Repeatedly demonstrated to aid gastrointestinal health in the human body, acidophilus and other probiotics are key elements of our overall health and well being. This is particularly true when we consider that many of our common-day chronic ailments begin in the digestive system. It is also true when we consider the sheer number of people that suffer from poor gastrointestinal health, a condition which lowers the overall level of good bacteria in the body.
Before we go into the multi-fold benefits of taking probiotics, let’s define what probiotics are. The Joint FAO/WHO Working Group defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
In plain English, probiotics are a type of living bacteria that actually benefit your health when taken in the appropriate amounts. This friendly bacteria, located in the gastrointestinal tract, comes in a variety of forms. With more than 400 different bacteria living in the human gastrointestinal tract, the most common forms of intestinal probiotics are L. acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum.
These bacteria act as balancing agents for non-friendly, pathogenic, gut bacteria such as the Candida fungus or E. coli. When the “good-guys” are not present enough, a number of bacteria-related health problems such as digestive upset, headaches, sluggishness, irritability, candidiasis (an overgrowth of the bacteria Candida albicans), and even anxiety can ensue.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is, quite possibly, the strongest of our probiotic fighters. Studies show that L. acidophilus actually creates a natural form of antibiotics in the body . This increases our ability to defend against the pathogens in the food we eat, the air we breath, and the things we come in contact with. Stress, unhealthy lifestyles, and most importantly, unhealthy acidic diets, destroy our natural amounts of probiotics. In this sense, it is a great idea to add a probiotic supplement to your diet.
The Health Benefits of Probiotics
The following health benefits are associated with the intake of daily servings of probiotics .
- Enhanced immune system response
- Alleviates negative affects of taking many types of antibiotics
- Calms colon irritation following surgery
- Helps to support healthy skin in youth
- Increased ability to digest food
- Therapeutic for upper respiratory complaints
- Reduces lactose intolerance
- Reduces incidence of yeast infections, vaginitis and candidiasis
- Increases ability to assimilate nutrients from food
- Alleviates many common digestive disorders such as constipation, diarrhea and IBS
- Acts as a remedy for bad breath (halitosis)
- Increases ability to synthesize vitamin B
- Increases ability to absorb calcium
Who Should Take Probiotics?
Although candidiasis sufferers require supplemental probiotics to replenish beneficial GI bacteria and rebuild their immune system, they aren’t the only ones that need it. Everyone who is exposed to a toxic environment, eats processed food, or suffers from a high-stress lifestyle needs probiotics.
This is especially true if you are taking antibiotics, or if you have ever been on a course of particularly strong antibiotics, have frequent colds, or exhibit any symptoms of candida related problems. Despite their value, antibiotics have been overused to the point that there are at least two bacteria that have developed complete resistance to antibiotics and antibiotics kill “bad” bacteria as well as beneficial bacteria. Beneficial bacteria perform many helpful functions; without them, that work doesn’t get done.
Studies on Probiotics
- Studies show that probiotics improve the bio-availability of many important nutrients in the body such as zinc, iron, phosphorus, all of the B vitamins, calcium, copper, and magnesium. 
- A study on the probiotic strain B. infantis showed powerful abilities to normalize bowel function in patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 
- Probiotics have been shown to significantly lower the rate of diarrhea and diaper rash in babies’ consuming infant probiotics. 
- Active bacteria cultures, such as acidophilus, have been shown to aid in reducing intolerance to lactose found in dairy products. 
- Several studies on probiotics have indicated that through the process of regulating intestinal transit time of fecal matter, probiotics can dramatically reduce constipation in the elderly. 
- Other reports indicate that some forms of probiotics, can aid in promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon, significantly lowering the conversion of bile in the colon into carcinogens.
- Some studies demonstrate that probiotics enhance overall immunity through a process of regulating lymphocytes and antibodies in the body. 
Where Can I Buy High-Quality Probiotics?
Many common leafy greens are also excellent sources of probiotics. The best greens for increasing probiotics include chlorella, wheat grass, and spirulina. The advantage of getting these disease-fighting bacteria from green sources is that these foods are also extremely high in immune system-stimulating vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. They also aid in detoxing the body.
A daily probiotic supplement is a reliable way to get consistent probiotic support. Currently, I recommend and use two different products: Latero-Flora™ which is the B.O.D. Bacillus Laterosporus strain and a more advanced formula, Floratrex™, which contains a blend of 23 high-quality strains. Either of these are a solid choice and I’ve been extremely satisfied with them both.
Regardless of what you opt for, be sure to avoid probiotic supplements that have sugar or glucose in the ingredient list. Both sugar and glucose actually slow the growth of healthy lactobacilli. We can also get moderate levels of probiotics from a healthy diet rich in cultured organic products like yogurt, goat’s cheese, kefir and buttermilk.
History of Probiotics
Probiotics are found in many foods and animals the world over. However, being able to isolate them and understand their ability to influence your health is a much more recent. The idea of probiotics was first put forth in the 20th century by Nobel laureate, Elie Metchnikoff. Before he started telling people to eat microorganisms, people focused on eliminating them. Even with Metchnikoff’s groundbreaking work, it was not until the 1980s that probiotics entered the public consciousness. Today, more than any other time in history, people are aware of the benefits of probiotics which are why you hear more about them in the news, at the grocery store, and even in your doctor’s office.
How Probiotics Work
There are several ways probiotics work to support your health. By outcompeting the bad bacteria for food and resources, they help protect your body against harmful organisms and undesirable bacteria species from establishing stable colonies. Some probiotic strains influence pH levels inside the gut, which helps create a favorable digestive environment. Others help metabolize certain foods that would otherwise go undigested or be poorly digested. By breaking down these foods thoroughly and into more bioavailable forms, your body can better absorb vitamins and nutrients that may otherwise go unused. All of these interrelated factors promote a balanced microbiome which in turn can stimulate immune responses and contribute to maintaining better overall physical and mental health.
Common Probiotic Strains
As the investigation into probiotics continues, researchers are better able to identify different organisms and their potential benefits. Still, the scientific names, with their genus and species, are rarely used beyond an ingredient label or textbook. Instead, the term probiotics is applied equally to all beneficial strains. However, you’ll hear about these two major groupings or genuses most frequently: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
Lactobacillus strains are a significant part of a healthy person’s microbiota. Species in this grouping all create lactic acid by metabolizing sugars in the body. This increased acidity creates an unfriendly environment to harmful organisms and helps cleanse and detox the digestive system of toxins and waste. Cultured or fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, beer, and sourdough bread use Lactobacillus species and strains as part of the production process. On supplement and food labels, Lactobacillus forms are often abbreviated with an L., followed by the species name.
Bifidobacterium are found in the mouth, throughout the digestive tract, and make up the largest proportion of the bacterial flora in the colon. Bifidobacterium species and strains play a vital role in breaking down and utilizing carbohydrates. Some foods that contain Bifidobacterium include infant formulas, kimchi, and certain kinds of cheese. Similar to Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium can be abbreviated with a B. on ingredient or nutrition labels.
The Best Probiotic Strains for the Gut
Even within these two genuses, not all probiotic species function in the same way or have equivalent effects on the body. Global Healing Center has years researching and identifying some of the best probiotic strains for your gut. Here are the top 23 strains we have found that help to cleanse, rebuild, replenish, and nourish the gut.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Lactococcus lactis
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Enterococcus faecium
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bacillus coagulans
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Pediococcus acidilactici
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bacillus clausii
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
Probiotic Rich Foods
Many strains of probiotics are naturally present in a healthy, diverse diet rich in fermented foods and drinks, pickled foods, and cultured dairy products. Each of these foods requires bacteria to transform them into probiotic powerhouses. Unfortunately, many of these foods and drinks are absent from a traditional western diet. Adding any of these to your diet will encourage probiotic growth and help diversify your gut flora. Here are some of the best vegan foods with probiotics:
- Coconut Kefir
- Ginger Beer
- Sour Pickles
Choosing the Right Probiotic Supplement
A daily probiotic will help you maintain a healthy gut. Stress, sickness, a poor diet, and your environment can all degrade the health of your intestinal microbiota, but taking a high-quality, daily probiotic can help undo this damage. Before taking a probiotic, there are a number of important factors to consider. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about before buying probiotics.
A colony forming unit (CFU) is a measurement used to describe the number of available bacteria in a product. Look for a high CFU count of 25 to 50 billion. Sounds like a big number, but remember this is a small percentage compared to existing cultures already living in your body. High CFUs are critical to giving the bacteria the best chance of surviving the journey through the digestive tract. If the product has no CFU information, be cautious. There is no way to tell how many probiotics you are really getting without this value.
Your digestive system is a harsh environment that is designed to fight off foreign intruders. This presents an obstacle to the good bacteria you want in your gut. Good probiotic supplements will take this into consideration and provide specific strains that have an established record of surviving the digestive process. The best surviving strains are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains we discussed earlier.
A well-balanced gut requires species and strain diversity. Some probiotics help digest fats and sugars, while others alleviate digestive concerns. Providing a diverse selection will help create balance and stability.
How your supplements are manufactured matters immensely. Always look for probiotics that are produced in the U.S., that use high-quality sources and ingredients, and abide by strict FDA manufacturing guidelines.
Probiotics are living organisms and are prone to outside stressors. Research is ongoing to identify the best practices to limit stress on the probiotics during the manufacturing process. Certain species and strains are more resistant to stress and have a more stable shelf life. Once they are packaged, it’s difficult and expensive to verify potency. You are better off sticking with a brand you trust to ensure a high quality, stable product.
6. Living vs. Dead
Always give preference to products that have live probiotic cultures. Yogurt, for example, is made with live cultures, but they are eventually killed off during the fermentation and pasteurization process. For the best results, only take live, active forms of probiotics.
With all supplements, the expiration date matters, and this is especially true with probiotics. From the second they are bottled those live cultures will slowly start to die off. The closer a product is to its expiration date, the higher incidence of inactive probiotics.
One of the biggest mitigating factors to preserving probiotics is how they are stored. Heat is the enemy. Instead, probiotics do better in cold temperatures. Look for probiotics that are stored and shipped in a way that keeps them cold and out of direct sunlight.
Pay close attention to the bottle. A proper container should help block out light, which can cause deterioration of the probiotics, and should be made of nontoxic materials. Glass bottles are optimal for probiotic storage. Unlike plastic bottles, glass will not leach out toxic chemicals into the probiotics when exposed to heat or light.
10. Other Ingredients
Nearly all probiotic supplements contain some other ingredients and filler agents. Do your research and read the ingredient label carefully to make sure you are not consuming questionable and dangerous fillers. Additionally, more comprehensive probiotic formulas will also contain prebiotics as a filler agent, a substance that acts as food and nourishment for the living probiotic cultures. Be sure to avoid probiotic supplements that have sugar or glucose in the ingredient list. Sugar slows the growth of healthy lactobacilli.
Helping Probiotics Flourish
There are several things you can do to help probiotics become better established and flourish in the gut. Here are some practical do’s and don’ts for cultivating a healthy environment for your probiotics.
- Do eat organic
- Do eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans
- Do consume more probiotic foods
- Do drink clean, distilled water
- Do commit to recovering from life stress
- Don’t overuse antibiotics
- Don’t eat processed foods
- Don’t eat GMOs
- Don’t eat excess sugars
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Don’t expose yourself to environmental, household, and dietary toxins
- Don’t drink water that contains fluoride or chlorine
The Importance of Prebiotics
Prebiotics are different from probiotics. Probiotics are living, and need food and nourishment to survive and multiply. Probiotics consume substances called prebiotics as their food. Many foods that are high in fiber are good sources of prebiotics. Here are some of the best vegan foods with a high prebiotic content.
- Chicory Root
While relatively safe, probiotics may have some mild side effects. The majority of these come from a sort of transition period in individuals who do not yet have a balanced gut. As the probiotics alter the gut environment, some people may experience worsened gas and bloating. Others have reported nausea or bad breath, which may be caused as harmful organisms are expelled from the body. More serious side effects could occur with people that have a compromised immune system.
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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