Within every human being is a flourishing, living colony of approximately four pounds of bacteria. Most of these bacteria reside in the human digestive tract, although some are found elsewhere. Without a sufficient number of friendly bacteria known as probiotics, human life could not exist.
- The world is full of microorganisms, and so are people’s bodies. Bacteria are found in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other orifices. Friendly bacteria are vital to proper development of the immune system, protection against microorganisms that could cause disease, and the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
- It is important to cultivate and maintain a healthy colony of bacteria in the GI tract. Ideally, the microflora colony in the digestive system should be composed of 85% friendly bacteria to 15% harmful microorganisms like unfriendly bacteria and yeast.
- The optimal balance between healthy and harmful microorganisms can be thrown off by antibiotics, which kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria.
- Opportunistic microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance, crowding out the good bacteria and making it harder for them to thrive.
- Use of oral contraceptives, steroids, exposure to radiation through X-rays and radiation therapies, excessive consumption of chlorinated water, ingesting refined sugars and other refined foods, poor digestion, poor elimination of waste, stress, and an unhealthy diet can all cause a shortage of healthy probiotics and proliferation of harmful and disease-causing microorganisms.
- When the balance between beneficial and pathogenic (harmful) microorganisms is disrupted, health problems and disease can result.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
- While researchers have only recently begun to study the health benefits of probiotics, they are exploring whether these friendly microorganisms can help alleviate many health issues, either by suppressing pathogenic agents or by aiding digestion and general health.
- Probiotics have shown some promise in helping with conditions like infectious diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Helicobacter pylori infections (which can cause ulcers and stomach inflammation), tooth decay and periodontal disease, vaginal infections, some stomach and respiratory infections, skin infections, and eczema. They may even help relieve some allergies and hay-fever.
- Friendly bacteria may prevent overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of yeast responsible for thrush and genital yeast infections, which can also cause systemic infections. Several of the conditions probiotics may alleviate, such as Crohn’s disease, eczema, and IBS might be associated with Candida.
- There is evidence that healthy levels of probiotics support the immune system.
- You can add probiotics to your diet by consuming fermented foods with live active cultures, or by taking dietary supplements.
- Cultured dairy products such as yogurt or kefir contain friendly flora. However, the number and species of live organisms vary greatly from product to product due to differences in processing methods. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut also contain probiotics.
- “Prebiotics” are also thought to improve the balance of probiotics in the intestines. They are non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines. Sources of prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin, found in onions, asparagus, chicory, and banana. FOS is also available as a supplement and is sometimes combined with probiotic dietary supplements.
- While we know probiotics are microorganisms that provide health benefits inside the body, some scientists say that they remain poorly understood. Of the thousands of probiotic species that exist, very few have been tested for their effects when consumed by humans as part of their diets.
- There are few FDA regulations on production or marketing claims of probiotic products, as long as those products do not claim to be equivalent to drugs that have the ability to cure diseases.
- People should consult with their doctors when starting a new supplement. Those who are immunosuppressed should especially seek medical advice before using probiotics because the probiotic itself may cause a serious infection in people taking immunosuppressive medication.
1. Probiotics for the 21st Century http://www.naturodoc.com/library/detox/probiotics.htm
2. An Introduction to Probiotics http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/
3. Systemic Yeast Infections and its Many Diseases http://www.yeastinfectionadvisor.com/systemicyeastinfections.html
4. Acidophilus and Other Probiotics http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/herbsvitaminsad/a/Acidophilus.htm
5. Dannon Sued Over Probiotic Health Claims of Activia Yogurt http://www.naturalnews.com/023732_probiotic_health_health_claims.html
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