health. The health of our microbiome should not be taken for granted, but rather restored, nurtured, and supported. It’s not magic, it’s just smart.
Professional Supplement Center offers many quality probiotic formulas. Here are just a few:
Ther-Biotic® Complete by Klaire Labs – Scientifically formulated with a full spectrum of synergistic and complementary species, this product provides comprehensive support for gastrointestinal function and a healthy microflora balance. Ther-Biotic® is designed for those who require significantly higher amounts of multispecies probiotics. One capsule daily supplies 25+ billion CFUs of 12 certified probiotic species. Gluten, soy and yeast free, vegetarian formula. Also available: Ther-Biotic® Children’s Chewable.
Ultimate FloraMax 50 Billion by Advanced Naturals – Designed for critical care needs, this formula provides 50 billion live beneficial microorganisms per capsule. Formulated to promote healthy intestinal function and support colon and immune health, this blend contains high levels of 10 probiotic strains, plus FOS. Gluten free, vegetarian capsule. Also available: Ultimate FloraBaby and Ultimate Flora Kids.
PRObiotic 225 by Ortho Molecular – This maximum potency blend delivers 225 billion CFU of live microorganisms for targeted support of optimal gastrointestinal health and immune system function. Conveniently dosed in single serve stick packs that mix easily with food or cold liquids. Perfect for travel — Scientifically formulated to require no refrigeration. Gluten and yeast free.
Probiotic 50 B by Pure Encapsulations – One capsule provides 50 billion CFU of a blend of 3 strains of Lactobacilli and 2 strains of Bifidobacteria to promote digestive health and inflammatory balance and support a healthy immune response. Hypoallergenic, gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Probiotic Supreme by Designs for Health – An advanced patented delivery system ensures delivery of the highest number of live organisms to the intestinal tract. One caplet provides 15 billion CFUs of a proprietary probiotic blend. Gluten, soy and yeast free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula.
John R. Taylor, N.D., and Deborah Mitchell. The Wonder of Probiotics. St. Martin’s Press, 2007
Probiotics in humans – evidence based review. http://www.ts6probiotic.com/downloads/Probiotic%20in%20Humans%20Evidence%20Based%20Review.pdf
Health benefits of taking probiotics. http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
Bifidobacterium longum. http://web.mst.edu/~microbio/BIO221_2010/B_longum.html
Surprising Benefits of Probiotics. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/surprising-benefits-probiotics#10