Probiotics: It's a Team Effort - Part 1
Probiotics: the word literally means “for life.” The World Health Organization defines probiotics as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." We provide them with a home and they help to enrich and defend us — we are a symbiotic team.
These microorganisms are mostly bacteria, but can also be yeasts and soil microbes. It is estimated that we are host to one hundred trillion bacteria weighing 3 pounds or more. They reside all over us — ears, eyes, nasal cavity, pleural cavity surrounding the lungs, vagina, urinary tract, within the joints, between the toes, under the toenails and even in our armpits. There are over 400 different bacteria species in the digestive tract alone. We are teeming with them!
The microbiome, together with its DNA, (we have more bacterial DNA than human DNA) are responsible for myriad health benefits throughout our bodies. It synthesizes nutrients, enzymes and beneficial short-chain fatty acids, enhances nutrient absorption and helps to reduce inflammation that can lead to intestinal permeability, commonly called leaky gut. It is no coincidence that beneficial bacteria make up about 70% of our immune defenses with most of the defending happening in the gut.
Lactos & Bifidos: Two Sides of the Same Team
The human digestive tract runs for about 30 feet from the mouth (pH = 5.5-7.4), through the stomach (pH = 1-3), the small intestine (pH = 7-8.5), and the large intestine (pH = 5.5-7) ending, well, you know where. Just as different enzymes work in the various pH environments of the digestive tract, so do probiotic organisms have their sweet spots along the way helping us to maintain that delicate acid/alkaline balance to our mutual benefit.
Lactobacillus organisms tend to hang out in the small intestine where most of our nutrient absorption occurs. Lactos are expert bad-bug fighters and are especially good in combating a variety of pathogens that cause diarrhea. They also make lactose, the enzyme that breaks down milk sugar, and can be helpful for those with lactose intolerance. Bifidobacteria, on the other hand, like the climate further south in the large intestine, or colon, where they comprise the majority of our total beneficial bacteria population. Bifidos are who you gonna call when suffering from inflammatory bowl diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowl syndrome (IBS). Both Lactos and Bifidos will enhance immune function, fight detrimental microbes and help detoxify our bodies from mercury and other harmful substances.
For people suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases probiotics can give welcome relief from diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating and flatulence. These conditions can be a direct consequence of dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) in the body. People with Crohn’s disease often have a lower amount of Bifidobacteria, ulcerative colitis low Lactobacillus and those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are often deficient in both. One way probiotics protect us from these conditions is by adhering to the intestinal wall thereby preventing detrimental organisms from taking hold. Our "good buddies" can actually rush past the opposing line of "bad bugs" and push them right out of the end zone, so to speak.
Our Hardworking Teammates
Beneficial microbes produce fat-soluble vitamin K (menaquinones) and many water-soluble vitamins including biotin, folate and B12. They also produce the amino acids arginine, cysteine and gut-friendly glutamine, as well as antioxidants and other beneficial substances. In addition, probiotics increase our bioavailability of many minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc as well as proteins, fats, carbohydrates and phytonutrients. Even if this was all they did, it is easy to see how they contribute to our good health. But our industrious allies do much more.
Our microbiome also produces bacteriocins (endogenous antibiotics) and other substances that are mutually beneficial but detrimental to harmful bacteria, yeasts, intestinal parasites and viruses. One such substance, butyric acid, has a number of benefits including: stimulating blood flow to the colon and nourishing and energizing the cells of the intestinal wall; promoting the growth of healthy cells in the colon while hampering the growth of cancerous cells; and its anti-inflammatory influence helps to maintain the gut’s defensive barrier. Lactic acid lowers pH to the comfort zone of “Team Symbion” while making our opponents so uncomfortable that they have difficulty sticking around and reproducing. Another of the many beneficial substances produced by our microbes is acidophilin, which has an antibiotic affect on pathogenic organisms in the gut.
Probiotics can also protect us from pathogens including, but not limited to, E. coli, H. pylori, Listeria, Salmonella, Streptococcus and Candida albicans as well as “super bugs” such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). A beneficial yeast, Saccharomyces boulardii, offers protection against C. difficile. These harmful organisms can have devastating affects on the body. H. pylori, for example, is believed to be the cause of gastric ulcers, which can lead to stomach cancer. And for children, the elderly and the severely ill a bout of diarrhea can be fatal as our beneficial microbes and life-sustaining electrolytes get flushed away.
A Team Effort
We can give back to our symbiotic teammates by avoiding chlorinated water, antacids, refined carbs and artificial sweeteners like sucralose, as well as unnecessary prescription antibiotics, synthetic hormones and steroids. Also, when we feel stressed it stresses our gut flora. So relax! In addition, consuming fiber-rich foods, fermented foods with live cultures and supplementing with high-quality probiotics can make a big difference in our ability to fight harmful organisms and be healthy.
Evergreen has many excellent lines of probiotics, from low to high potency, some specific to women, men or children, and some for specific conditions such as IBS or UTIs. Stop by the store and let us help you choose the right probiotic for you and your microbiome. Go Team Symbion!
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