Gutting It Out With Probiotics

As I have mentioned before, I am a life-long sufferer of IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Without boring you with the gritty details, the worst symptom, for me at least, is horrendous stomach aches which visit more often than I’d like. That’s why I was very interested to read the article, “Good Bacteria Welcome,” in the September edition of Experience Life magazine. The article states that nearly 100 trillion bacteria reside in our body, and about 500 or so species that reside in the gastrointestinal tract are really good for us– and “good for us” means they destroy harmful bacteria. When our bodies host more bad than good bacteria, we are more apt to contract illness. A short-term imbalance might result in gas, bloating and diarrhea, while longer term problems are Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

What Kills Off “Good” Bacteria? A primary culprit is antibiotics, which destroy all kinds of bacteria, good and bad. In fact, studies have shown that antibiotics can suppress beneficial bacteria for up to 16 months. Stress can also damage the gut’s flora by affecting the integrity of intestinal lining and influencing the rate at which food moves through the system. Lastly, a diet high in animal protein, processed foods, and especially flours and simple sugars tend to raise the levels of potentially harmful bacteria, offsetting the natural acid-alkaline balance of our bodies.

The Balancing Act

To counteract the imbalance, some health practitioners are turning to probiotics. According to the NIH, probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. Foods like yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha and kimchi are great sources of probiotics. Only yogurt with “live” cultures is effective. Supplements are another way to get healthy bacteria back into the system. There are a variety of supplements available, ranging in type, price and brand.

Not All Supplements are Created Equal

A recent post on Truth About Probiotics suggests that these supplements may not be as safe and reliable we’d like to hope. In a small pilot, university researchers in Seattle found that only one product of 20 tested contained isolated organisms identical to what was listed on the bottle. Not only might the products be void of cultures altogether, they might also contain ones that are not viable. Though the US does not currently inspect and test supplements for product assurance, other governments do (e.g., Australia’s Therapeutics Goods Administration).

Keeping the Gut Happy

Keeping the entire system in sync isn’t always as easy as popping a pill. According to Experience Life, there are other steps we can take to keep the gut in check. These include:

  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of stressing your system with a huge dinner at night.
  • Consume more whole foods, fewer processed ones.
  • Eat more foods with probiotics or “live” cultures.
  • Don’t forget your day’s recommendation of fiber: 25-38 grams.
  • Reduce your sugar intake, something bad bacteria love to eat.
  • Relax and try to reduce the stressful situations in your life, if possible.
  • Sleep more, as it helps regulate hormones in the gut and protect the immune system.

Source: Gutrie, Catherine. “Good Bacteria Welcome,” Experience Life, September 2011 (pages 69-73).

Melinda Hinson