Now, on to the next topic. Today I am looking at probiotics. Someone asked me the other day what they are and I gave her the benefits and my understanding. I decided this was a great topic to share. I’m thinking most everyone at least is familiar with the word “probiotics” from listening to Jamie Lee Curtis talk about it in all of her Activia yogart commercials. So, I asked a general question on my Facebook page who knew what probiotics are and if anyone used them. I loved getting responses! Most everyone knows that probiotics are good for your gut and that yogart is a good source.
I have taken probiotic supplements on and off for a couple of years, and it wasn’t until this Fall that I have become a “diehard” consumer. This Fall I had a really bad bout of Meniere’s Disease. I did talk about it a little bit here. When nothing seemed to be helping I did what most people say not to do. I went to the handy dandy internet looking for other options to fight the constant vertigo, nausea and tinnitus (ringing and noises in the ear). I read that one fella had great success with getting yeast out of his system and a good daily probiotic seemed to help him. Well, I knew it surely couldn’t hurt so I began taking an eight strain blend from my local health food store. The Meniere’s finally subsided so I could get back to normal and the tinnitus has decreased to just a slight static in my right ear. It’s a huge improvement. Now I can’t say this would not have happened without the probiotic, but I do know this to be a healthy habit for other reasons, and if you are also wondering what all the hype is and if you could benefit, here are some of the facts and findings.
First of all, what exactly are probiotics? They are organisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health. You can get them in either supplement form or from food. The digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria that help keep the intestines healthy and assist in digesting food. They are also believed to help the immune system.
So, how do they work?
The belief is that some digestive disorders happen when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines is disturbed. This happens after an infection or after taking antibiotics or if the intestinal lining is damaged. In these cases probiotics may help. They can improve the intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the intestines and also help fight bacteria that causes diarrhea. Nice.
There’s also evidence that probiotics help maintain a strong immune system. “In societies with very good hygiene, we’ve seen a sharp increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases,” Guandalini tells WebMD. “That may be because the immune system isn’t being properly challenged by pathogenic organisms. Introducing friendly bacteria in the form of probiotics is believed to challenge the immune system in healthy ways.”
Studies show that probiotics may help several specific illnesses such as:
• Treating childhood diarrhea
• Treating ulcerative colitis
• Treating necrotizing enterocolitis, a type of infection and inflammation of the intestines mostly seen in infants
• Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea
• Preventing pouchitis, an inflammation of the intestines that can follow intestinal surgery
• Treating and preventing eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy
• Helping the immune system
The Yale University panel of experts concluded that probiotics may be helpful in other ways, although the evidence is less convincing. These include:
• Treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
• Treating vaginitis
• Treating diarrhea caused by C. difficile bacteria
• Treating Crohn’s disease
Probiotics may also be useful in unexpected ways. A study published in 2010 suggests that probiotics may lower the risk of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat, and colds.
Cautions About Probiotics
For the most part, taking probiotics is safe and causes few side effects. “People in cultures around the world have been eating yogurt, cheeses, and other foods containing live cultures for centuries,” says Martin Floch, MD, a professor of gastroenterology at Yale University, co-author of Probiotics: A Clinical Guide, and a consultant for the Dannon Company.
Of course, as with anything, there can be negatives for taking probiotics. They may be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or serious illnesses. One study found that patients with severe pancreatitis who were given probiotics had a higher risk of death. There can also be the concern that these microorganisms will overgrow and cause an infection instead of helping cure one. While probiotics are generally considered safe for healthy individuals, people with disorders that hamper the immune system might be at risk for this type of infection. Because of this, people with HIV, blood cancers such as leukemia, and chronic diseases that impact the immune system should approach probiotic use with caution. A probiotic overgrowth or infection can develop into sepsis, a blood infection that can be fatal.
As far as side effects, sometimes gas and bloating occur, especially at the onset of taking them.
*It’s important to remember, as with any other thing about changing your diet or adding something to your system, that you consult your doctor. He or she should know your health history and how to monitor any additions of supplements or changes.*
In the beginning of this post, I mentioned that one can obtain probiotics from either supplements or foods. Here are some of the most familiar foods that naturally contain probiotics.
This one is probably the most popular – thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis. One of the best probiotic foods is live-cultured yogurt, especially handmade. Look for brands made from goat’s milk that have been infused with extra forms of probitoics like lactobacillus or acidophilus. Goat’s milk and cheese are particularly high in probiotics like thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. Be sure to read the ingredients list, as not all yogurt is made equally. Many brands now advertise the addition of probiotics. However, other brands can be full of sugar and artificial sweeteners so it’s best to check the labels and look at the nutritional value.
Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy product is a unique combination of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains. High in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria, kefir is also rich in antioxidants.
Made from fermented cabbage (and sometimes other vegetables), sauerkraut is not only extremely rich in healthy live cultures, but might also help with reducing allergy symptoms. Sauerkraut is also rich in vitamins B, A, E and C.
4. Dark Chocolate
Probiotics can be added to high-quality dark chocolate, up to four times the amount of probiotics as many forms of dairy.
5. Miso Soup
Miso is one the main-stays of traditional Japanese medicine and is commonly used in macrobiotic cooking as a digestive regulator. Made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley, adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup, full of lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria. Beyond its important live cultures, miso is extremely nutrient-dense and believed to help neutralize the effects of environmental pollution, alkalinize the body and stop the effects of carcinogens in the system.
Believe it or not, the common green pickle is an excellent food source of probiotics. When I was growing up my mom made pickles every summer. Little did I know how healthy they are!
A great substitute for meat or tofu, tempeh is a fermented, probiotic-rich grain made from soy beans. A great source of vitamin B12, this vegetarian food can be sautéed, baked or eaten crumbled on salads. If prepared correctly, tempeh is also very low in salt, which makes it an ideal choice for those on a low-sodium diet.
There you have it. A little tutorial on probiotics. Now you know what Jamie Lee Curtis is talking about. Thanks so much for the responses on my Facebook page! I almost re-printed them here but thought that might overstep some sort of boundary or something. And I don’t want to scare anyone off!
Who knew pickles were so beneficial? Have you ever tried kefir? Just the sound of it turns me off. It sounds like something that would smell . . . .
Go have some fun!