brought to us by VacciShield
by Dr. Catherine Clinton, ND
“Probiotics” is a term we’ve been hearing a lot about of late, as something we need to incorporate into a healthy regimen. Indeed, emerging research shows probiotics exert a powerful and pervasive influence on many aspects of our overall health. Just how powerful and pervasive is only just starting to be understood, but people around the world have included probiotics in their diet for thousands of years in the form of cultured and fermented products such as yogurt, kimchee, and sauerkraut . Pasteurization and other modern processes eliminate or decrease the probiotic value in many of these sources today, making supplementation something that should be considered.
What are they?
The root of the word probiotic comes from the Latin word pro, meaning "promoting" and biotic, meaning "life." Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that line the mucosa of our gastrointestinal and genito-urinary tracts as well as our nasal and respiratory tracts. Though we are just beginning to understand the myriad roles that they play in our health, the current body of research makes it clear that probiotics’ effects extend far beyond the health of our mucosal tracts.
Maintaining sufficient populations of beneficial bacteria is necessary for optimal health. Things like medications, stress, diet, diseases, and your environment can cause die-offs of “good” bacteria and allow “bad” bacteria to flourish. Taking a supplement or eating probiotic foods helps maintain the right levels under normal circumstances and repopulate when necessary.
What do they do?
Probiotics seem to play a major role in three main areas: our immune system, our enteric nervous system and our mucosal tracts. Probiotics have a beneficial impact on the development and severity of allergies, intestinal infections, and the inflammation associated with chronic intestinal diseases like Colitis and Crohn’s. Emerging research has shown that probiotics have such a powerful influence on inflammation that diabetics given probiotics were able to decrease their dose of insulin, and heart patients given probiotics saw their inflammatory markers reduced.
The enteric nervous system is the network of neurons lining our guts and is so extensive that some now call it our "second brain". Its role is to manage every aspect of digestion in all the organs of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. It produces the same neurotransmitters and neuropeptides that are present in the brain and influences mood and behavior. New research shows that the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus promotes the neurotransmitter GABA and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome were given lactobacillus casei experienced a marked improvement in anxiety.
While probiotics can be found in all mucosal tracts in the body the majority line the gastrointestinal tract with over 400 bacterial species. The intestinal micro flora aid in digestion, synthesize vitamins K2, biotin, folate, B12 and nutrients, metabolize some medications, support the development and functioning of the gut, and enhance the mucosal immune system. Probiotics seem to maintain a balance in the bacteria lining these tracts and have been shown to have positive effects on urinary tract infections, sinus/respiratory infections and vaginal infections.
How should I use them?
We can get probiotics into our bodies through supplementation and our diet. Probiotic rich foods include yogurts and other dairy products containing live cultures, and lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchee, kombucha, and certain pickles. Lifestyle factors such as poor food choices, stress, environmental factors like pollution, over use of alcohol, antibiotics and other medications can all lead to a decrease in probiotics in the digestive tract making supplementation or probiotic rich food a consideration. It has been the mainstay of thought that probiotics must be live to be effective. There is emerging research that even dead, nonviable probiotics confer beneficial health effects.
Are probiotics ok for everyone?
Probiotics are viewed as relatively safe for use for the general population. You want to make sure you are getting the strain that confers the benefit you are looking for. For example, many strains of probiotics produce the metabolite L-lactic acid rather than the D-form of lactic acid. The L-lactic acid can irritate new digestive tracts and is not a suitable supplement for infants. My own company’s product, VacciShield, includes only specific, infant friendly probiotic strains for this reason. While probiotics are generally considered safe there is the exception of immune compromised individuals.
There is some concern that these live organisms can overrun a compromised immune system leading to ill effects. While the safety remains to be officially proven for pregnant women, it stands to reason that since the main colonization of an individual begins in the vaginal canal upon birth and the translocation of probiotics to the breast tissue and breast milk in the third trimester continues the intestinal colonization for infants, probiotics are an important part of a pregnant woman’s’ diet. Consult your health practitioner today to see how probiotics can enhance your health.