An urgent call came to me several years ago: “Kim, the pediatric medical group upstairs is trying to run me out of town, what should I do?” It was a friend and fellow nutritionist on the other line who was working in a pharmacy at the time. Her misstep? She had been suggesting parents give their children over-the-counter probiotics (“good” bacteria) as an aid to good digestion, after finishing their round of antibiotics prescribed by the physicians.
My how times have changed. It’s commonplace now for doctors to suggest yogurt with active cultures for kids and adults, as well as multiple strains of probiotics, also called acidophilus in liquid, powder or capsule form for many health-related issues and as protection against chronic disease.
There is even new research that suggests it may be possible to relieve anxiety, depression and obesity solely by manipulating bacteria in the gut.
You’re saying I’m full of bacteria?
Yes, but it’s good news and works in your favor. There are approximately 15 trillion cells in our body and over 100 trillion bacteria that mostly live in our “gut” or large intestine, often referred to as our colon. This complex ecosystem contains over 400 species of bacteria. Maintaining the correct balance between the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria is necessary for optimal health.
The battle in your belly
Recent research has found that when you have an imbalance in your gut from chronic poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, being delivered by Cesarean section, excessive use of antibacterial products, environmental factors and even the simple process of aging, the balance can be shifted in favor of the bad bacteria within your body.
When the digestive tract is healthy, it filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful toxins, bacteria, chemicals and waste products. On the flip-side, our digestive system pulls in nutrients that our body needs such as nutrients from water and food and absorbs and delivers them to the cells where they are most needed. I always tell my patients, “you are what you absorb.” If you’re not absorbing properly, you’re not thriving.
Your immune system and gut health
Most importantly, many experts believe probiotics have the greatest impact on our immune system. You may have heard that over 70% of our immune system is traced to our digestive system. Our immune system is our protection against germs and, when it is compromised, we can suffer from allergic reactions, diarrhea, chronic constipation, IBS, urinary tract infections, muscle pain, fatigue, autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, eczema and candida, to name a very few. Acidophilus has also been shown to help suppress the level of H. pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Prolonged imbalances in intestinal bacterial can trigger numerous diseases outside the intestine as well.
What you can do?
A Harvard study found that microorganisms in the intestines can be quickly modified, even within a day of changing your eating and lifestyle habits. Jillian Teta, N.D., author of Natural Solutions for Digestive Health, says “that means it’s possible to start improving digestion at your next meal.”
Dr. Mark Stengler, owner of The Stengler Institute for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas and author of 17 books on health, says that “cultured foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kefir, garlic and onions increase your internal good flora and are good sources of probiotics.”
If you choose to take an over-the-counter acidophilus (probiotic) product, make sure it contains live bacteria. Various factors can affect their potency including heat and storage conditions. Not all probiotics need refrigeration. Most acidophilus products have the number of living cells and strains listed on the side panel. Some are even coated and may be a good choice for those with digestive issues. Probiotics are generally safe to take on a regular basis but, as always, consult your health professional since they know you and your health history best.
When studying and reporting on the complexity, intricacy and diversity of the human body and its miraculous workings, I sit in awe and amazement before the One who created life. The verse that always comes to mind is Psalm 139:14: “I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are thy works and my soul knows it very well.”
Now I’m going to go have my Greek Yogurt and get me some culture.
— by Kimberly Ruby
Ruby is a certified nutritionist at University Compounding Pharmacy, has been in the wellness industry for more than 20 years. She has been facilitating one of the longest-running weight management support groups in the nation, meeting weekly in the North County for 10 years. Her health segments have appeared on several local news channels.