07 Apr The Power of Probiotics
So, what are probiotics anyway? It has certainly become the new “it girl” ingredient in everything from yogurt to granola bars and people seem to be catching on to the trend, buying probiotic enriched products by the truckloads. There’s just one little problem: a lot of people really don’t know what probiotics are.
What are probiotics?
In short, probiotics are friendly bacteria that live inside our guts. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. Hard to believe since the medical community has been raging wars against bacteria for years now, scaring us all into buying anti-bacterial everything. But these guys, the probiotics, are the good kind of bacteria, essential to our health. In fact, probiotics have a lot of important work to do inside us. Here are a few of their responsibilities:
• Promote regular bowel movements (help relieve diarrhea and constipation)
• Improve digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats
• Enhance immune function
• Contribute to the absorption of minerals
• Produce antioxidants
• Participate in the manufacture of some B vitamins
• Help inhibit food poisoning
• Normalize skin conditions
• Help reduce cholesterol
• Maintain bone health
• Help manage blood sugar levels
• Improve the symptoms of lactose intolerance
• Help combat fungal and yeast infections
• Limit the action of disease-causing bacteria
Probiotics are helpful in the treatment of constipation, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chron’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, allergies, skin problems and Candida.
Let’s jump back to the topic of antibiotics and break down the word itself. “Anti” means against, and “biotic” means life. Antibiotics work by wiping out all bacteria in the body (the good kind and the bad kind) in order to get a sick person healthy again. In times of need, they are life saving, but they certainly shouldn’t be taken “just in case”. Obliterating all the bacteria in your body is an incredibly drastic thing to do if you don’t have to.
With a little logic, we can deduce that the word “probiotic” means “for life”. This is precisely why during and after a course of antibiotics it is essential to bring those friendly little guys back to your gut. Have you ever experienced diarrhea, flatulence, fatigue, skin problems or yeast infections after a taking around of penicillin and the like? It’s because all your little warriors are gone! Yikes!
And unfortunately, there are even more ways that our modern lifestyles negatively impact our bowel ecology. Ask yourself the following questions to get an idea of how your gut measures up:
– use antibiotics?
– drink chlorinated (tap) water?
– consume alcohol?
– take over-the-counter medication (aspirin, antacids, antihistamines etc.)?
– eat processed foods (containing preservatives, additives)?
– experience daily stress?
– take birth control pills?
– use steroidal & hormonal drugs?
– drink carbonated and/or caffeinated drinks?
– watch a lot of television or use a mobile phone (exposure to radiation)?
Based on that list, chances are good that your bowels aren’t in the shape they could be, right? The good news is you can counteract the effects of these factors by taking a daily probiotic supplement. This is especially critical after consuming antibiotics, and a very thorough re-inoculation regime should do wonders for your digestive system, after it’s taken a beating!
Feeding your Friends – Fermented Foods
We should also be aware that our diets play a serious role in the ecology of our colons. Certain fermented foods like miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and natural yogurt, encourage the growth of friendly bacteria populations. And, if you’ve ever heard the term “prebiotic”, another trendy term that is being thrown around by food manufactures these days, it refers to certain types of non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help bacteria grow and flourish. However, prebiotics contained in supplements have clinically been shown to notoriously increase abdominal gas and therefore pain. Prebiotics in a probiotic supplement comes from certain types of carbohydrate fillers (often referred to as FOS, fructo-oligosaccharides) that feed both beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria. Rather than incorporating a prebiotic in a supplement, it is far more advisable to include prebiotics in your diet, only if you tolerate them. Sources of prebiotics include raw vegetables and fruits, legumes and whole grains.
How to pick your probiotics
Like I mentioned earlier, many food manufacturers are jumping on the benevolent bacteria bandwagon and in my opinion, ripping people off. A large proportion of grocery store products simply do not deliver the benefits of probiotics because they lack the potency and nutrition of a true supplement. You can tell just by watching some advertisements for probiotic-enriched whatever…do they really say anything at all? Hardly.
A single dose of probiotic supplement should have a MINIMUM of 10 million live bacteria. It is also clear that the majority of these bacteria should from the Lactobacillus family – ‘friendly-bacteria’ that are tough enough to make it into the large intestine where they need to be. After a course of antibiotics, I recommend patients to take between 20 and 40 billion everyday for a week just to re-inoculate, followed by a regular 20 billion daily dose just to keep bowels in top form. You can experiment with different amounts to see what works best for you, but if you are just beginning to take probiotics, I would start with a rather high dose to get the ball rolling.
What about “shelf-stable” probiotics?
Shelf-stable probiotics that are not sealed in a blister pack that protects the probiotics from moisture and oxygen should be avoided. In general, be wary of products that claim they do not require refrigeration. The fact is, at higher temperatures bacteria will grow quickly and die. This is why all my probiotics are shipped over night in climate-controlled packaging and packed with additional amounts to allow for any die off.
Unfortunately the government isn’t regulating these shelf-stability claims to protect the consumer. As a physician, I have direct access manufacturers that do third-party testing which gives me the confidence to guarantee my probiotics through one year passed the manufacturing date. All my probiotics are manufactured at the time of order, so you can be sure that every purchased batch is as fresh as possible.
How much do probiotics cost?
Please keep in mind that these powerful, health-enhancing team players don’t always come cheap. My signature blend, the ProFlora Blend, is a two month supply of 20B/day and sells for $40. This is far cheaper than most other high-quality probiotics (like Genestra) because you’re not paying for expensive marketing material and broker fees. Your health is an investment. Those 100 trillion friends you didn’t know you had need all the help they can get.