What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microbes, referred to as “good germs” or “beneficial bacteria,” that when eaten in sufficient quantities, provide a health benefit. How? By helping balance bad bacteria (that we all have) with good bacteria (that we all need).
Meet the human microflora
Our health depends on a very “alive” and balanced microflora. The human microflora lives in the moist tissues of our eyes, nose, mouth, lungs, vagina (for women), skin and intestines. Altogether, this makes up almost three pounds per person. Microbiologists and immunologists have referred to this three-pound tissue/microflora as “the forgotten organ” that supports our immune system. Gary Huffnagle, PhD, one such microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Michigan and author of The Probiotics Revolution, says every time we go on antibiotics, it’s like taking a sledge hammer to that organ. Ouch!
Take a look at some of the health problems that could occur when our microflora has been “sledge-hammered” and is no longer alive with “good bugs”
- Chronic diarrhea
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Colorectal Cancer
- Kidney Stones
Additional health problems speculated to occur from unbalanced microflora:
- Cardiovascular Disease (high cholesterol)
- Breast Cancer
- Sleep Disturbances
- Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- “Old Age” syndromes
Certainly a list that gets our attention! So, be sure your healthy diet includes probiotics to keep your microflora in an optimally “active” state.
Probiotic food sources
Currently, food that contains probiotics are primarily dairy products including yogurt and kefir (a tart drinkable style of yogurt containing beneficial yeast as well as friendly probiotic bacteria found in yogurt). Look for the label to say “live active cultures.” An awesome “probiotic dessert” is vanilla yogurt (my favorite is Stoneyfield Organic) with fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries or cherries, and ground flaxseed. This is especially advantageous to your immune system when this “probiotic dessert” replaces a bowl of ice cream! And it’s delicious enough to be completely “kid-approved!”
What if dairy products don’t “agree” with you or you just don’t like yogurt? What if you are facing one of the above-mentioned health conditions and you would like to seriously “rebalance” your microflora to an optimum “alive” state?
These are all good reasons to use a probiotic supplement, and there are many from which to choose. Your choice should be one that offers at least two different strains of bacteria and at least 1 billion friendly bacteria per dose. It should also include a “prebiotic” which is literally the food that allows it to grow once you ingest it.
Perfect for overseas travelers
If you are heading to Mexico or other international travel, and are worried about bacteria in the water or food, beefing up on probiotics before and during your trip can be helpful in keeping traveler’s diarrhea at bay.
Be patient when adding a probiotic supplement
While many people report an improvement in their digestive issues within three days, something as “invisible” as boosting your immune system is harder to notice. You should also know that taking a probiotic supplement may actually give you gastric upset at first, so begin with half a dose and increase gradually.