by Joel Lopez, MD, CNS
Probiotics, we hear all about them now, on TV, radio and print ads! It’s great, considering that just a few years ago, most people didn’t know what they were.
Probiotics, otherwise known as “good germs”, are part of the normal flora of our intestinal tract. They begin to inhabit our intestinal tract as soon as we’re born (by vaginal delivery, rather than caesarian delivery). They are nourished by eating healthy foods from infancy, starting by drinking mother’s milk (rather than cow’s milk or soy milk). As we age and are exposed to poor diet, antibiotics, chlorinated water, steroids and environmental pollutants (xenoestrogens), their numbers begin to decline. When their numbers decline, pathogenic yeast begin to overgrow (as well as bacteria), causing symptoms in both men and (more obviously in) women (such as vaginal discharge).
Known functions of probiotics include:
- The manufacture of B vitamins (such as folic acid, biotin, B3 and B6).
- The manufacture of the enzyme “lactase”.
- Produce antibacterial substances.
- Produce anti-carcinogenic compounds.
- Help reduce high cholesterol levels.
- Improve the efficiency of the digestive tract.
- Help recycle hormones such as estrogen.
- Protect against radiation.
- Deactivate certain toxins, among many others.
The primary bacteria inhabiting the small intestine is Lactobacillus acidophilus while that of the colon is Bifidobacterium bifidum. It is essential that these organisms be replaced when taking antibiotics of any kind.
In today’s world, it’s a good idea to incorporate probiotics in a wellness program because of the antibiotics that we’re unknowingly exposed to (from food and perhaps, our water supply). There are different brands available. Some need to be refrigerated while others do not. They come in various forms such as powders, liquid, capsules or “pearls”. To find out which brands are better, check out a study done by Consumer Labs. In the study, they found out that claims made by some companies such as number of viable organisms in their product somehow vary from the actual live cells. Factors such as improper storage and handling as well as shelf life affect these numbers. Therefore, it’s always important to do your own research.