Health Matters – Probiotics: Our Friends on the Inside, Part II

In the last instalment of ?Health Matters,? we met a certain group of friendly bacteria that inhabit normal human digestive tracts (including, hopefully, yours!). These bacteria, called probiotics, help keep our digestive systems healthy. When they’re present, say goodbye to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and ulcers. When they’re not, you can guess what happens: multiple problems and a lot of discomfort.

Here, we’ll explore how to use probiotics to ?fix? some of these digestive disorders. we’ll learn how many you need to take, how to store them, and whether you should mix probiotics and antibiotics.

How many?

Remember that probiotics work by flooding out the bad bacteria; when the good outnumber the bad, the bad become homeless and health improves. So how many probiotics are needed to make this happen?

we’re talking billions here. A probiotic supplement that contains one million probiotic bacteria sounds impressive, but It’s not nearly enough. Think of your digestive system as preparing to take a cross-country trip. When a digestive disorder is involved, you need to fill up your ?fuel tank? with enough bacteria to take you the whole way. This means bacteria in the neighbourhood of billions per capsule. Read those labels carefully before you purchase!

Keep cool…

Be aware of the fridge factor. Most (though not all) probiotics are temperature-sensitive. This means that prompt refrigeration is key. When you purchase probiotic supplements, transfer them from the store’s fridge to yours. Although they’ll be okay while you run your other errands, make sure they’re kept in a cool spot in your car or purse.

Travelling? If You’re going on a trip and won’t have access to a refrigerator, you can also purchase shelf-stable probiotics. They are a tweaked genetic strain, but work similarly. But note: in shelf-stable probiotics, the dose of bacteria per serving is low, so don’t expect huge therapeutic benefit in irritable bowel syndrome, for example. However, for minor digestive issues, they should do the short-term trick. An exception here is the Saccharomyces boulardii species, which can be used for prevention of traveller’s diarrhea; It’s a strain that never needs to be refrigerated.

The antibiotic question

Antibiotics are a useful discovery, but they do come with a price tag. An antibiotic is anti, or against, bacteria. Probiotics are bacteria. Antibiotics don’t discriminate; they get rid of many of the good as well as the bad bacteria, often clearing your digestive system of its friendly probiotics.

The effect on probiotics depends upon the type of antibiotic used, its dose, and the duration of use. However, there is good scientific evidence showing that coupling probiotic supplementation with antibiotic use can help repair lowered good bacteria levels in the digestive tract.

There is disagreement over when to take probiotics to replenish antibiotic damage: whether they should be used concurrently with the antibiotic, or after the antibiotic round has finished. While taking probiotics with antibiotics (even if they are some hours apart) definitely means that some of the probiotics will be killed, some strains in your probiotic formula are immune to certain antibiotics, so there’s a chance they won’t all perish. Also, if you are susceptible to antibiotic-associated diarrhea, It’s a wise choice to take those good bacteria along with the antibiotics, since the probiotics will help prevent the diarrhea.

On the other hand, waiting to take your probiotic until you are finished your antibiotic means there’s no danger of the good bacteria being decimated. However, it also means you’ll have to be a week or longer (depending on the length of time You’re on antibiotics) with your good intestinal bacteria severely depleted. You’ll need to ask yourself whether you’ll be okay in the short term without the benefits of good probiotics, and then decide.

Just for ladies

Women’s vaginal and bladder health can also depend, to a certain degree, on the probiotics colonizing there. If You’re subject to frequent infections or discomfort in these areas, you might lack enough good bacteria. Scientific research recommends certain strains of probiotics to optimize vaginal and bladder health; L. acidophilus and L. rhamnosus are a good start.

The bad and the ugly

While probiotics are generally beneficial, there are some cautions. If you have acute pancreatitis, avoid probiotics; It’s possible they may aggravate your condition. In addition, those who have intestinal perforations or tears have been known to suffer from lactobacillus septicemia after probiotic supplementation. Essentially, when this occurs, the good bacteria get tired of their home in the intestines, leak through the intestinal cut, and enter the bloodstream.

More and more research is becoming available on probiotics, and it’s only getting more and more interesting!

Stay tuned to see what next is rocking the health world … and eat your yogurt.

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.

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