Probiotics and Prebiotics
We often think of bacteria as something to avoid but there are over 400 types of friendly anaerobic bacteria in our digestive tracts that are beneficial. Commonly referred to as intestinal flora, these bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum, promote a healthy digestive system and help to keep us disease free.
When the digestive system is kept healthy, other body systems benefit as well. Intestinal flora…
- Contribute to the production of vitamin K, B12, B2, B6, biotin, folate, and small chain fatty acids
- Decrease inflammation and production of carcinogens via the metabolic processes
- Stimulate the maturation of normal immune cells
- Regulate the pH of the intestine
- Prevent pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and yeast from overgrowth and therefore promote digestive, urinary and genital health
- Alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance or diarrhea caused by antibiotic treatments
- Improve some types of eczema in infants and children
- Reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risks of certain cancers by increasing fiber break down
To ensure you have healthy intestinal flora you’ll want to incorporate prebiotic and probiotic foods into your diet.
Prebiotics: Prebiotics are non-digestible components of food (specifically, oligosaccharides) that stimulate the growth and activity of the beneficial bacteria in the colon. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria food they can digest.
- Onions, Leeks and Garlic
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Dandelion Greens
- Tomato Banana
- Chicory root
- Maple syrup
- Barley, Rye and Beer
- Red Cabbage
- FructoOligoSaccharide (FOS) Supplements
Probiotics: Probiotics help colonize and increase the number of good bacteria by providing a beneficial environment. Probiotics relieve symptoms of diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy, and lactose mal-absorption. Probiotics compete for growth in the colon, secrete antimicrobial chemical mediators, enhance systemic and intestinal immune function, decrease mucus secretion and help maintain instestinal permeability and integrity.
Probiotic foods are:
- Live active cultured yogurt
- Sweet acidophilus milk
“Acidophilus” means “acid-loving”, indicating that these bacteria live in acidic conditions and require a food source to survive such as lactose or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Acidophilus may be found in food sources such as fresh, unpasteurized yogurt (pasteurization kills all bacteria) or in acidophilus milk. Check the label to make sure the yogurt or milk was cultured with acidophilus after pasteurization.
Acidophilus and bifidus supplementation is used to restore a normal, healthy population of intestinal organisms following various intestinal infections/infestations. Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of forms, such as freeze dried powder, capsules, wafers, and liquids. Probiotics are commonly sold in colony forming units and should be contained in dark, refrigerated containers. Ideally you would want more than 2 billion colony forming units/gram of supplement daily. In any form of supplementation, in order to be effective, the bacteria must be alive, so it is important to find good quality sources.
Acidophilus and bifidus are killed by alcohol and antibiotics. Avoid alcohol while taking these probiotics in any form for therapeutic purposes. If you are taking antibiotics, wait until you have finished the course of treatment before starting acidophilus/bifidus.
It is important to note that each type of friendly bacteria has a specific health benefit to the body. With over 400 different types of bacteria currently identified, researchers are just starting to uncover the health roles and benefits of each. Also, research has not yet determined what portion sizes are most effective so you’ll want to eat a variety pre and pro biotic foods regularly as part of your healthy diet. Other foods that promote a healthy intestine include dietary fiber, whey protein and green tea.
Have a healthy snack of yogurt (a probiotic) with a sliced banana and some maple syrup (both are prebiotics). It’s not only yummy, it’s healthy!