It’s All in Your Stomach – How Probiotics Work to Keep You Healthy

More than 2 decades ago, after years of taking tetracycline to combat my adult acne, my stomach was killing me! Though no one was talking about probiotics back then, they were talking about the health benefits of yogurt. Desperate to get rid of the pain, I started eating it. Within a few days, my stomach pain was gone.

It was a few years later that I discovered tetracycline is a broad antibiotic which means it kills everything – not just acne causing bacteria. Now, many doctors recommend talking probiotics along with antibiotics to avoid killing the good with the bad bacteria.  Because as it turns out, probiotics are a type of bacteria that your body needs.

Since then I’ve been a big fan of probiotics. And now the rest of the world is catching up. Lots of studies on probiotics show how crucial they are to good health. There’s even talk of a probiotic transplants taken from – well, I’ll just come out and say it – the poop of healthy individuals.  Early experiments have shown these transplants can actually fight many types of infections and improve overall health.

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What Are Probiotics and What Do They Do?

yogurtProbiotics are types of bacteria that your body needs to function properly. They’re also critical in fighting inflammation and boosting the immune system.

The most well-known probiotic – Lactobacillus – is commonly found in yogurt and fermented foods. Another, Bifidobacterium, is also found in dairy products. Two others, Bacillus and Streptococcus, occur naturally in the body.

Each of these species are composed of several different strains. Various strains or combinations have been found to ease diarrhea, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome and even skin conditions (including acne!), allergies and colds.  They can also improve oral, urinary and vaginal health.

You Need to Feed Them!

fruits and vegetablesBacteria is a living organism so it needs food to thrive. What do probiotics eat? Prebiotics which are non-digestible carbohydrates – AKA fiber. Yogurt and fermented products conveniently contain both probiotics and prebiotics.

If you’re relying on probiotic supplements instead of eating those foods, you’ll need to eat your prebiotics, too. Fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains contain the type of fiber they need. Don’t think you can skip the fruits and veggies and rely on fiber supplements either. Most are not made with the prebiotic fibers inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). And good thing, since most people don’t tolerate them well. A greenish banana or slice of whole wheat bread will provide the prebiotics without the side effects.

How Much and What Kind?

pickled or fermented foodsA serving of yogurt or fermented foods daily or several times a week will provide pro and prebiotics to keep your “flora and fauna” in balance. Some fermented foods include sauerkraut, borscht, fermented or salt and brine cured vegetables, sour cream, aged cheeses like cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan, soy sauce, miso, cottage cheese, kefir, whey and tempeh.  If you haven’t been eating these kinds of food, start slowly with smaller portions then work up to full sized ones.

You’ll need probiotic supplements if you find you can’t tolerate those foods.  When choosing probiotics, start with Lactobacillus acidophilus if you’re new to all this. If you can tolerate that well, upgrade to supplements that include additional Lactobacillus strains. Include others species and strains later on if you want – and if your wallet can stand it. The more included, the more these supplements cost.  And don’t forget to feed your probiotic supplements with a serving or more daily of fresh fruits, fresh or cooked vegetables, nuts or whole grain bread or pasta.

Also, if you have recurring digestive, skin or vaginal issues or if you find these foods or supplements cause digestive upset, see your doctor. He or she can pinpoint the exact strain or combination that will address any underlying conditions. Certain strains of Streptococcus, for example, are essential for oral health. Bifidobacterium may be needed to combat diarrhea or other digestive disorders.

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by on July 18th, 2016