Probiotics – The Meaning of Life

YogurtDigestion of our food is one of the most important functions of the human body. Good quality nourishing food is the first step to good health – but what happens to our food once it is swallowed? Most of us don’t have any idea of the numerous processes the body performs in breaking down food for energy. Digestion is fascinating and too large for this article. This article will help you understand the process of food breakdown with the aid of microorganisms we call probiotic (for life) bacteria.

Let’s look into these bacteria and see how they work and how it affects our overall health. We are a walking ecosystem; in fact we are home to trillions of bacteria. Some of them are pathogenic (harmful) but the majority are beneficial or probiotic. Probiotic bacteria in the intestines help digest food, create vitamins and inhibit the growth of disease causing bacteria. Throughout history traditional cultures have eaten a diet rich in fermented or cultured foods, which has provided the body with these beneficial bacteria. Some of these foods are yogurt, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and buttermilk for examples. With the S.A.D.(Standard American Diet) which is highly refined most of us no longer get these bacteria in our diet.

When we talk about bacteria most of us think of them in a negative fashion so what are these beneficial microorganisms? There are between 400-500 different species of bacteria ( at least 17 families and 50 different genera). All areas of the gastro intestinal tract are home to these bacteria. These bacteria aid in the breakdown of our food once it enters the small intestines. The main beneficial species found in the body are lactobacillus acidophilus, l. Bifidus, l. Casei, l. Plantarum, l. Rhamnosus, bifidobacterium bifidum and streptococcus faecium.  The bacteria lactobacillus acidophilus, L.bifidus, bifidobacterium bifidum, and streptococcus faecium have been the subject of numerous studies since 1921.

What are some of the benefits of these microorganisms? The benefits below are the results of the studies, but some are still being researched.

  • Boosting the immune system- specific bacteria (l. Bifidus and s. Thermophilus) have shown to improve immune cells fight disease causing bacteria in the intestines.
  • Inhibit the growth of pathogenic organisms- this happens by sucessfully combining with available nutrients and by producing antibiotic chemicals such as bacteriocins, which kill certain species of bacteria.
  • Prevent diarrhea from various causes- numerous studies show that adding acidophilus to milk increases digestibility and decreases gas and bloating.
  • Reducing the risk of inflammatory bowel disease- there is a suspected link between unhealthy flora and colitis and Chrohn’s disease.
  • Improving digestion of proteins and fats- probiotics increase the absorption of these foods.
  • Aiding vitamin synthesis- it is known that intestinal bacteria can synthesize vitamins b1, b2, b6, b12, folic acid and biotin and others.
  • Detox and protect us from toxins-known to detox ammonia bi product of nitrogen based  (red meats) foods, the breakdown of cholesterol, and helps the body to breakdown hormones.
  • Provide energy for the intestinal lining- the mucosal cell lining of the colon derive 70% of their energy from fatty acids produced as a by product of bacterial action.
  • Maintain proper mucus levels in the intestines. – Help regulate the mucus in the intestines. When the mucus level gets too thick nutrient absorption can be impaired.

So where do these microorganisms come from and how do they get into our bodies?

At birth we become inoculated with micro flora as we pass through the birth canal. Breastfeeding provides the next level of inoculation, which creates the simple flora called bifid bacteria, a genus that produces lactic acid. Bottle fed infants have difficulty getting these beneficial bacteria and there is a possible link between allergies and infant nutrition and micro flora.

The micro flora of the intestines is very delicate. There are numerous substances and medications that destroy them. The overuse of antibiotics has created numerous intestinal problems from constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and possibly inflammatory bowel diseases. Antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. Yes antibiotics are lifesaving and have a place for short-term use but when long-term use persists digestive problems prevail. Many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and stronger ones have to be used. Many pathogenic bacteria mutate so the antibiotic becomes ineffective. Remember antibiotics kill bacteria and have no effect on viruses. It is important that if you take an antibiotic to follow up when your treatment is done to use an acidophilus supplement or eat more live culture yogurt. One other problem is the overuse of antibiotics in animals with people eating them getting residues in the animal tissue or by-product.

Some other issues that destroy our micro flora are:

  1. Chlorinated and other bactericidal chemicals used in drinking water.
  2. Pesticide and herbicide residue on fruits and vegetables.
  3. Excessive consumptions of sugar, fat, red meat, and refined foods.
  4. Excessive consumption of raw vegetables.
  5. Alcoholic beverages can inhibit implantation of probiotics.

The following are some of the conditions which supplementing probiotics can be beneficial:

  • During antibiotic treatment
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • During pregnancy
  • Counteracting infection
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Chronic gas and bloating

So how do I choose a good probiotic supplement? This is a tough question because there are many forms on the market. The following are some guidelines to help you determine if what you are using is beneficial.

First the ph of the intestines is important for the life of these probiotics. The body ph should be in the range of between 4-6 just slightly acidic. If below 3-4 ph level the organisms will not thrive. As a matter of fact many are destroyed in the stomach before they reach the lower intestines. Special enteric-coated capsules allow for passage through the stomach and open further in the intestinal tract. If you are taking a supplement or eating plain live culture yogurt it is best to have it early in the day with some fruit or by itself before meals.

  • The supplement should have been refrigerated from the time of manufacture, shipment and storage.
  • The supplement should list the activity level of the organisms. Example is that in one gram (1000mg) will provide between 6-10 billion bacteria. This is considered a therapeutic level.
  • The date of manufacture, the base, used (lactose or non dairy), the species present and potency are all factors to consider when choosing a supplement.

It is important to assess one lifestyle when it comes to deciding if you need to supplement with probiotics. They are safe and effective but it is important to also look at your diet and try to add more wholesome forms of natural beneficial bacteria. Study the traditional food s that provide them and experiment by eating them. Some of the benefits of eating traditional fermented food are:

  • They increase the digestibility of protein and other nutrients.
  • They reduce the risk of illness due to contamination by pathogenic organisms.
  • Enhance the odor and flavor of food.
  • Increase levels of important nutrients like b 12

Here is a list of some traditional fermented foods: sour milk, poi, cottage cheese, yogurt, koji, natural soy sauce, buttermilk, sauerkraut, soy tempeh, raw vinegar, and kefir.

Every culture around the world has used fermented foods in their diet.

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