Balancing the bacterial equation
by Wendy C. Smith
Every now and then, as most of us do, I have to take antibiotics. I’m taking some really strong ones at the moment and, to balance it out, I’m also taking probiotics.
Antibiotics are aggressive, indiscriminate killers and do a number on disease bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria as well. Probiotics, which translates to “supporting life,” replace the good bacteria that occur naturally in the intestines and body, and they keep the body functioning properly.
The most well-known types of helpful bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus (acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium bifidum (B. bifidum), although there are literally hundreds of different strains of bacteria in the digestive system.
Probiotics are important for several reasons. They strengthen the beneficial bacteria colonies in the intestines and are useful for proper immune function and resistance to infection. People who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease or acid reflux should consider taking probiotics, which produce metabolic end-products that increase the acidity of the gut and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria such as E.Coli and Salmonella and fungus like Candida.
In fact, some research has concluded that regular ingestion of probiotics might help prevent yeast infections. Probiotics help produce nutrients such as amino acids, short-chain fatty acids, arginine, cysteine and glutamine. They remove toxins from the gastrointestinal tract and have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Probiotics assist in the digestion of lactose, synthesis of B vitamins and production of Vitamin K. Additionally, there is some evidence that probiotics are cancer fighters through increased gut acidity and by boosting liver metabolism.
Probiotics have been used in connection with other conditions, among them colic, canker sores, HIV support, eczema, food allergies, ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis and food allergies. There has also been a study that concludes that probiotics help prevent atopic diseases such as atopic eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis in infants.
There are two kinds of probiotics; resident, which occur naturally in the human body, and transient, which do not. Acidophilus and B. bifidum are resident probiotics and the most common colonies in probiotic supplements. Supplements are either for more serious microflora imbalance or for general health. Some have to be kept cold; others are shelf stable.
One called Bio-K is an acidophilus probiotic. It is dairy culture (although a non-dairy culture is available as well) and contains a minimum of 50 billion live colonies. This is an excellent one to ingest when taking serious antibiotics; it tastes like yogurt.
A shelf-stable probiotic is Jarro-Dophilus EPS. It has around 4.4 billion organisms per capsule and contains acidophilus and a host of other helpful bacteria. It’s a good supplement to take anytime, especially when traveling. Probiotics calm gastrointestinal upset and can lessen or stop food poisoning (along with charcoal capsules) if taken at the first signs.
Some probiotics are supplemented with FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), a carbohydrate that supports the growth of certain probiotic bacteria. Oddly enough, Japan has added FOS to soft drinks and candies for years, maybe because it’s sweet.
There are also probiotic foods. Anything fermented is a good source of probiotics. Sauerkraut, kim-chee, yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-like product) and miso, to name a few, are all probiotic foods. High-fiber diets also encourage the growth of friendly bacteria.
The amount of probiotics needed to replenish the gastrointestinal tract varies by the amount of harmful bacteria present and degree of depletion. Certainly, people who have diarrhea or who are taking antibiotics need a larger dose than the average person, but a supplement of one to two billion colonies of acidophilus is the minimum amount recommended for healthy maintenance of good bacteria.
Some people get that normally through food, especially if they eat a lot of fermented foods. Most people don’t and could benefit from taking a probiotic supplement. Note that if a person is taking antibiotics and also taking probiotics to recolonize the intestine, he or she should wait a couple of hours after taking the antibiotics to take the probiotics.
The earth and the life on it depend on a complex series of balances. In a loosely connected way, probiotics are just another reminder about that balance. Balance an overrun of bad bacteria with good bacteria to maintain a healthy gut. Balance food intake and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Balance work and play for a healthy outlook. Maybe it sounds overly simplistic, but everything is about balance. I never really thought much about probiotics until a friend asked me to pick some up for him. Since then, I’ve read a lot about them, used them myself, and I’m a fan, but then I’m a big fan of balance.