Improve your health with probiotic protection

When we take antibiotics, they destroy all the bacteria or flora, even the good ones that are there to protect us.

by Marianne Crafts-Brandner — 

Reports of declining health in this country are alarming. Recent studies indicate that as many as one in four women in the United States between the ages of 14 and 59 is infected with the human papillomavirus which can cause cervical cancer. Rates of auto-immune conditions, such as allergies, eczema, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, also seem to be rising. Antibiotic-resistant staph infections are becoming more common in hospitals. The threat of bird flu or a pandemic of a virulent flu strain hangs over us. We never know when to expect the next case of E. coli infection from tainted food.

Why is all this happening? Are we completely powerless against viruses, bacteria and degenerative health conditions? Is there one common thread that links all these serious health concerns? What can we do to protect ourselves, especially if we prefer to employ natural methods of healthcare?

To begin to answer why this is happening, let us explore what we can learn from the wise ways of other cultures, specifically their dietary practices. All have one health-promoting practice in common for protection against pathogens such as viruses and bad bacteria — their daily use of cultured or fermented foods and beverages.

For example, the Japanese drink a fermented milk product called yakult. The Koreans ferment vegetables such as cabbage to make kimchee. In India, many impoverished people survive on idli, a mixture of fermented rice and legumes. Examples of cultured foods with which we may be more familiar include yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso or tempeh from soy.

Adding a starter culture of good bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus to milk, soy or vegetables transforms them into wonder foods — probiotic foods — that are more healthful and digestible. In fact, the culturing process itself largely accounts for the health-enhancing properties of the new food.

The standard American diet is practically devoid of such foods. Much of the sugar-laden yogurt now common in our country is not an adequate source of good bacteria. Yogurt must be of high quality with no sugar added in order to retain its beneficial bacteria. For those who avoid dairy, kombucha, a Russian health tonic drink made from yeast, is now available in many health food stores.

Many of us realize the value of replenishing beneficial bacteria. When we take antibiotics, they destroy all the bacteria or flora, even the good ones that are there to protect us. As a result, we generally follow them with a round of probiotics, commonly referred to as acidophilus.

Many other substances, however, deplete the “good bugs.” Here are just 10 things we may subject ourselves to daily that deplete the protective barrier of beneficial flora: coffee, alcohol, aspirin, chlorinated water, charcoal-broiled food, cigarettes, colloidal silver, certain herbs, large doses of calcium and stress.

Ideally, we should have 3 to 4 pounds of beneficial bacteria in our intestines. Sadly, due to poor health habits, we may not even have a quarter of that amount.

We are likely unaware of all the ways our beneficial bacteria help us. Essentially, we are in a symbiotic relationship with them. In addition to forming a protective barrier and secreting substances that repel pathogens, the good bugs help us better digest our food.

According to the book The Life Bridge, by Richard Sarnat, M.D., Paul Schulick and Thomas M. Newmark, beneficial flora also produce the following: B vitamins, antioxidants and various pH balancing, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and otherwise immune-boosting compounds. Without this piece of the health puzzle in place, we put ourselves at risk for many modern maladies.

As Sally Falon explains in her book, Nourishing Traditions,  “Scientists and doctors today are mystified by the proliferation of new viruses — not only the deadly AIDS virus, but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer and arthritis. They are equally mystified by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless.

“Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms? If so, the cure for these diseases will be found not in vaccinations, drugs or antibiotics but in a restored partnership with the many varieties of lactobacilli, our symbionts of the microscopic world.”

How can we protect ourselves and restore our health and immunity, which to a large extent involves the digestive system? We can begin by including fermented foods and other good sources of probiotic nutrients and beneficial bacteria with each of our meals every day. Honor the symbiotic relationship between you and your beneficial bugs. Be a good host. Take good care of your good flora, so they can take good care of you.


Marianne Crafts-Brandner is a certified nutritionist who offers individualized nutritional counseling, specializing in special diets. or 602-615-8065.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 2, April/May 2007.

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