The Importance of Probiotics
What are Probiotics? The word “Probiotic” was derived from the Greek phrase meaning “for life." Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live in the human body and help to maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines.
We share a complicated relationship with bacteria that exists on our skin, in our intestinal tract and throughout our body. Too much of the wrong bacteria can make us ill, and too little of the healthy bacteria can leave us vulnerable to illness. We need healthy bacteria to survive and thrive.
The body consists of 10 trillion cells (building blocks), with 100 trillion cells of bacteria. We live in constant cooperation with our bacteria. The trillions of healthy bacteria are critical to a healthy immune system and proper functioning of our brain chemistry. It is estimated there are over four hundred species of microflora that weigh about four pounds in the gastrointestinal tract alone.
Acting as microscopic protectors of the bowels, good bacteria allows desirable nutrients while protecting against viruses and killer bugs. This is done with the help from the mucosal barrier, which coats every inch of the gut’s 1,000-square-foot surface to form a protective layer. Digestion is only one part of what these bacteria accomplish. 60% of the body’s immune cells line the gut walls, and our healthy bacteria help to power these protectors.
The relationship between the healthy bacteria and the gut is mutually beneficial. Because the gut is porous, it needs to absorb nutrients from food. It is estimated that over a lifetime, the gastrointestinal tract processes about 60 tons of food.
Our healthy bacteria are actively involved in the digestion and absorption of our food as they produce a number of enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, fiber and fats. They produce substances that transport vitamins, minerals and other nutrients through the gut wall so that it is absorbed into our bloodstream to nourish and feed the body. Without healthy gut flora the body cannot synthesize the correct amount of vitamins, which can cause serious deficiencies.
A healthy body will recycle every single molecule it can from the bowel," states Georgianna Donadio, PhD, nutritionist and founder of the National Institute of Whole Health in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "Essentially the gut is a huge metabolic furnace." Donadio continues, “A healthy bowel is designed for the high-water, high-fiber and high-nutrient content foods found in the plant world”.
The beneficial gut flora also plays a crucial role in our immune system. Up to 70% of our immune cells line the gut wall, and many diseases can be traced to damaged or abnormal gut flora. If the microflora is damaged, the microbes of bad bacteria break through the gut wall, called a leaky gut. The immune system becomes less efficient as unwanted microbes and toxins flood into the body. This can cause allergic type reactions and is often a contributory factor of many autoimmune diseases.
Diets high in simple sugars, processed foods and animal protein can raise the numbers of potentially harmful bacteria. And although the diet has changed dramatically in the last century, the human digestive system hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Our ancestors ate plants and roots filled with good bacteria, but the modern diet is overflowing with fat, salt and sugar. As a result, the gut produces toxic byproducts to breakdown these substances – many of which can make us sick. We are seeing an epidemic of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and many researchers believe that the breakdown in healthy microflora is adversely affecting health.
Gregor Reid, PhD, a professor of microbiology, immunology and surgery at the University of Western Ontario in Canada and president of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics stated, "There isn't a drug on the market that can match bacteria for its far-reaching implications on health.
Why Do We Need Probiotics
The digestive system is home to microorganisms that colonize the gut and create a remarkable ecosystem that lives in harmony - the gut flora. This beneficial bacteria provides a natural barrier against invaders, unhealthy bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, and toxins that we ingest daily. Apart from providing us with a physical barrier, the flora produces substances that are anti-fungal and anti-viral to dissolve viruses and harmful bacteria. Additionally, the healthy bacteria reduce the pH near the wall of the gut, making it uninhabitable for bad bacteria to colonize.
Good bacteria act as balancing agents for pathogenic invaders, such as Candida and E.coli. The disruption of our healthy bacteria can cause a number of bacteria-related health problems such as Candida, digestive upset, sluggishness, headaches, anxiety, depression and many other ailments. Considering 95% of our Serotonin is produced in the gut region, and many of our GABA (Gamma- aminobutyric acid) receptors reside in this region, it is critical to maintain a healthy bacterial balance.
The World Health Organization defines Probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” Research has emerged that healthy bacteria can foster good health.
What Injures Our Healthy Bacteria
While antibiotics may occasionally be necessary, they have a devastating affect on beneficial bacteria in the gut, organs and tissues. It can take weeks for the beneficial bacteria to replenish the gut, which gives an opportunity for hostile bacteria to establish themselves in the gut wall.
Additionally, medications, prolonged stress, poor diet, alcohol, chlorine and fluoride all damage healthy bacteria. Drinking milk and eating meat from animals that are routinely given antibiotics, steroid and other drugs, in turn damages our important microflora. Sugar and processed carbohydrates also decrease the number of healthy bacteria and encourage a habitat for various fungi while also promoting the population of worms or other parasites in the gut.
Any medication or over-the-counter medication that stops or disrupts acid production encourages a harmful environment to healthy bacteria. Stopping the natural acid production in our stomach allows bacteria to pass through the gut wall. Without acid production, the gut cannot break down protein. Without protein digestion the ability to repair cells is hampered.
When the ratio of good bacteria to hostile is lowered, many problems can occur including: excessive gas, bloating, intestinal toxicity, constipation, increased allergies, anxiety, depression and poor absorption of nutrients.
Gut Health and Obesity
Many researchers have determined that beneficial bacteria not only stimulate digestive health but also the immune system. Gut bacteria may even contribute to understanding obesity.
Gary Huffhagle, PhD. Of the University of Michigan Health System, is a leading researcher into the world of probiotics. “We should have known that probiotics and the gut microflora play a role in metabolism – it’s a connection that’s been known in the agriculture industry for years,” states Huffhagle.
It was noted that sick livestock gained weight when dosed with antibiotics. This led to an industry practice of routinely rotating various low-dose antibiotics in livestock feed. Huffhagle says that antibiotics actually altered the metabolism of the animals, creating a condition called “enhanced feed efficiency,” which is an improved ability to retain fat. “We take the antibiotics to recover from a microbial illness, but the trade-off is that the fat we eat may be staying with us instead of being metabolized and converted to energy,” Huffhagle says.
An imbalanced digestive tract may contribute to obesity. Taking friendly flora or taking other steps to improve digestion may be vital to promoting normal metabolism of calories and fat.
Replenishing the Healthy Bacteria
Healthy digestive microbes come from ingesting uncooked fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that contain live Probiotics. Our first microbes are introduced in the vaginal canal after the natural birth process, and are delivered through breast milk. We inherit our gut flora from our mother at birth, where it settles in the baby's sterile system and becomes gut flora. Breastfeeding is another way the mother passes her gut flora to her baby. Bottle fed babies acquire completely different gut flora than those that are breastfed.
Routinely eating some live culture containing foods such as yogurt, kefir, or some fermented foods, can also assist in replenishing healthy bacteria. Be sure the products are guaranteed to contain live cultures since many brands destroy the essential bacteria with high temperature processing during the manufacturing process. Making your own yogurt assures an active bacteria content.
Consuming a daily Probiotic supplement is also a natural and safe way to replenish beneficial bacteria.
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