Probiotics boost wellness

It is important to choose a probiotic that contains more than one or two species of bacteria.

by Dr. Shana Spector Deneen — 

Most Americans have taken oral antibiotics at least once in their lives. Many of us have been on several rounds of antibiotic therapy for chronic ear infections, recurring strep throat, unremitting sinusitis, and various other skin, lung and gastrointestinal (GI) infections.

In addition to eradicating pathogenic bacteria, antibiotics deplete our GI system of healthful and protective microorganisms. For this reason, it is no surprise that 38 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies and candida. Other common factors that lead to gut imbalance include the use of steroids or birth control pills, alcohol consumption, stress, travel and poor diet.

We have billions of bacteria living in our intestines. Probiotic microorganisms, or “friendly bacteria,” are concentrated along our intestinal lining and keep the balance of  intestinal flora in check. When antibiotics are frequently introduced, yeast and other microbial pathogens can grow exponentially, causing damage to our digestive health.

Most people think solely of acidophilus when they hear the word “probiotic,” but there are many types of probiotics that promote healthy digestion. In healthy individuals, L. acidophilus  — a species of Lactobacillus — helps break down food, while producing an unfriendly environment for unwanted microbials.

Other species of Lactobacillus usually found in the small intestine include L. plantarum and L. rhamnosus. A blend of these species may be more suitable for those who do not benefit from L. acidophilus. L. plantarum specifically helps with the breakdown of lactose, while L. rhamnosus increases our immune cells in the GI tract.

Bifidobacterium, another friendly bacteria, is mostly found in our colon. Bifidobacterium helps defend our immune system by warding off pathogens such as Clostridium difficile, E.coli, H.pylori, and listeria, which are bacteria that cause peptic ulcer, food poisoning or toxic colon.

Another beneficial bacteria, Enterococcus, has been shown to have antimicrobial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is becoming a worldwide health concern.

Generally speaking, probiotic therapy can help support the structural and functional integrity of the gut lining by promoting detoxification, improving colon health and increasing nutrient absorption. Probiotics have also been proven to boost the immune system and help the body resist infection.

It is important to choose a probiotic that contains more than one or two species of bacteria. When shopping for a supplement, look for capsules that have at least 10 billion organisms and five species in each serving. Expect to spend $30 for a month supply of a good probiotic. And remember, poor digestion leads to poor overall health.

 

Dr. Shana Spector Deneen is a naturopathic physician who is currently completing a master’s in acupuncture. Her practice emphasizes women’s health, and the prevention and management of chronic disease. She practices at Aletris Center of Integrative Medicine, in Scottsdale, Ariz. www.aletriscenter.com. or 480-443-7168.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 3, June/July 2008.

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