How Probiotics Work
Uses For Health Purposes
What The Science Says
Microbes Role In GI Tract
The Benefits Of A Healthy Intestinal Tract
The Best Probiotic Formulas
Guidelines For Taking Probiotics
Where To Purchase Probiotics
Probiotics were defined by a group of experts convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as "live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host". Most probiotics are bacteria, which are small, single-celled organisms. Bacteria are categorized by scientists with genus, species and strain names.
To understand how probiotics work, it is important to understand a little about the microbiology and physiology of the human gastrointestinal tract.
Human beings, like all animals, play host to many types and high numbers of microbes on our skin, in our mouths and all the way through our gastrointestinal tract. In fact, it has been estimated that there are more microbes associated with the human body (about 1014, or 100,000,000,000,000 bacterial cells) than there are human cells in it (about 1013). In addition to this very large number of bacteria, there also is a very large diversity of bacteria. It has been estimated that more than 1000 different species, or types, of bacteria make their homes on humans.
It is not surprising that microbes have been found to play an important role in human health. Most of these bacteria are not harmful, and in fact contribute positively to normal human growth and development. But some of these bacteria can have negative influences. It is therefore important that the balance of microbes be maintained to favor the beneficial bacteria over the potentially harmful ones.
There are several reasons that people are interested in probiotics for health purposes.
The world is full of microorganisms (including bacteria), and so are people's bodies--in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other orifices. Friendly bacteria are vital to proper development of the immune system, to protection against microorganisms that could cause disease, and to the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. Each person's mix of bacteria varies. Interactions between a person and the microorganisms in his body, and among the microorganisms themselves, can be crucial to the person's health and well-being. This bacterial "balancing act" can be thrown off in these ways:
1. By antibiotics, when they kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria. Some people use probiotics to try to offset side effects from antibiotics like gas, cramping, or diarrhea. Similarly, some use them to ease symptoms of lactose intolerance--a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest significant amounts of the major sugar in milk, and which also causes gastrointestinal symptoms.
2. "Unfriendly" microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance. Researchers are exploring whether probiotics could halt these unfriendly agents in the first place and/or suppress their growth and activity in conditions like:
3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like Advil, Motrin, Midol, etc. are destructive to intestinal flora.
4. Chlorine in the drinking water not only serves to kill bacteria in the water; it is equally devastating to the colonies of beneficial bacteria living in the intestines.
5. Radiation and chemotherapy are devastating to your inner bacterial environment.
6. Most meat, chicken, and dairy that you eat (other than organic) has a lot of antibiotics, which destroys the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
7. A diet high in meats and fats, because they take so long to break down in the human body, promotes the growth of the harmful bacteria.
8. Constipation allows harmful bacteria to hang around longer, which allows them to proliferate.
9. Cigarettes, alcohol, and stress are also major culprits.
Another part of the interest in probiotics stems from the fact there are cells in the digestive tract connected with the immune system. If you alter the microorganisms in a person's intestinal tract (as by introducing probiotic bacteria), you can affect the immune system's defenses.
Some infections, once thought self-limiting or readily treatable with antibiotics, are now recognized as more serious health threats. Multiple antibiotic resistances are a continual threat in the battle against once-treatable infections. And in non-industrialized nations, infections such as rotavirus claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of infants yearly. Prevention of infections before they occur is clearly the better alternative. Probiotics are a safe, cost-effective approach that adds a barrier against microbial infection.
Many researchers now believe that declining levels of friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract may actually mark the onset of chronic degenerative disease and a suppressed immune system.
Scientific understanding of probiotics and their potential for preventing and treating health conditions is at an early stage, but moving ahead. In November 2005, a conference that was cofunded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and convened by the American Society for Microbiology explored this topic.
According to the conference report, some uses of probiotics for which there is some encouraging evidence from the study of specific probiotic formulations are as follows:
It is known that microbes in the large intestine complete the digestion process on any food components that were not digested in the small intestine. There is evidence of non-digestive microbial activities as well. Certain intestinal microbes are known to produce vitamins. Also, in studies done with special microbe-free laboratory animals, evidence is strong that without normal microbial populations, the immune system functions poorly, and resistance to pathogenic bacteria is greatly reduced.
The gastrointestinal tract also serves to bridge the gap between "inside the body" and "outside the body". Along this interface, microbes and foreign antigens colonizing or passing through the GI tract interact with important components of the immune system. This interaction serves to prime or stimulate the immune system for optimal functioning. Normal microbial inhabitants of the GI tract also reinforce the barrier function of the intestinal lining, decreasing passage of bacteria or antigens from the intestine into the blood stream. This function has been suggested to decrease infections and possibly allergic reactions to food antigens.
The benefits of a probiotically optimized intestinal tract include:
A good probiotic formula is absolutely essential for long-term intestinal health, and long-term parasite control. When choosing a probiotic, look for the following characteristics:
The die-off rate for probiotics can be astounding. Most formulas will experience a die-off approaching log 3 within just 60 days of manufacture. that means that the 13 billion you see on the label may be down to 13 million, or less, by the time you use it. Heat and moisture accelerate the process, which is why most manufacturers recommend keeping your probiotic supply refrigerated.
There are many beneficial bacteria that can be contained in a good probiotic, but two are preeminent. Look for a formula based on these two:
It's also important to note that L. acidophilus is the primary beneficia bacteria in the vaginal tract. When the presence of the acidophilus is compromised, this allows the bad guys such as Gardnerella vaginalis or E. coli or Chlamydia to take over.
More is not always better. Too many beneficial bacteria in one formula may find the bacteria competing with each other before they can establish themselves in separate areas of the intestinal tract. However, there are several other bacteria that are extremely beneficial in any probiotic formula.
Start slowly. When you first start using a probiotic supplement, there is a chance that you will precipitate a die-off of bad bacteria in your intestinal tract. This can lead to gas, stomach rumblings, and cramping for up to three weeks.
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It is recommeded to take a couple different probiotics and rotate them every seven days. I have done a lot of research on the best pricing and this is what I recommend for adults: Ultra Flora Plus by Metagenics is a potent and high quality probiotic, you can purchase it at luckyvitamin.com. Another probiotic is Primal Defense by Garden of Life. It can be purchased at beyondprobiotics.net. The last one is Ultra Flora IB and you can purchase it at luckyvitamin.com.
For infants and children you can rotate Latero-flora by O'Donnell Formulas, (these are what Dr. Biamonte recommends and what I have used on my kids) you can purchase it at Agoodvitamin.com. It can be rotated with BifoViden by Metagenics, and you can purchase that at luckyvitamin.com Rotate these 2 every 7 days. Another option for kids 3 yrs and older is Primal Defense Kids by Garden of Life, which can be purchased at beyondprobiotics.net.
When you start to give the probiotics to infants or children start out with just a pinch. You can put it in their cereal, milk, or even water. Make sure that what you are putting it in is room temperature, so you do not kill the probiotics. Each day you can build up slowly until they are taking 1-2 capsules.
For adults, also start out with a small amount and build up. With Primal Defense, use 1/4 of a capsule the first time, and then build up from there. Ultra Flora Plus capsules can be opened up and put in cereal or water. Build up to taking 5-7 capsules a day, which can be broken up into smaller amounts taken throughout the day. Keep the BifoViden, Latero-flora, & Ultra Flora Plus refrigerated at all times. Primal Defense does not need to be refrigerated.