When you hear the word “bacteria,” probably the first thing you think of is “bugs, germs and disease.” That’s OK, and rightfully so, as bacteria are the major causes of many diseases and infections. But, did you know there are “good” and “bad” bacteria, just like there are good and bad dogs? And in fact, it is often the imbalance in your gut between the friendly bugs and their nasty cousins that leads to ill health.
According to the Harvard Medical School there is “… a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria.” These bacteria are what are known as “probiotics” or literally “for life.” Europeans and Asians, especially the Japanese recognize the health benefits of probiotics much more than we do here in the U.S. and they have a long-standing tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt. Probiotic-laced beverages are also much more popular in Japan and Europe, although such beverages such as Kefir, are becoming more popular here.
Most of our guts are terribly out of balance due to our poor diets. The typical American diet is filled with toxins, processed foods, and all sorts of things that raise the level of “bad bacteria” in our guts, and decreases the level of the friendly probiotic bacteria, most specifically, L. acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum. These two health-promoting bacteria normally occur in the digestive tract and are critically important for good digestion, and over all health. These bacteria act as balancing agents for non-friendly, pathogenic, gut-bacteria such as Candida or E. coli. When the “bad guys” outnumber the “good-guys,” a number of bacteria-related health problems such as digestive upset, headaches, sluggishness, irritability, Candida infection, yeast infections and even anxiety and changes in mood can result.
As with any nutritional supplement, the best way to receive its benefits is naturally, by increasing the foods in your diet that contain that nutrient. Probiotics are no exception, and one of the best ways to increase the level of happy flora in you belly, is to add more probiotic filled foods such as yogurt to your diet.
However, some people find yogurt and similar fermented probiotic-rich beverages figuratively and literally hard to swallow, and for them the best way to bring the gut into balance is to take probiotic supplements in pill form. Supplementing with probiotics is one aspect of nutritional supplementation that conventional medicine actually does support. Evidence for the effective use of probiotic supplementation for general wellness, and to treat specific disease disorders is indisputable.
Digestive disease specialists have recommended probiotic supplements for patients with frustrating and chronic digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. Again according to the Harvard School of Medicine, “…since the mid-1990s, clinical studies have established that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.”
Probiotics, and especially Lactobacillus acidophilus, act as a kind of natural antibiotic, by boosting the immune system, and literally attacking and destroying bad bacteria. Studies have shown that L. acidophilus actually increases your body’s ability to produce anti- microbial compounds that act against the pathogens in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the things we come in contact with.