From an early age most of us are taught how to be a good host to our friends. The 3 golden rules:
- Make sure they have food and drink.
- Create an environment that will nurture that friendship.
- And don’t forget to have fun.
What if I told you that you have been hosting a daily party for years. Would that be a surprise? What if I told you the number of guest outnumbered the number of cells you have in your body. The friends you are hosting are healthy bacteria that reside in your gut. These friends of yours have been working for years doing critical roles that impact your health. This party represents a symbiotic relationship- a relationship where both the host and guest equally benefit.
Who are these buggers anyways?
According to the world health organization (2001) “probiotics are live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
“We have been providing security since your birthdate. We minimize your susceptibility to evil foreign invaders by occupying your gut wall. When we are numerous and chilling on your wall we make it much harder for a foreign invader to fit in with us. We literally crowd them out.
We are positive gossipers unlike the evil pathogenic counterparts. We send positive communications to your gut cells that in return start a cascade of events important in regulating your immune system, important in decreasing inflammation as well as producing important metabolites such as vitamins and other protective molecules.”
Did you know approximately 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? Conceptualizing that probiotics can confer digestive benefits seems plausible. The systemic impact of probiotics on our health is far reaching and much beyond the boundaries of the gut. Some can reduce the length of colds and flus, impact the skin, eliminate vaginal candidiasis, improve our ability to detoxify and cope with allergies.
How does your gut communicate with your immune system? Through an immune relationship between your gut-associated lymphoid tissue and your mucosal associated lymphoid tissue. What we know is that influencing the immune cells in your gut also results in changes in mucosal tissue. This is why sinus issues can really be a manifestation of gut issues.
A snippet of the research (skip if you wish)
Antipathogenic barrier studies demonstrate that specific strains protect human cells from invasion of certain malignant pathogens.
Specific probiotic strains significantly reduced chronic diarrheal and vomiting in children age 6-24 months(9). Other studies demonstrate that it decreases the duration of diarrhea in acute cases as well.
Preliminary findings suggest that specific strains of probiotics reduce the activity of bacterial enzymes implicated in colon carcinogenesis.
A study looking at children age 3-5 found that “daily dietary probiotic supplementation (L acidophilus NCFM in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis Bi-07) for 6 months was a safe effective way to reduce fever (by 72.7%), rhinorrhea (by 41.4%), and cough incidence (by 62.1%) and duration and antibiotic prescription incidence (by 84%), as well as the number of missed school days attributable to illness (by 27.7%), for children 3 to 5 years of age.”
There are some preliminary findings with promising results that probiotic supplementation in pregnancy and in early newborn years may decrease the incidence of some atopic conditions.
Certain strains of probiotic are critical in the production of Vitamin K in the gut.
Many more roles … Busy little buggers aren’t they.
There is a bit of problem. For the most part, our society has evolved and changed its eating habits with little regard for the impact it might have on our friends. We did have a deal after all. They would work night and day protecting against the superpowers of evil but we did have to provide them with a nurturing thriving environment.
For the most part we haven’t been very good hosts to our inhabitants. High fat and low fiber diets as well as acid suppressing drugs make it a rather harsh environment for them to thrive. In addition, when we use antibiotics one of the side effect is that some of the good bacteria get killed as well. These factors combined with the reality that our food is pasteurized and dietary sources of probiotics have greatly diminished results in a run down population. This can make us susceptible to dysbiosis or an unhealthy balance of bad to good bacteria. Remember we had a deal and if we don’t hold our end neither will they.
Probiotic etiquette- take home message
- Increase your dietary fiber.
- Take proactive action after taking antibiotics with a strain specific probiotic.
- If you depend on acid suppressing drugs on a continual basis consider a naturopathic digestive tune-up.
- Unless you make your own unpasteurized sauerkraut your intake of probiotics is likely minimal. Consider a daily researched strain specified probiotic such as Lactobaccilus acidophilous NCFM.
Stay tuned the next article will be on how to chose a probiotic.
Have you had a positive experience with probiotics? I’d love to hear.