Food For Thought - Part II
Probiotics, “BUGS” in your belly by Scott Josephson
Remember when Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet
eating her curds and whey? Whether she knew it or
not, she might of been eating a healthy dose of
“probiotics”. Imagine that? Probiotics are made
from living bacteria that affect the balance of other
organisms and bacteria in the gut. These microorganisms
are essential for healthy living. This
friendly flora works to digest and absorb nutrients
in your food. Research suggests an unhealthy ratio
of “bad bacteria to good” might trigger issues such as
severe stomach pain, fever, fatigue and inflammatory
bowel disease. Here’s where a dose of probiotics might help.
They contain a mixture of several different types of bacteria
including species of lactobacillus, bifid bacterium and streptococcus.
Unfortunately, the digestive tract is home to over 400
species of bacteria. Some of the native good bugs can crowd
out invading organisms that cause illness. They use resources
that the bad bugs need and produce chemicals that kill them.
By eating more helpful bacteria your body increases it’s own
natural defenses and creates an environment to control and
reduce inflammation caused by bad bacteria. These floras
seem to work with the body’s natural defenses to prevent the
overgrowth of a bad bug.
ARE PROBIOTICS SAFE?
For the most part, probiotics are considered safe because
they’re composed of bacteria that are already a part of the
normal digestive track. Because they are sold as supplements,
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate
them in the same way it regulates medication. A dietary
supplement can be sold with limited or no research pertaining
to efficacy and safety. That being said, probiotics have been
shown to ensure an optimum micro-flora balance to stimulate
and maintain the natural immune system of the host utilizing
the same type of nutrients. This creates competition for these
nutrients to grow and reproduce. The more the gut is flooded
with beneficial microorganisms, the better the opportunity
exists to prevent or limit the growth and colonization of potentially
pathogenic bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria
and Clostridia. These pathogenic bacteria are known to cause
major disturbances within the gut by preventing efficient digestion
and nutrient absorption. Probiotics produce enzymes that
breakdown polysaccharides such as carbohydrates, and allow
the absorption of energy obtained from nutrients. Additionally,
the micro-flora also ferments carbohydrates, which have not
been digested in the upper gut. These floras produce vitamins
that supply a secondary source to the host.
BACTERIA AS MEDICINE?
Lactobacillus is one of the most studied probiotics. It significantly
cuts the rate of many types of stomach issues that can
develop after a person has taken antibiotics. Drugs such as
antibiotics can wipe out every bacterium in their path, good
and bad, altering the natural balance of the digestive
tract. “Curds” is an old word for yogurt, and
evidence exists that some of the bacteria in
yogurt can help the body get rid of bad bacteria.
Raw or unpasterized yogurt is loaded
with bacteria. Most commercial yogurt is pasteurized,
a process that kills bacteria.
Research has found promise in pasteurized
yogurt with live bacteria added. Essentially, the
bacteria go to work crowding out the harmful
bugs that try to establish territory in your gut. This
requirement disqualifies some brands of fermented dairy
products that don’t add live cultures. If added, this probiotic
flora can be extremely helpful to colonize the intestinal tract
and enhance human health and performance.
WHY TAKE PROBIOTICS?
If you eat a perfectly balanced diet and have a stress free life
(yeah, right?) you may not need probiotics as a supplementary
aid to maintain your general health and immunity. However in
the real world we encounter daily stress from our environment
and from the foods we eat. In addition, we tend to consume
many forms of chemicals such as antacids, antibiotics, food
additives, alcohol and other foods and drugs that lead to a
disturbance and reduction in the concentration of beneficial
bacteria within our body. Strict dietary changes can influence
the delicate balance of micro flora in the digestive tract. Very
low calorie diets with insufficient nutrient intake and low fiber
could be a breeding ground for bad bugs. Evidence continues
to mount that various stressors contribute to the same. Stress
can be described as a factor that stimulates homeostatic,
physiological and behavioral responses in excess of the norm.
Unfortunately, this increases the blood levels of adrenal cortisol,
and our workouts suffer drastically. This can contribute to
a rise of alkaline in our body, and increase the risk of obtaining
a pathogenic species. Overall, there are a multitude of
“good” reasons to use a probiotic such as changes in your
food or water normally associated with travel, chemotherapy,
hormonal fluctuation, malabsorption, infections, colitis or antibiotic
use. To avoid damage to your wallet, choose a probiotic
supplement that has a proven track. Chances are your gut
will thank you for it!
SCOTT JOSEPHSON, M.S.,
is the Director of Fitness and Dietician
at Hunters Run in Florida. Scott is
an Exercise Physiologist and practicing
dietician and specializes in healthy
weight achievement and overall
wellness. He is a contributing writer
for “Fitness Management” magazine
and “The ECA News”