We have anywhere from two to four pounds of microbes living in our bodies. In fact, our microbial cells outnumber our body’s cells at a ratio of 10:1.
What are microbes? Microbes are bacteria, yeast, fungus and viruses. Microbes come in these flavors: beneficial, neutral or pathogenic. Probiotics are the good guys, the beneficial bacteria.
Why should you take a probiotic supplement? Are there risks? Let’s find out.
What do Probiotics do?
Probiotics are essential to our well being. They are most abundant in the colon (large intestine), but also reside in the small intestine. These organisms help us to:
- manufacture vitamins (especially B, folate and K)
- digest food and absorb nutrients
- create end-stage digestive enzymes
- balance intestinal pH
- fight off parasitic invasions
- attack, quarantine, and neutralize toxins
- trigger hormones
- increase and improve bowel transit time and movement
- protect our intestinal walls
- reduce symptoms of depression and regulate emotions
When the balance of beneficial (good) bacteria exceeds pathogenic (bad) bacteria more than 80:20, then problems can occur. Symptoms of an imbalance of bacteria can be:
- Ear infections
- Urinary tract infection
- Sleepy after meals
- Hormone imbalance
- Toenail and fingernail fungus
- Asthma and allergies
- Mood disorders
- Yeast infections
What causes an Imbalance of Gut Bacteria?
- Antibiotics (the opposite of probiotics)
- Hormones, such as birth control pills
- Diet lacking in fermented foods
- Too much sugar and refined or starchy carbohydrates
- Chlorine exposure in water
Can you get Probiotics from Food?
Yes, cultured foods and fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics. Foods such as kombucha, kefir, yogurt (avoid the sugar-filled, low-fat variety), sauerkraut and kimchi are good examples. For more probiotic-rich foods, see my article “What is all the Buzz about Fermented Foods“. Enjoy 3-4 half cup servings of fermented and cultured food each day.
Eliminating processed foods and especially starchy carbohydrates and sugar is essential to maintaining good gut bacteria for a healthy microbiome. Start by cleaning up your diet!
Probiotics are essential for avoiding traveler’s diarrhea, recovering from food poisoning, and after taking a course of antibiotics, to restore good gut bacteria.
Are all Probiotic supplements the same?
Quality is critical when it comes to probiotic supplementation. Knowing how to select a good probiotic can be confusing and they can often be expensive. So you’ll want to spend your money wisely.
There are two types of probiotics: Transient and Native.
You won’t see those terms on the label, however.
Transient probiotics are like the Molly Maids. The come in, clean and then leave. If they can survive the stomach acid, they do their work and then leave in the stool. Typically they do not colonize in large numbers in the intestines. These transient strains are necessary components of our gut community. They are derived mostly from food sources.
Common examples are Lacto (lactobacillus) and Bifido (bifidobacterium). Those are the genus names. You may see species names such as Acidophilus following the genus names referenced as “L. acidophilus”where the L. stands for lactobacillus.
Native probiotics are more permanent members of our microbiota. They colonize within us in larger numbers and are highly resistant to stomach pH, resilient in the destructive path of antibiotics and possess powerful anti-viral, anti-fungal and antiparasitic properties. These bacteria come from the environment: air, water, soil and from our mother’s birth canal. It’s difficult to get native probiotics from food.
Examples are: Acinetobacter, Bacillus, Bacteroides, Brevibacterium, Kurtha, Myothecium, and Streptomyces.
You might think that you would want the native probiotic supplements, but you need both native and transient strains. The vast majority of probiotics on the market are transient. Some examples of native strain brands are: Prescript-Assist, a 100% native probiotic product, includes a prebiotic and does not have to be refrigerated and; Bio-Kult has approximately 10% native and 90% transient strains and also does not have to be refrigerated.
It is a great idea to cycle your probiotic supplements to be sure that you are colonizing your gut with what it needs. Ask me for other quality brands of broad-spectrum probiotics.
What is a Prebiotic?
In fact, you also need Prebiotics (spelled with an ‘e’) which are the food source for probiotics. Prebiotics can be obtained from whole fruits and veggies (including their skins and peels), whole grains, oats, green and black tea, herbs and spices, legumes and beans, red wine, and dark chocolate/cacao. In supplement form, look for FOS (fructo oligosaccharides), GOS (galacto oligosaccharides), lactoferrin, inulin or phenol blends on the label.
People with IBS (Irritable Bowel syndrome) and FODMAPS intolerances may find their symptoms worsen with a prebiotic supplement but are helped with just the probiotic.
How many CFUs (colony forming units) should I take?
Probiotics are generally safe for all ages. A general guideline is:
- Maintenance dose: 3-5 billion CFUs per day
- Health improvement: 6-10 billion CFUs per day
- Mild health condition: 20-30 billion CFUs per day
- Severe health condition: 30 billion + CFUs per day
A prescription version probiotic, known as a medical food, can be obtained from a doctor for autoimmune disorders, cancer, etc. Probiotics should be avoided by those with SIBO (Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth), HIV/AIDS, and some terminal illnesses. Check with your healthcare practitioner before beginning a course of probiotics if you have a health condition.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Add fermented foods to your diet and take a good quality probiotic supplement.
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Joli Tripp and Simple Changes Healthy Results are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
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Caroline Barringer, Nutritional Therapy Association “Probiotics and Enzymes” and http://www.immunitrition.com/uploads/The_Power_of_Probiotics_-_12-01-2008_revised_PDF.pdf