Probiotics and their Positive Effects on Gut Health
~ By Robin Avery ~
Did you know your stomach and intestines are alive with trillions of bacteria? Many of us were raised to believe that all bacteria are bad, but these bacteria, commonly known as probiotics, are beneficial, assisting with digestion, nutrient absorption, and waste removal while attacking toxins and promoting chemical balance throughout in the body.
An estimated 70% of human immune system response originates in the digestive tract, so these friendly bacteria are among the body’s first lines of defense against inflammation and infection. The bacteria that populate the digestive tract play a critical role in both of these functions, according to Eamonn Quigley, a gastroenterologist and the president of the World Gastroenterology Organization. Dr. Quigley points out that the digestive system not only pulls nutrients from food to nourish the body, but also helps protect the body from disease.
A healthy digestive tract includes more than 1,000 known species of beneficial bacteria. And it is not just our digestive tract that shelters an ensemble of probiotics. Clusters of bacteria are also found in other parts of the body, including the skin (skin microbiota), the mouth (oral microbiota), and the vagina (vaginal microbiota). About one-third of our gut microbiota is shared by other humans, but about two-thirds of it is unique to the person. The microbiota in our intestines is like a fingerprint for each one of us. This microbial fingerprint changes as we age.
In the so-called golden years, the loss of beneficial strains of probiotics in our gut causes our cellular immunity to decline. White blood cells critical to our ability to fight infection and life-threatening and chronic illnesses diminish. According to Dr. Sandra McFarlane, of the Microbiology and Gut Biology Group at the University of Dundee in Scotland, people over age 60 typically have about 1,000-fold fewer friendly bacteria in their guts compared to younger adults. Because they also usually have increased levels of disease-causing microbes, older adults are more susceptible to gastrointestinal infections and bowel conditions like diarrhea.
Mounting research indicates that loss of bacterial diversity in the stomach and intestines of our elders plays an important role in the development of cancer, infectious diseases, inflammation, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and brain/emotional problems like anxiety and depression. Recent studies also show a direct link between inflammation of the brain and depression. Residents of long-term care facilities are at greater risk than elders living independently in the community; studies show long-term care residents have significantly less biodiversity in their digestive tracts.
Luckily, other research, like that conducted in New Zealand of seniors between the ages of 63 and 84, found that consumption of the probiotic strain known as Bifidobacterium lactis resulted in increases in both the number and disease-fighting capacity of white cells.
Probiotics are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to “a newly recognized organ.” Recent studies suggest that paying attention to your diet and protecting the diversity of these microbiota does affect how well one ages. Diets high in simple carbohydrates and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, lack of exercise, stress, food additives and chemical pesticides, fluoride in our water, processed foods, and antibiotics can all impact our system throwing off our probiotic balance and throwing our bodies out of whack. The sad fact of the matter is, it’s incredibly difficult (and expensive) to eat right all the time. And even if you try, often you learn there are things in the food you eat that you had no idea were there. Unfortunately, your gut knows. Eating healthy is easier said than done, especially when one is cooking less with fresh foods, or having to live in places where the meal plan is overly processed. If you’ve come in contact with any of these situations, you likely need a probiotic to restore the balance to your delicate intestinal microbiota. The sooner you restore that balance, the quicker you’ll feel better and more energetic…and the less likely it is that you will suffer from infections, inflammations and other serious health issues.
Researching this topic led me to make some changes in my life. I now drink 20 billion bacteria every day, and I encourage everyone to consider doing the same. Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements or ingredients in foods, and can be found in most grocery stores. It is important to choose a probiotic or yoghurt product carefully. But make sure to do your research and be wary of extraordinary claims on packaging. There are many different types and strains of probiotics. Some supplements contain only one or two strains, while others contain many. Since different strains address different needs, in general you should consider a supplement that contains a large variety of strains. The potency of a probiotic is measured by its number of colony-forming units (CFUs). CFUs are measured by the billions. Some supplements only contain a few billion, while others can have 25 billion or more. Of course, the number of CFUs is only relevant if all the bacteria are alive. Poor manufacturing techniques and poor storage methods can result in probiotics which almost all the CFUs are already dead, rendering them worthless. Don’t let that happen to you. If you do a little research, you will be able to easily find probiotics that suit you.
Robin Avery is the Founder of Shanagolden Management, LLC, an Assisted Living Consultant, Developer and Operator, with a Master’s Degree in Gerontology and Long Term Care Mgt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.