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Our Vital Need for Healthy Gut Bacteria and Probiotics

Do you wash your hands obsessively with antibacterial soap? Spray Lysol on everything that can’t defend itself? Cringe with pursed lips at the thought of your water bottle being shared by the germ-laden mouths of friends or family? Do you cross two fingers, as though Dracula were on the way, just to ward off a coworker’s sniffle? Do you suffer from GERMAPHOBIA? Perhaps we all have a touch of germaphobia from time to time, and it’s not always a bad thing. A severe bacterial infection can be life threatening. But, not all bacteria are bad. In fact, some are absolutely vital for optimal health!

Speaking of Dracula, let’s take a closer look where the sun doesn’t shine. The amount of bacteria in your gut outnumbers the cells in your entire body. The colon alone houses 100 trillion residents. We are literally outnumbered cell-for-cell by about 400 different types of bacteria. The proper tiny inhabitants are friendly and enhance and support our health. We call the good bacteria within our intestinal tract “Probiotics.” Feeding primarily on fiber, they offer such services as intestinal lining protection and a boost to our immunity.

Being a victim of Dracula has little reward, but being a landlord to an abundance of probiotics is a job with great benefits. The bacteria:

  • Form a barrier on the intestinal wall that blocks disease-causing organisms from crossing into the bloodstream.
  • Kill or suppress the growth of bad bacteria.
  • Help with digestion and absorption of certain foods and nutrients.
  • Reduce bowel inflammation.
  • Improve immune function.
  • Synthesize vitamin K and B vitamins.

Adding probiotics to our diet is highly recommended, and one of the few supplements a person should consider for regular use. Common foods containing friendly bacteria are yogurt, kefir (milk that had bacteria added to it), some cheeses, sauerkraut and pickles. Perhaps the best investment is to add a probiotics supplement to our nutritional regimen. Below are considerations for choosing a probiotics supplement:

Choose a multi-strain formulation (the number and type of strains included is a primary factor that separates the better and more expensive supplements from the lesser).
The supplement should contain the added “pre-biotic” FOS (Fructooligosaccarides). This soluble fiber nourishes the bacteria as they settle in the intestinal tract and is naturally found in such foods as bananas, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes.

Because they are considered and regulated as food rather than drugs, few side effects are reported with the use of probiotics. Reactions are mainly mild and relate to the digestive system (bloating and gas are examples). It is always wise to consult with your health care professional before supplementing with probiotics… particularly if you are elderly, will use them with your children or have a compromised immune system.

If we have trillions of bacteria in the gut, why do we need to add more? First off, due to today’s safety regulations, many foods are cleansed of “bad” and “good” bacteria with pasteurization or sterilization. These processes help prevent the spread of food-borne illness, but the price is paid with the loss of a source of beneficial bacteria. The extensive use of antibiotics has also led to the dramatic loss of good bugs from the gut. The well-meaning drugs are unable to tell the heroes apart from the villains.

From aiding the immune system and lessoning allergies to helping overcome inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis) and helping prevent cancers related to inflammation, beneficial bacteria are a vital part of a supplement program. The need for probiotics may be the greatest following a course of antibiotics. We must be thankful to the critters within… if they didn’t live there, someone else would!