Probiotics for Intestinal Health
Probiotics are simply bacteria that contribute to the natural microflora balance (organisms within the body), particularly in the intestines. A healthy human digestive tract has approximately 400 varieties of probiotic bacteria. These probiotic bacteria help in reducing harmful bacteria, while promoting a healthy digestive system .
In reality, gut flora (includes probiotics) plays a significant role within the human body. In fact, our gut flora makes up 90% of all the cells within the human body. There are also 100X more microbial genes compared to the number of human genes within your body . This means that the human body acts as a habitat for the large mass of microbes within, which can have an effect on human health.
Lactic acid bacteria is the biggest group of probiotics found within the intestine. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a well-known lactic acid bacteria. It is found in yogurt that has live cultures. Yeast is also another type of probiotics. Apart from normal dietary sources, probiotics may also be consumed as dietary supplements. Such probiotics have the potential of treating intestinal and stomach problems. However, only specific types of yeast (called strains) or bacteria produce beneficial results within the digestive tract.
Benefits of Probiotics
According to various human/ animal studies lactic acid bacteria (a form of probiotic bacteria) has the capacity to reduce serum cholesterol levels within the human body. This is believed to be as the result of lactic acid bacteria breaking down bile inside the gut, which inhibits its re-absorption (a point at which it gets into the blood in form of cholesterol) . Probiotics also have the potential of improving ratios of LDL (Low-density lipoprotein/ informally called bad cholesterol) to HDL (high-density lipoprotein/ informally called good cholesterol).
The gut flora within a woman's body can also affect her child’s health. This is because a child’s gut flora would be derived from the mother’s gut flora at birth. Hence, if the child's gut flora gets compromised from birth, she/ he would have a higher risk of developing vaccine damage . An imbalanced gut flora is believed to be the main factor contributing to children developing adverse reactions to vaccines. Such an imbalanced gut flora is also believed to contribute to autism in children, since such autistic children are usually born with normal sensory organs and fully-functional brains. Instead, a compromised gut flora seems to affect the process of normal mental development.
Particular strains of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) have the ability to fight pathogens. They do this through competitive inhibition (competing for growth) . Moreover, they also have the potential of improving immune function. This occurs through:
(i) Increased IgA-producing plasma cells (IgA/ Immunoglobulin A is a major antibody providing immunity in mucous secretions such as tears, colostrums and saliva).
(ii) Increased or improved phagocytosis (an important mechanism for eliminating pathogens or cell debris).
(iii) Increased proportion of Natural Killer cells and T lymphocytes (a form of white blood cell playing a key role in cell immunity).
The positive benefits of probiotics in improving body immunity is evident from the effect that antibiotics have within the body. Antibiotics have the tendency of reducing immune system activity by killing off normal gut bacteria. Therefore, more quantities of probiotics need to be introduced into the gut to help in maintaining immune system activity. This boosts the body’s capacity to combat new infections.
Preliminary research indicates that particular types of probiotics can possibly treat some forms of gastroenteritis . Gastroenteritis is a condition characterized by inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract (both stomach and small intestines) resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain.
Some lactic acid bacteria strains may modulate hypersensitivity and inflammatory responses within the body. This is partly attributed to lactic acid bacteria regulation of the function of cytokines (a group of small proteins that play a key role in health and disease, particularly in the response to infection, inflammation, immune responses, trauma and reproduction) . Lactic acid bacteria is also likely to prevent inflammatory bowel disease reoccurring in adults.
Probiotic health benefits is most clearly evident in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) . This is a significant aspect, since antibiotics are commonly used in treating children, yet 20% of the children treated using antibiotics end up developing diarrhea. Basically, AAD occurs due to an imbalance in colonic microbiota as a result of antibiotic therapy. Such microbiota imbalance alters carbohydrate metabolism, leading to an osmotic diarrhea. By introducing probiotics into the digestive system, such antibiotic-associated diarrhea is effectively avoided.
Probiotics can also improve milk allergies . Ingesting certain active strains of lactic acid bacteria may improve the capacity of lactose-intolerant individuals to tolerate greater amounts of lactose.
How To Enhance Probiotics In Your Body
Various sources of probiotics include:
1. Eating Fermented Foods
Simply by consuming a healthy diet you enable probiotics to flourish inside your gut. These bacteria are useful in restoring and maintaining good health. You can further improve your gut flora by consuming unpasteurized fermented foods that are traditionally-made . Some examples of these foods include: natto, kimchee, tempeh, sauerkraut and kefir. Homemade kefir, in particular, has more than 50 varieties of yeasts and good bacteria. Kefir may also be added to milk (cow, coconut, almond or goat milk). Doing this will add beneficial bacteria in the milk and increase nutrient and vitamin absorption. However, probiotics would be eliminated in foods that have undergone pasteurization.
2. Taking Probiotic Supplements
Another alternative to eating fermented foods is taking high-quality probiotics in form of supplements. This is especially useful for those who dislike fermented foods. Supplements produce similar positive benefits as natural sources. For example, various trials with probiotic supplementation in pregnant women and infants have shown beneficial effects on atopic sensitivity (exaggerated or inappropriate immune reactions) in infants .
3. Breastfeeding To Develop Good Bacteria In Children
Various studies on autistic children have revealed that symptoms of autism tend to develop within the first year for those who were not breastfed, whereas such symptoms would occur later on during the second year for those who were breastfed. This has been attributed to breast milk providing a protection against abnormal gut flora, which can affect mental functions in autistic children . With children who aren’t breastfed, the digestive system becomes a key source of toxicity as the pathogenic microbes within the digestive tract penetrate the gut wall and get into the bloodstream. Eventually, such toxic microbes get to and affect the child’s brain.
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