Times are changing and in health, sometimes they change drastically. Healthy ideas can turn on their head, like with carbs and fat. The same thing is happening with antibiotics. Antibiotic soap, sanitizer and medicine is being replaced with a new idea -- Probiotics. So why is gut health the new best way to keep healthy? Let's find out.
Truth About Bacteria
While supplements are usually made of vitamins, minerals or herbal extracts, probiotics
are in a league of their own. That's because they're made up of living bacteria cultures.
Wait, isn't bacteria bad?
No, not really. Inside our intestines, millions of billions of bacteria cultures live, helping our body digest the food we eat and turning it into molecules we can use for energy and other functions. These cultures (a group of the same bacteria) are our body's main defense against food-borne diseases and is closely tied
to our immune system. True, there are kinds of bacteria that make us sick but classifying the whole category as "bad" will ultimately cause ourselves harm.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened. The development of antibiotics and oversaturation of the cleaning market for "antibacterial" soaps and hand sanitizers has many scientists worried. Overuse could kill our own good gut bacteria
. Many are also worried about bacteria mutation and fear antibiotics won't work soon. If we've been harming our own immune system, then this is an issue.
Why Take Probiotics
A lot of research has turned to whether probiotics can help prevent or treat health problems in the light of the antibiotic scare. While there's still a lot to learn and prove, there's been promising signs for treating:
Probiotics deliver extra bacteria to the gut to help regrow the cultures our diet and lifestyle may kill off. There are many kinds of bacteria living in the gut and probiotics offer a range of bacteria to choose from. Unfortunately, it's difficult figuring out what you need. It's not like there's a drop down menu in your stomach telling you what you're low on. (How nice would that be, though?)
What To Look For
Many supplements boast how many bacteria cultures are in their pills but there's less information of how the amount of bacteria affects the body versus the variety. Lamely put - More doesn't mean better. Look for a variety of bacteria strains available. If you're not willing to put a boat-load of bacteria sailing into your intestine, pick a strain you think will benefit you the most and go from there.
Dr. David Williams has a great list
of the different bacteria strains you can find in probiotics and what they do. When in doubt, check for:
Lactobcillus acidophilus - colonizes the small intestine wall to ensure nutrient absorption. Great for digestion discomfort, occasional diarrhea, immune health and women's vaginal health.
Lactobacillus fermentum - produces antioxidants for better digestion and detoxification. Helps fight against food-borne pathogens too.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus - fights traveler's diarrhea and improves vaginal and urinary health in women.
Bifidobacterium bifidum - colonizes intestines of babies and is one of the main gut flora groups. Prevents growth of unwanted bacteria, mold and yeast and helps with nutrient absorption. Can also relieve occasional traveler's diarrhea.
Bifidobacterium longum - breaks down carbohydrates and helps detoxify the body. Great for everyday digestion and immune health.
Bifidobacterium infantis - relieves gas and bloating. Great for overall digestion. This culture declines in size as we age.
Other things to check for:
Expiration date - because probiotics are made of living bacteria, they can die after a period. That's why some probiotics are refrigerated. Always look for the expiration date on the product to make sure you're not taking dead cultures.
Product form - Make sure you know whether a product needs to be refrigerated. Also, if the capsule isn't specific to probiotics, it could dissolve in stomach acid and be useless to the intestines. Check cheaper product reviews and make sure it's a "live culture" probiotic.
Probiotics In Food
You don't need a pill to get good bacteria health. There are foods enhanced with probiotics and even natural foods rich in good gut bacteria. Try introducing them to your diet and see how they affect your digestion and mood.
Yogurt - Probably not surprising, this is one of the best ways to introduce live-cultures to your diet. Brands made from goat's milk are high in thermophillus, bifudus and bulgaricus probiotics you may not get in supplements. Other brands may enhance their product with more common strains to save you the hassle of pills.
Sauerkraut - I know, right? But it's made from fermented cabbage and that fermented process adds extra live cultures our body loves.
Miso - Yup, just like the soup. It's made from fermented rye beans, rice or barley and is full of lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria. It's great for regulating digestion and I highly recommend the soup on a cold day.
Pickles - Any pickled vegetable has added probiotics from its time in the brine.
Kombucha Tea - It couldn't be one of my lists without tea. Kombucha is a fermented tea with high amounts of gut bacteria. You can learn more about it here.
With the rise in awareness about antibiotic overuse, it's important to stay up-to-date about what's healthy. I'm not saying put away your hand sanitizer - please keep washing your hands - but this is another reason we should think about overall lifestyle and how it affects our health instead of individual issues and their treatments.
About The Author
Dr. Matt Marturano is a licensed naturopathic physician and received his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
. Dr. Matt also has a dual Bachelor of Science in Biology and Philosophy from the University of Michigan
Dr. Matt's practice, Natural Solutions for Digestive Health
is located in Rochester Hills, Michigan where he specializes in digestive disorders and offers a holistic approach to digestive health symptoms. In addition, Dr. Marturano currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Association of Naturopathic Physicians
and is the Director of Recruitment - Integrative Medicine for Orchid Holistic Search.