the power of probiotics

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Increase levels of friendly intestinal bacteria to alleviate digestive disorders and more

When we think of bacteria, we often think of nasty, harmful bugs. But not all bacteria are bad. We need bacteria to live. There are between 10 and 100 times more bacterial cells than other cells in the human body — including 100 trillion bacteria living in your intestinal tract alone. Let's hope they're not all bad! This huge population of organisms has even been described as functioning like an organ in the body. According to clinician and author Ronald Huffman, MD, "A healthy colon should contain a ratio of 85 percent good bacteria to not more than 15 percent bad bacteria." Probiotics are "good" bacteria that are alive and similar to the beneficial bacteria found in the human gut. They are available in foods and supplements.

Who Needs Probiotics
When we repopulate friendly bacteria while eliminating unfriendly bacteria, we can prevent and treat numerous health problems, including various digestive disorders, vaginitis, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer. Harmful bacteria can disrupt digestion, increase inflammation, and compromise the immune system.

Ingesting probiotics helps restore our natural bacterial balance. A variety of factors, including the following, can cause unhealthful bacterial balance:

Antibiotic use, overuse, and misuse
Excess stress
Poor nutrition
Lack of physical activity
Illness
Medications that affect the digestive system
"When an individual has a properly populated GI tract," explains pharmacist Ross Pelton, RPh, "the good bacterial population will continue to proliferate, and thus sustain itself." According to Pelton, probiotics can be used periodically by healthy individuals for maintenance purposes or therapeutically by people who have a specific health concern, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease.

Taking a probiotic supplement during and after antibiotic use is critical. "Also, anyone taking medications that interfere with normal GI function, such as antacids, anti-ulcer drugs, and/or medications for reflux, should take a probiotic supplement regularly," says Pelton.

The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine in connection with the American Society for Microbiology found probiotics to be effective in the following cases: diarrhea, especially in infants; bladder and female genital tract infections; IBS; bladder cancer prevention; intestinal infections caused by Clostridium difficile; pouchitis (acute inflammation that can occur after colon removal); and eczema in children.

According to Eamonn Quigley, MD, president of the World Gastroenterology Organization, the use of probiotics represents an exciting "new frontier in medical science." He says new potential uses for probiotics include treatment of allergies, liver disease, and obesity.

How to Use Probiotics
Not all probiotic products are created equal. For friendly bacteria to be effective, they must be fermented and manufactured properly so they can survive and thrive. Here are some common misconceptions about probiotic products:

The number of colony forming units (CPUs) is the best way to judge the quality of a product. "My years of clinical observation support the conclusion that a probiotic must be more than just a high CPU friendly bacteria product," explains Huffman. "Simply introducing friendly bacteria in large numbers will not resolve the situation."

A probiotic must be refrigerated to be effective. According to author Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, if the product is properly packaged and enteric-coated, it does not require refrigeration.

Probiotics should only be taken on an empty stomach. "If the probiotic product is high-quality," explains author and naturopathic oncologist Lise Alschuler, ND, "the bacteria will survive." Enteric coating also ensures the bacteria will make it past the stomach even when taken with a meal. Also, the stomach is at its most acidic when empty, and bacteria normally enter the digestive tract via food.

You need only one or two strains. Most experts recommend a multistrain probiotic because there are hundreds of strains in our bodies. "The best probiotic products are those whose ingredients include not only several symbiotic strains of friendly bacteria, but also the micronutrient by-products and other valuable ingredients naturally developed during a lengthy fermentation process," explains Hoffman. It's important to note, however, that most research has focused on single strains. Here's a brief overview:

L. acidophilus improves digestion and protects the heart.
L. casei boosts immunity.
L. rhamnosus (also sold as Lactobacillus GG) relieves eczema in kids and IBS.
S. boulardii eases diarrhea and digestive distress.
B. bifidum strengthens gastrointestinal immunity.
B. lactis promotes colon health.
If a probiotic supplement is fermented properly and contains prebiotics (i.e., "probiotic food") such as FOS, it will also help recondition the pH of your colon and provide important enzymes. "Probiotics are one of the unsung heroes, supporting good health and a strong immune system," says Hoffman.

Probiotic dosage varies based on individual needs. Pelton recommends 5-10 billion CPU twice daily for therapeutic uses and a lower dose for basic prevention or maintenance.

DID YOU KNOW?
Symptoms at intestinal flora imbalance may include allergies, gum disease, skin problems, joint pain, and poor sleep.

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By Karolyn A. Gazella

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