While bacteria get a bad rap, not all bacteria
are bad. Our digestive system alone is home to more than 400 species of bacteria, both good and bad. Ideally, we want to cultivate good bacteria, leaving less room for enemy invaders like E. coli and Salmonella to set up camp and weaken our defenses. Catherine Reade, MS, RD, owner of HealthFull Living in Littleton, Colorado, explains how probiotics may improve your health.

1Defining Probiotics. Live microbial food additives, probiotics beneficially affect the body’s intestinal tract. They occur in cultured and fermented foods.
2Understanding Probiotics. To be probiotic, bacteria must be able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach and live in the small and large intestines. Once in the intestinal tract, probiotics need to multiply to establish “gut-friendly” neighborhoods that crowd out bacterial invaders. Preliminary research findings on probiotics—both in animal and human studies—show promising benefits.
3Helping With Lactose Intolerance. People who have trouble digesting milk and other dairy products are “lactose intolerant.” Probiotics have been shown to improve digestion of lactose by slowing down its intestinal travel time. Some studies also found that probiotics can reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as bloating, flatulence, cramps and diarrhea.
4Aiding the Immune System. Probiotics support a healthy balance of intestinal flora—bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract—providing a front line of immune defense. Some bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, may activate the immune system to respond when it senses an intruder.
5Preventing Cancer. Animal studies indicate that probiotics may help reduce or prevent cancer. Lactobacilli seem to degrade cancer-causing chemicals, such as nitrosamines (found in cured meats like bacon). Other research has shown a reduced number of tumors in a colon cancer study in which subjects took Lactobacillus GG (L. GG).
6Impacting Intestinal Infections. Antibiotics kill all bacteria—both the bad bugs that make you sick and the good bugs that live in the digestive tract. Without competition, bad bacteria can multiply and cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. The probiotic L. GG can combat the bad bacteria, promoting a healthy balance of intestinal flora during or after antibiotic treatment. Studies have shown that it may help prevent and treat diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
7Taking Probiotics. While the effects of probiotics are still under investigation, you may consider using them. Daily consumption of probiotics in whole foods such as yogurt is healthful and can support your intestinal health. You may want to consult a physician about consuming a probiotics supplement if you suffer from an intestinal ailment, are taking antibiotics or are about to travel overseas.
8Eating Probiotics. People around the world have been consuming probiotics for centuries. When eaten on a regular basis, these foods—which include sources like liquid yogurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, miso, tempeh and yogurt—appear to support good digestive health and help prevent disease. To find out if a product like yogurt contains probiotics, look for
L. acidophilus on the label; if possible, the product should also contain L. casei, L. reuteri and Bifidobacterium
(B.) bifidum
(sometimes referred to
as “bifidus.”)
9Understanding Supplements. Choose a supplement that contains a mixture of the best-studied probiotics, L. acidophilus and B. bifidum. Ensure that the supplement contains sufficient bacteria, ranging from 1 to 10 billion per gram. Check the expiration date since old age kills bacteria, and choose enteric-coated capsules because they help the bacteria reach the intestinal tract alive.
10Impacting Bacteria Through Diet. Diet also has a major influence on your body’s population of gut bacteria. A high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber diet helps bad bacteria grow, while a high-fiber, plant-based diet rich in complex carbohydrates helps good bacteria grow. l#copy this page for your ClientscOurtesy of your trainerThis handout is a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry.
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