As we enter into the cold and flu season, and especially since Akron just narrowly missed an Ebola outbreak, I felt compelled to write about probiotics this month. Probiotics are known for helping gastrointestinal issues. Having the normal amount of bacteria in your intestines can not only help digestion, bowel motility and nutrient absorption, but can also help abdominal distension. But did you know that probiotics can also stimulate the immune system? Other medical conditions that probiotics can be used for include high cholesterol, recurrent vaginal infections (bacterial or yeast), bladder infections, eczema, food allergies and acne.
So how exactly do these critters work? One mechanism of action is that they adhere to the lining of your intestinal tract and prevent other pathogenic bacteria from entering through your gut. Also, some bacteria produce short chain fatty acids and hydrogen peroxide, which can function as an anti-bacterial compound. They also compete with nutrients that the harmful bacteria need, and in essence, make the bad bacteria “starve.” Lastly, probiotics stimulate the immune system by increasing your immunoglobulins and Natural Killer cells, two very important components of immunity.
There are a wide variety of options for probiotics. So, how do you know what kind to take? Probiotics very in the amount of bacteria they contain. Under the ingredients, it will be listed as “colony forming units” or CFUs. Generally, we recommend at least 20 billion CFUs daily in a probiotic. If you are taking antibiotics, you would need to take 20 billion units TWICE daily. Also, certain medications can deplete your normal bacteria in your gut. Just an Aleve is enough to make changes! And that is an over-the-counter medication that people frequently take for headaches or arthritis.
The next thing you need to pay attention to when purchasing a probiotic is the number of strains that are included. For example, there are some over-the-counter brands that just have Lactobacillus in them as you would see in certain foods such as yogurt. It is best to find a brand that has multiple different strains, including others from the Bifidobacteria family. Other strains you may see are Streptococcus species, Enterococcus and Saccharomyces. If you have problems with yeast, you will want to make sure your probiotic contains Saccharomyces Boulardii.
Foods that normally contain probiotics are yogurt, sauerkraut, cabbage, onions, garlic, asparagus, rice protein and bananas.