In order to discuss the wonderful world of probiotics, we must first enter the realm of bacteria.
First, let’s recognize that there are two main categories of bacteria. For simplicity’s sake we will refer to them as good bacteria and bad bacteria. We’ll discuss the bad stuff first. Bad bacteria are any type of bacteria that can get into your system and cause damage. Ear infections, for example, are many times the result of a bacterial infection. Bad bacteria are everywhere, and there is no way for us to avoid it.
What determines whether or not we will actually accrue a bacterial infection from it? That would be our immune system. If immunity is high, cells will simply kill off any offending bacterial cells, and the body will have no idea the bacteria were even in it. If, however, immunity is low, you are likely to obtain a bacterial infection somewhere in your system. Sometimes this infection can go on for a long time without your even knowing it, and sometimes you will instantly realize something is wrong. Either way, chances are you will end up with an antibiotic prescription from the doctor. Without getting too detailed, here is what that antibiotic will do: 1. Kill off the bad bacteria (yay!) 2. Kill off your remaining immune system defenses (yikes!).
Antibiotics are currently the most prescribed medication in our country. The question is, "Are we so infected with bad bacteria that the medical profession has to keep prescribing them?" The fact is that so many people have been on antibiotics that they aren’t strong enough to kill the bacteria anymore, and any immunity we had to kill off the bad bacteria we came in contact with is gone because of the past antibiotic use.
So the cycle continues, and we obviously have a dilemma. This immune system I keep mentioning (our body’s way of fighting off any type of cell invaders) is highly comprised of good bacteria. This is why your immune system gets killed off when you take an antibiotic. You see, antibiotics (or antibacterials) are not smart enough to just kill the bad stuff; they kill all bacteria. But there’s hope! This is where probiotics come into play.
Probiotics are good bacteria in supplement form that you can use to replenish your body and build up your immune system. If you have been on antibiotics in the past, probiotics are a must (or you will keep getting infection after infection–most commonly sinus or ear infections).
If you are currently on antibiotics, probiotics are a must. If you are looking to boost your immune system, or have any type of GI dysfunction (IBS, gastric reflux, bloating, etc.), they are a must as well.
These good bacteria, also called normal flora, are mostly found deep in your intestinal system. That’s why you may have heard that 70 percent of the immune system is in your gut.
The main forms of these probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Acidophilus. If you’ve used antibiotics in the past, your system should get 15-30 billion of these organisms per day for a while, until they begin to harvest and grow on their own. Because they live so deep in the intestinal tract, you need to take them on an empty stomach so they have a fair chance to get down there.
Once again, quality is key. Just because a label says "probiotic" doesn’t necessarily mean that it only contains good bacteria. The scientific identification of strains provides the means of obtaining optimal health benefits from probiotic supplementation. The product you buy must be scientifically identified and tested for acid and bile tolerance and cell adherence (if your product is "physician grade" and GMP certified, you are probably okay-contact me if you are unsure). As long as you meet these stipulations, your product should be safe for any age (the powder form works great for infants).
Now is the time to be an informed consumer. No one is going to be responsible for you and your family’s health but you. Do your research and make the right health, wellness and fitness decisions.