Probiotics and Their Role in Gut Health
The word probiotic tells us what these supplements do. Pro means for, and bios means life. Probiotic literally means “For Life”, a very apt description of what these friendly bacteria do for us.
Do probiotics treat dysbiosis?
Yes, dysbiosis is a term used to describe an unfavorable balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria. In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, frequent cold and flus can be an indication of an unhappy gut or dysbiosis.
Our immune systems are supposed to prevent disease-causing microbes (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi) from invading our bodies. When microbes manage to get inside, the immune system is responsible for hunting them down and destroying them.
We also depend on our immune systems to protect us from illnesses that begin inside us, from either single cells (cancer) or mixed up messages (allergies and autoimmune disease).
We need our immune systems to support robust colonies of the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium to help protect us from staph infections, colds, cancer, and allergies.
Wait a minute doesn’t bacteria cause disease?
All bacteria (there are at least 1,000,000 species!) are one-celled organisms that live in huge groups called colonies. Some bacteria, like Group A Streptococcus, are well-known for their ability to make us sick. These are the bacteria that cause impetigo, rheumatic fever, and those dreaded and painful strep throat infections.
The overwhelming majority of bacteria, however, are harmless to humans and some are exceedingly beneficial. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium lactis are some of the best known and most effective friendly bacteria.
What exactly do the friendly bacteria do?
The probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum act like school teachers. An important part of their day is spent making sure that the colonies of friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract do their best to stay strong, stable, and balanced.
L. acidophilus and B. longum remove the disease causing bacterium that are living in the colonies and allow the friendly bacteria to thrive. Certain strains of probiotics can increase our White Blood cell counts, which helps us to ward off disease. Studies have shown that L. acidophilus and B. longum can reduce cold symptoms and in lab studies, they are able to shrink cancerous tumors.
They also prevent the diarrhea that is common when taking prescribed antibiotics for an infection. Probiotics must be taken 3-4 hours away from any antibiotic! The frequent use of antibiotics has dramatically increased the incidence of Clostridium difficile, a microbe responsible for a serious infection of the lower intestinal tract.
What is lactoferrin and why is it in my probiotic formula?
When we break down the word lactoferrin it provides us with an excellent understanding of what it can do for our health. From the Latin lacto, or milk, and ferrin, which means iron - we get lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein that is found in milk. Lactoferrin has a unique affinity to iron, allowing it to bind to the nutrient. Numerous strains of pathogens need an iron-rich environment to reproduce. Lactoferrin limits the availability of iron to bacteria in the intestines.
Breast milk is an excellent source of lactoferrin with about 125 mg per cup. However, human colostrum, or first milk, is rich in lactoferrin with a whopping 875mg per half cup. Colostrum is the thick yellow fluid that comes in before breast milk and rapidly activates the immune systems of newborn babies to get them revved up and running well. Lactoferrin is also present in other bodily fluids, including tears, nasal secretions, saliva, bronchial mucus, gastrointestinal juices, vaginal mucus, and semen.
When taken together, lactoferrin and the probiotics provide a synergistic effect (synergism occurs when two or more nutrients work together to create a more powerful effect than they could alone) to the immune system. However, in order for the probiotics and lactoferrin to reach the small intestine (where nutrients are digested and released into the bloodstream), they must be able to survive the trip through the harsh stomach fluids.
What should I look for in a probiotic supplement?
Make sure they haven’t been exposed to air, sunshine, artificial light, or moisture. In addition, probiotic bacteria and lactoferrin need to be protected from the digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach.
Read the label: Try to determine what type of delivery system the manufacturer is using. Reputable probiotic supplement makers will guarantee that the bacteria will reach the intestines alive, vibrant, and raring-to-go. On the label, look for “cfu units guaranteed per capsule through expiration.”
Multi-strain: It’s important to have at least two Lactobacillus and two Bifidobacterium strains in the probiotic you take. You need to take a multi-strain, high potency, acid-proof probiotic that contains specific prebiotics. Lactobacilli colonize the small intestine while Bifidobacteria do best in the colon. Having both types assures that the entire intestinal tract gets covered.
High Potency: It’s important to get at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per dose in the probiotic you take. More is better and 20 billion CFU is a particularly effective dose.
Acid-Proof: It’s critical that probiotics survive passage through the acidic stomach and make it into the intestinal tract alive. Sodium alginate is a safer coating than most enteric acid coatings which contain a polymer of acrylic acid, a synthetic chemical. High potency means nothing without stomach acid protection – up to 99.99% of unprotected probiotics are killed after 60 minutes in stomach acid.