Monday, March 16, 2009

Say hello to our little gastrointestinal friends!

Probiotics...You've probably heard about them but maybe not by this name. What are these? They are live, non-disease causing microorganisms, such as bacteria (aka, "friendly bacteria"), found in food or supplements that are potentially beneficial to health, if consumed in adequate amounts. Did you know that your body houses some 10 trillion bacteria, which are primarily located in our gastrotinestinal tract? While the amounts remain fairly constant over time, there are factors that may cause levels of these bacteria to fluctuate, such as illness, antibiotic use, and diet, thus, leaving our immune systems a little more vulnerable.

Some of the most common probiotic bacteria found in food include various species of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, acidophilus milk, fermented milk products, such as kefir, miso, tempeh, some soy drinks and some juices. Some manufacturers of products containing probiotics make claims such as "clinically proven to help regulate the digestive system" or "clinically proven to help strengthen the body's defense systems"; however, the science behind these claims has recently come under attack. While more research on the potential benefits of probiotics is warranted, I will share with you what some favorable evidence does suggest when it comes to certain probiotics. Certain types of these friendly bacteria may be useful for:
  • Reducing diarrhea associated with taking antiobiotics and traveler's diarrhea
  • Controlling certain types of infectious diarrhea, especially the type in children caused by rotavirus
  • Preventing and reducing length of vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
  • Lowering cholesterol
A few studies suggest that probiotics may be useful for other conditions as well, including: reducing lactose intolerance, reducing the length of intestinal infections, managing irritable bowel syndrome, lowering recurrence of bladder cancer, and preventing and managing atopic disease (i.e., allergies, eczema).

In order to experience the potential health benefits of probiotics, one must consume large quantities -- approximately 100 million to 100 billion live bacteria daily; however, more research is needed to determine an optimal dosage. For example, some yogurt products contain the "Live & Active Cultures" seal to inform consumers that the product contains at least 100 million cultures per gram at time of manufacture (or 10 million per gram for frozen products, such as frozen yogurt). Typically, 1 cup of yogurt or 3 1/2 servings of acidophilus milk will provide the recommended amount. You may also take probiotics in supplement form; however, keep in mind that not all probiotic strains are the same, which means they do not all have the same potential health benefits either. So, you may want to consult a registered dietitian to discuss your options.



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