To supplement or not to supplement?
Probiotic and acidophilus supplements have been in the health food stores nearly since their inception. Gut health is now in the mainstream with products like Activia, Align, Culturelle, Probiotic Pearls, One-A-Day, Nature’s Bounty, and numerous brands of Greek yogurt (Don’t make me eat Greek yogurt!). There are health professionals that swear by supplements and there are those who say eating yogurt is sufficient. One of my nutrition instructors was nearly driven batty by my argument that sugar-filled yogurt, some with candies floating in it, is a poor choice. Average humans are not acclimated to the sour taste of plain yogurt. We like our foods pleasant. This would fall into the dark category of “healthy junk food.” At least we can feel good about what we are eating.
I will say that I do love a bit of organic whole milk yogurt with a snack. Never a whole container and this is occasionally. Kefir is another probiotic cultured dairy product I like. It does have a sour taste, not spoiled, but rather pleasant. The fermenting uses up the milk sugar to produce the beneficial organisms. Author and Weston Price Foundation leader, Donna Schwenk outlines her journey with cultured food, namely kefir, which transformed her life. Her book, “Cultured Food for Life,” has interesting ideas on cultured, fermented vegetables… more on that in a few paragraphs.
Cultured dairy versus probiotic supplement is a personal choice. Those who are on elimination diets, have dairy allergies, or candida may choose to avoid the dairy route. As a singer, I limit dairy, choosing sour cream, cultured whole buttermilk, and butter.
Dairy is not the only choice when it comes to happy bacteria. Fermenting vegetables and fruits was a way ancient peoples used to stop spoilage with the effect of producing beneficial microorganisms. Popular one: Sauerkraut- fermented cabbage. Fermentation made the foods easier to digest and allowed vitamins to be easily absorbed. These foods were not intended as a meal, but as a relish or condiment. Too much can…. cleanse the gut. Thoroughly. The lactic acid of some fermented foods allows the change of gut pH to take place, providing a biological terrain for good bacteria to proliferate. Cultured dairy, like kefir, provide beneficial bacteria to recolonize.
In my research, I found studies and journal articles on the side effects of probiotic supplementation. Now, I do believe humans can overdo a good thing. However, it is my feeling that the reported side effects come from die-off of bad bacteria which release toxins. This effect can make you so sick. It is called a healing crisis or Herxheimer reaction. The body is throwing off toxins leading to chills, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and feeling like you are so much worse off. This means the body was detoxing faster than it could eliminate and the system backed up. The symptoms will pass with rest, hydration, and time. Always seek medical evaluation for severe symptoms. As a precaution, those with health conditions are told to consult their doctor and be monitored on probiotic supplements.
So, why do we need good bacteria?
Bacteria in the large intestine play an essential role in health. The bacteria breakdown any remaining undigested food, which in turn release nutrients from carbohydrates, fiber and cellulose then the nutrients are absorbed. These bacteria also help form B vitamins, which have many essential roles in health, and vitamin K, aids in blood coagulation and bone health.
In an average healthy adult, there is roughly three pounds of bacteria in the colon. The immune system needs beneficial bacteria. The good bacteria that flourishes in a healthy gut environment can fend off invaders and bad bacteria before those can grow and upset the balance. It is said that gut bacteria help keep hormone levels in balance such as estrogen. The bacteria can reactivate estrogens once they enter the large intestine. If there are not enough good bacteria to complete this process, the estrogen is lost in the bowel movements.
Many GI symptoms come from good bacteria being outnumbered. Friendly bacteria allow the waste products to move through faster which prevents constipation. A colon overloaded with toxins can stress the liver with absorbed substances causing skin eruptions and body odor. Digestive upsets as gas and bloating can come from overgrowth of the bad bacteria. There are many functions of the good gut bacteria keeping the body in balance that we take for granted.
In any dis-ease, the stress response can be activated either from the body’s action or the psychological stress of being unwell. Stress suppresses the immune and digestive systems which can throw the flora out of balance. Poor diet, overuse of antibiotics, several prescription drugs, chlorinated/ fluoridated water and health conditions impact the gut flora. The large intestine needs to be slightly acidic at around 6.8 pH in order to throw off candida, fungus, E. coli, and other harmful pathogens, as they prefer a more alkaline environment.
Severe dysbiosis can lead to an infection of Clostridium difficile (c.diff) causing severe diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, blood in the stool and in extreme cases, colon perforation. The lactic acid of some fermented foods allows the change of gut pH to take place, providing a biological terrain for good bacteria to proliferate.
The psychological aspect of digestion and gut health is important as well. Eating on the run, eating fast food and eating while emotionally upset release chemicals that can alter the body’s pH. Proper stress management in the form of counseling, journaling, meditation, deep breathing focusing on a long exhale, and exercise active the parasympathetic nervous system, the brake of the body, sending circulation to the digestive organs. Slippery Elm ulmus rubra is soothing, nutritive and acts like a gentle bulk laxative providing food for the gut bacteria. Fiber helps because it provides substances that good bacteria can use for food.
I recommend multi-strain probiotic supplements with the FOS prebiotics in the formula– it is a great foundation for health. My favorite product is Douglas Labs Multi-Probiotic that has 40 billion cells and 16 strains of bacteria. I give 20% off the suggested retail price. Contact me for more information.
Fallon, S. (2001). Nourishing Traditions, 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: NewTrends Publishing, Inc.
Kremposky, A. (2015). Role of Intestinal Bacteria. Research paper for ACHS, NAT 212 Anatomy & Physiology.
Multi-Probiotic 40 Billion. (2015). Douglas Labs. Retreived from http://www.douglaslabs.com/media/DL202115.pdf
Probitoics: In Depth. (2016). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
Schwenk, D. (2013). Cultured Food for Life. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.