‘Probiotic’ is the new buzzword in the health field. Actually, this term is new to some, but ancient to many. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that have taken up house in and on humans since the beginning of time. Many ancient cultures recognized that fermented foods and foods made with ‘grains’ of bacteria cultures provided an array of health benefits, but it is only until recently that science has begun to explain exactly how these bugs provide an essential role in maintaining human health.
Probiotic means ‘promote life’ and of the 400 plus different types of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, over 100 of these types are considered probiotics, providing a specific, often unique, health benefit to you. Some probiotics help your immune system fully develop and respond optimally. Some help support the gut to maintain normal balance. Many strains aide digestion by helping break food substances, including lactose, down properly. Other health benefits certain probiotics have include helping with symptoms and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and potentially irritable bowel disease (especially ulcerative colitis), reducing gastrointestinal exposure to potential carcinogens (cancer causing substances), and competitively inhibiting the ability of bad bacteria taking up too much real estate in your gut, including clostridium difficile.
Just like our uniqueness on the outside, we are as unique on the inside and that includes the bacteria in and on our bodies. No two humans have the exact same make up of bacteria in their g.i. tract. In the not so distant future, it is likely we will be able to get a map of our individual bacteria through our health care provider. This ‘map’ can then help us determine what strains of probiotics might be most helpful in supporting our individual health plan and goals.
Even without knowing your exact bacteria make-up, probiotics can still provide a definite health benefit. Here are some tips on using probiotics in your health plan:
- Know Your Goal- What is the reason you think you want to try probiotics? Is it to be more regular? Is it to support your immune system?
- Find The Right Strain- Find the strain that scientific evidence shows supports your health goal. Sources on the web that can lead you in the right direction include www.gastro.org, and www.USProbiotics.org. Once you have identified the strain you are looking for, find a quality supplement or food product with that strain. Personally, I prefer to see probiotics provided through food as part of a lifetime change.
- Take the right amount- probiotics are measured in CFU’s- colonizing forming units. Doses are at least 1 billion CFU’s daily and it is not uncommon to see a 20 billion CFU daily dose.
- Know the risks- Probiotics have very few health risks. Those that have a severely compromised immune system may need to avoid probiotics. Some probiotics may cause diarrhea.