Probiotics, the Beneficial Bacteria
By Sara j Pluta
By now, many consumers have heard of the term Probiotic. But what is a probiotic and how can it potentially support health? There are countless journals, articles, and extensive research on the use of probiotics in the form of supplements, food, and even medicine. Clearly, there is benefit in the use of these microorganisms. However, where does the consumer get started when looking for a quality, effective source of these little powerhouses and what exactly are the benefits?
To begin, let’s define what a probiotic is. Pro and biota mean ‘for life’, Probiotics are a diverse group of “live microorganisms which, when administered in sufficient quantities, can confer a health benefit”, defined by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization). They are deemed safe and effective and have been used historically around the world for health promotion and therapeutic purposes.
Consider Northern Europeans use of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt; Japanese use of miso, fermented soy products in the form of tempeh and natto; Korean kimchi; and Indian lassi. There is evidence that people were making fermented beverages in Babylon around 5000 BC, ancient Egypt circa 3150 BC, pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC, Sudan circa 1500 BC, and the Egyptians were leavening bread in 1500 BC.
So what does all this mean for modern science and current human application? Can these live organisms really impact our well-being?
Statistical Significance – Some fascinating facts:
- Probiotics weigh more than our brain! A typical human brain weighs about 3 pounds, our liver weighs about 4 pounds, and our heart less than one pound. A healthy human body will have over 3.5 pounds of probiotic bacteria and organisms, according to Casey Adams PhD.
- There are 10 times more probiotics than cells in our body. A human body consists of 10 trillion cells, whereas there are 100-300 trillion probiotic yeast and bacteria at any given time. This number would encircle the globe 2.5 times if laid side by side, concludes Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD.
- There are well over 400 probiotic strains residing in our body. Some live there permanently and others are transient. Twenty key strains account for 75% of this bacterial mass.
It is fairly common knowledge that probiotics live in the colon, but they also reside throughout the human body in the mouth, oral cavity, nasal cavity, esophagus, in the cavities surrounding the lungs, the stomach, intestines, vagina, around the rectum, within our joints, under the armpits, toenails, in the urinary tract, and more. What this means is that maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria is imperative to well-being, starting in the colon and reaching to all areas of the body.
Lifestyle and environmental factors can challenge our intestinal integrity. These include alcohol, stress, food choices, treated water, age, medication, and the use of oral antibiotics or antibiotics found in food sources. As the ratio of good bacteria becomes outnumbered by bad bacteria, symptomologies such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, bad breath, candida overgrowth, and improper utilization and absorption of nutrients can occur. If left unchecked, over time the dysbiosis can become chronic and potentially lead to greater challenges including compromised immune systems, allergies, and long-term digestive issues. It sounds scary and certainly something most of us want to avoid.
The positive news is that there are easy steps to take to keep our good flora in check and prevent the bad from taking over. A healthy colon should contain at least 80% good bacteria to maintain this balance. This ensures that the probiotic microorganisms can successfully compete with the harmful bacteria and help prevent intestinal problems and other health concerns.
Probiotics naturally produce antibiotic substances, which are made to precisely act on specific invaders. If the pathogen becomes resistant to that antibiotic, then the probiotic will create a new, more effective antibiotic. This is in contrast to oral antibiotics that can become resistant to microbes over time and be ineffective, allowing pathogens to take hold on the body. Casey Adams PhD attributes probiotics as playing a 70-80% role in our immune response as they stimulate all the key components of the immune system. Because antibiotics destroy not only bad bacteria but also the good, they can, over time, damage our immunity. Probiotics could become the newer, safer, more effective antibiotic of the future, both as treatment and prevention.
“Probiotics provide an extra layer of strength. They behave like soldiers in your intestinal tract to combat pathogens . . .”
Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders, Internationally recognized expert in the field of probiotic microbiology.
Yogurt is a common food that contains active cultures. But regular yogurt might not have adequate levels of probiotics to provide any significant benefit. Simply eating a cup of yogurt from your local grocery store could be nutritionally sound, but most likely will not create a probiotic health benefit. It can be difficult for the consumer to filter through all the foods and supplements out there to determine which ones are beneficial.
Generally speaking, choosing a reputable company that divulges important information on the label such as the strains of probiotics as well as quantity of CFU’s (colonizing forming units) is the best place to start. Because there are over 400 strains of bacteria in our gut, it is advisable to choose a product that has a variety of strains. Some professionals recommend rotating products to ensure getting more than just a few types into the colon. Probiotics can be taken any time, though there is controversy as to whether they are best utilized by the body with or without food. Adhere to label guidelines.
From the treatment of diarrhea, to support of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, to basic gas and bloating, yeast infections, heightened immunity, malabsorption, and overall digestion, probiotics can have a powerful impact on one’s health, the body’s ability to ward off pathogens, and general vitality. Interest in probiotic supplementation is on the rise and there are significant clinical studies that establish probiotic therapy as safe and effective. Research continues to emerge, leading to a revolutionary new approach to treating and preventing a variety of common health disorders.
“There is no doubt that the large and varied collection of microorganisms associated with the human body has a profound influence upon the health and disease of the host (that’s you and me). Although research into probiotics is still in its relative infancy, valuable studies are emerging and it has been shown that it’s possible to use probiotics to beneficially alter the human microenvironment. Whilst much of the science and the products involved have concentrated on the intestines, we shouldn’t forget that microbe populations occupy every exposed human surface. It shouldn’t be surprising that, in the future, probiotics will also be used to treat ailments other than those related to the gastrointestinal tract.”
~Jeremy Burton PhD
Sara j Pluta
A keen interest in food and nutrition led Sara to pursue a culinary degree in health-supportive cuisine and then go on to study nutrition extensively, as she earned a BS, MS, and completed coursework for her doctorate in Holistic Nutrition. Sara has been in the Natural Products Industry for over 15 years where she enjoys empowering people through education and enthusiasm. Sara is a passionate speaker and a natural teacher who blends modern science, ancient wisdom, and human interest to connect with her audience.