Examining the “pro” in probiotics

Examining the “pro” in probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote good digestive and immune health. Literally translated, probiotic means “for life.” Having a vital and well-balanced population of these micro-organisms in our digestive tract is essential for optimal health. Probiotics have several important functions, including synthesizing nutrients such as vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting, aiding in digestion and proper elimination, enhancing immune function, supporting detoxification, and optimizing hormone metabolism.

Our gut flora can be damaged by stress, a diet containing excess sugars or alcohol, certain herbs, such as oregano oil, antibiotic therapy, and steroidal drugs, including cortisone and birth control pills.

What’s the big deal?

Problems related to altered gut flora include digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Other issues, such as eczema, altered mood, allergies, and bladder infections can also occur. Imbalanced flora can also lead to an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans, creating symptoms beyond the gut including headaches, foggy thinking, and yeast infections.

Research studies have shown that supplemental probiotics support healthy immune function and can even decrease symptoms and duration of colds and flus. It has also been found that supplementing mothers and infants with probiotics can result in a decreased occurrence of eczema and allergies in childhood.

How to choose the right probiotics

An increasing number of food products claim to contain probiotics. While some do, they are unregulated and many contain negligible or sub-therapeutic amounts. Because of this, supplements are the most reliable way to get probiotics.

While there are 400 – 500 different bacterial species found in the large intestine alone, there are a handful that should predominate, most commonly Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium species. These are the species found in the majority of probiotic supplements. As specific formulations, dosing, and potencies vary with particular health conditions, ask a naturopathic doctor to recommend the best supplement to optimize your health.

Remember, if your gut is not happy, your body is not happy!