Picture courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
Yes, you read that right, I believe probiotics are lifesaving. A few weeks ago, I got into a heated debate with two other people on wellness mama’s blog site. I felt as if I was in a political race with all the mudslinging and name calling that was going on. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a person who goes by Captain Obvious who vehemently said that there is no proof that probiotics ever saved anyones’ life.
Well Captain Obvious, whoever, wherever you are, I am here to tell you that obviously you do not know the world of probiotics. I started reading a very interesting and great book on probiotics by Dr. Gary Huffnagle called The Probiotics Revolution this past week. According to Dr. Huffnagle, pre and probiotics are not optional additions to our diet but an essential food group that provides nutrients that are just as important to our health as vitamins and minerals.
What are Probiotics and how do they work?
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live inside our intestines. Each individual person is host to one hundred trillion microbes . These microbes have important functions to our health and include species such as Lactobacillus, E. coli, Bacteroides, Candida albicans, Clostridium difficile, Streptococcus and Klebsiella to name a few. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most commonly known friendly microbes in our body that protect us by competing with harmful bacteria within our body and enhancing our immune system. Problems arise when the balance between good and bad microbes is disturbed.
The research on the role of probiotics have been mixed. Some studies have shown probiotics to help with diseases such as asthma, allergies (food and environmental), eczema, autism, H. Pylori, IBS, IBD (Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis), peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and the list goes on. Probiotics have even be shown to help decrease the incidence and severity of the common cold and flu. Probiotics have such a far-reaching effect because they help to modulate the immune system, quench inflammation, curb the stress response and keep bad bacteria in check.
How Can I get probiotics?
I am a proponent of getting your probiotics from your food. The reason the research results have been mixed is because single strains are used for reasearch. However this may not be a true reflection of what happens in our intestines when we eat whole foods. Fermented foods are a great way to increase the probiotic content in your gut. Every single culture in the history of human kind has eaten some kind of fermented food. The two biggest modifications that have affected the levels of probiotics in our system has been our diet and the introduction of antibiotics. A low fiber, highly processed diet enables the bad bacteria to grow in numbers that cause health problems while antibiotics disturb the delicate balance of the good vs bad microbes in our systems be killing the good ones.
Foods such as kefir, yogurt (look for a brand that added back the probiotics after pasteurization), kombucha, kim chee, miso, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, naturally aged cheeses are all good sources of probiotics. It is equally important to have a high fiber diet full of fruits, vegetables, some whole grains that act as prebiotis which is food for the probiotics in our system. Making your own fermentables is a great way to boost your health and that of your family and it is much cheaper than taking a supplement. When at all possible choose organic produce for your fermentables. Please be cautious when you are fermenting your own food and avoid giving it to very young children who might easily get sick.
I usually recommend probiotic supplementation when a medical condition needs to be addressed and getting probiotics through food alone is not enough. Buyer beware when purchasing probiotic supplements. Not all brands are created equally and when at all possible keep your probiotic supplement refrigerated.
What are your experience with taking probiotics?