Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain live beneficial microorganisms; what? Yes. Probiotics are LIVE bugs, usually bacteria, sometimes yeast. Why would I want to supplement my diet with bacteria or yeast? Because these beneficial microorganism keep us ALIVE. The word probiotic comes from pro and biota, meaning "for life".
We are a living organism and a host to billions of microorganisms everyday; they're on our skin, in our respiratory system, and line our gastrointestinal/genitourinary tracts. We're constantly sharing our bacteria with everyone in our environment. Did you know 100,000 billion bacteria live in your gastrointestinal tract (collectively known as the gut flora) – that's 10 times more than ALL the cells in your body! These billions of bacteria weigh in total about 3 pounds. That's a lot of bugs! So which kind of bugs do you want to host? Beneficial ones or non-beneficial ones? Of course, beneficial ones because these beneficial bugs support your health; these bugs keep us alive.
You're probably already eating these microorganisms everyday and may not realize it. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the most common type of microorganisms used in probiotics. LAB are able to convert sugars (including lactose) and other carbohydrates into lactic acid creating that characteristic sour taste in fermented dairy foods, like yogurt and kefir. The acid produced buffers the pH, creating fewer opportunities for spoilage organisms to grow in these fermented foods. But how about in us, how do probiotics benefit my health and the health of those I love??
Probiotics help reduce allergy symptoms (eczema, asthma, seasonal hay fever, and food allergies) and help with diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance, to name a few.[1,2, and probiotic reasearch.pdf
How do probiotics do all this?
Probiotics stimulate the immune system, reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Probiotics decrease intestinal permeability making the gut a more effective barrier.
Probiotics provide a protective layer along the surface of our intestinal and genitourinary tracts, preventing disease causing organisms from binding.
Probiotics stimulate gastrointestinal motility.
Probiotics can also help lower high cholesterol. Here's how. When you eat oat fiber [or other forms of soluble fiber] these beneficial bacteria convert the fiber into short chain fatty acids and lactic acid which decreases the pH in the lower intestine [colon]. This causes less cholesterol to be reabsorbed into the body and therefore more cholesterol is excreted in the stool. You're literally pooping out cholesterol.
Find a high quality probiotic to supplement these beneficial organisms into your diet everyday.
An independent testing group of nutrition products found several probiotic products that didn't deliver. Nutraceuticals are not FDA approved. There's no guarantee that what's listed on the label is effective. Not all strains of bacteria are necessarily useful. Just because it sounds good on the label, doesn't mean it will work.
Ask yourself these questions (and if you don't know the answer, ask the company who manufactures the probiotic, and if they don't know the answer, find yourself another probiotic!) Are the microorganisms in this probiotic....
Take probiotics with food. When you eat food, the stomach becomes less acidic, and the majority of probiotics will pass through the stomach to populate the small and large intestines.
Probiotics and antibiotics. If you need to take antibiotics, take the probiotics at a different time of day so the antibiotic and probiotic are not in the stomach at the same time. Even though during a course of antibiotics a large potion of the probiotic is killed, it seems to help shorten the length of time to rebuild the beneficial bacteria. One method is to increase your probiotic dose by 2-3 times during and after an antibiotic course, for a total of 30 days.
Remember diet first! Taking a probiotic supplement is a great start, but maintaining healthy gut flora is dependent on many factors, including diet. Incorporate fermented dairy (buttermilk, keifer, yogurt) and fermented veggies (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles) into your child's daily diet. Fermented foods contain high concentrations of live cultures that resist being destroyed by stomach acid as well. But, it's more than eating fermented foods - the QUALITY of your food intake is extremely important.
The types of food we eat, dictate the type of flora in our intestines. Breastfed babies have mostly bifidobacterium. After 4-6 months of age (after food introduction), the flora changes and by 2 years of age, a child's flora is similar to an adult. This flora (in health) remains stable until 50 years of age, when lactobacillus and bifidobacterium counts start to decline (for unknown reasons).
Eating lots of fruits and veggies is important to keep the beneficial bacterial counts high. With higher meat consumption, other bacteria such as bacteroides predominate. These bacteria are capable of producing carcinogens. This is why one of the risk factors for colorectal cancer is a diet high in meat and low in fruits and veggies.
Excessive alcohol, drugs (especially antibiotics), and stress can also throw off the balance of beneficial bacteria. The goal is to tip the balance in favor of the beneficial bacteria/yeast, which in essence makes it more difficult (but not impossible) for the harmful competitors to survive.
Susan McCreadie, MD is a Holistic Pediatrician and co-founder of get REAL for kids™. She shows parents how to find REAL health for their child, so they can stop treating their child's symptoms and instead find solutions that help their child heal from the inside out.
1. Kuitunen, M. et al. (2009, Feb) Probiotics prevent IgE-associated allergy until age 5 years in cesarean-delivered children but not in the total cohort. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 123(2):335-41.
2. Isolauri, E. et al. (2000 Nov)Probiotics in the management of atopic eczema. Clin Exp Allergy. 30(11):1604-10
3. Probiotic Supplements for Adults, Children and Pets. (2011, June). Consumer Lab. Retrieved on January 9, 2012 from https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/Probiotic_Supplements_Including_Lactobacillus_acidophilus_Bifidobacterium_