With 80% of your immune system located in your gut, having balanced intestinal flora is a major factor in defending your body against disease. Balanced gastrointestinal (GI) flora is critical to the functioning of the immune system, synthesis of nutrients, and detoxification. Balanced GI flora is also necessary for regular and normal bowel movements.
Flora imbalances can be caused by poor diet, illness, infections, use of antibiotics, and stress. Symptoms can include persistent gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. To maintain or rebalance GI flora, consider adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in your GI tract. The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, although many other types of bacteria are also classified as probiotics. Scientific evidence shows these probiotics:
boost the immune system by enhancing the production of antibodies; support the synthesis of vitamins and other nutrients; relieve the effects of, and treat, intestinal illness (diarrhea, constipation, IBS); prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections; and may reduce the risk of colon or bladder cancer.
Two ways to boost healthy GI flora are to take a probiotic supplement or add probiotic-containing foods to your diet. Probiotic supplements come in liquid and capsule forms and many are sold refrigerated. However, not all probiotics are the same. Studies show that some strains are effective in specific medical issues and some are completely ineffective. That is why it is important to take clinically proven types of probiotics which are not always available in the retail stores. Check with your functional medicine health practitioner to be sure you select a product that meets your personal health needs. It is important to follow the storage instructions for your supplement–failure to do so could kill off the live, healthy bacteria it contains.
If you shop for adequate probiotics in the retail stores look at the label. Ideally three main criteria should be met:
1. Look for multiple species organisms presented in a single dose – 4 to 8 types of bacteria and beneficial yeast.
2. Look for the units specification: professional grade probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFU).
This is a unit of measurement of live bacteria at the time of EXPIRATION. Mediocre probiotics will have different measurement measure and refer to that “at time of manufacturing”. As you understand it is different from the above.
3. Look got adequate quantity of probiotics, it should be around 10 to 20 billion in a single dose (sufficient in most cases).
Probiotic-boosting foods include vegetables, fermented foods and cultured dairy products. Be sure the food labels state “fermented” or, for dairy, “live and active bacterial cultures.”
American Gastroenterological Association. “Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You.” Revised May 2013.
Kiani, L. “Bugs in Our Gut: How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy.” Cambridge Scientific Abstracts: Discovery Guide (October 2006).
Mayo Clinic. “Do I Need to Include Probiotics and Prebiotics in My Diet?” October 15, 2014.