Probiotic bacteria for good health.

WE have 10 times more bacterial cells of different types and strains in our body than human cells. The overwhelming majority of the bacteria reside in our gut. Human beings have developed a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria that have become a miniature ecosystem in our body.

Some bacteria can cause acute or chronic illness while those described as "life-giving" and "friendly bacteria" offer us protective and nutritive benefits.

These include the Lactobacillus genus found mainly in the small intestines and the Bifidobacterium genus which is common in the large intestines.

These residential bacteria are territorial and latch on strongly to the lining of the gut. In doing so, they put a stop to harmful bacteria, fungi and microbes from settling in our gut thus preventing them from creating mischief.

Just like any ecosystem, our gut ecology can be easily disturbed by stress, radiation, poor diet, surgery, and drugs such as antibiotics, antacids and hormonal preparations.

Stress slows down digestion and the elimination of waste materials that allows colonisation of different and harmful microbes.

It is known that when the ecosystem in our gut is affected, digestive problems such as diarrhoea, constipation, excessive wind or flatulence, heartburn, gastritis, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome result.

Rampant use of antibiotics is the main cause of upset in the gut flora. The action of antibiotics is not usually specific, so the bad ones along with the good bacteria are also destroyed.

Antibiotics can severely disrupt gut microbial ecology and give rise to antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.

Clostridium difficile is one of the bacteria that causes diarrhoea and is commonly seen in a hospital environment due to the prolonged use of antibiotics.

Candida yeast, found commonly in the gut and usually controlled by the friendly bacteria, starts to proliferate and causes vaginal infection, thrush, nail and skin infections.

Live friendly bacteria introduced into the body to improve the intestinal flora balance via food or oral supplements to induce health benefits are called probiotics.

Research on probiotic therapy supports improvement in gastrointestinal health, enhancement in the immune system, better absorption of nutrients, and reduction in the risk of certain cancers.

In order to be effective, a probiotic must have certain characteristics. Probiotic supplements should have a guaranteed shelf life such that they will contain adequate numbers of viable organisms at the time of ingestion.

Consumer groups in the United States and Canada have independently tested probiotics supplement available in healthfood stores and pharmacies and found that most fail to meet the label claims of viable organisms.

The probiotic bacteria must be able to survive the digestive juices and to attach to the intestinal lining in order to colonise the gut, thus crowding out the harmful ones and preventing them from establishing residence.

Some probiotic strains such as the Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM are able to produce antimicrobial substances to knock out disease-causing organisms, which is an added benefit.

As a lactic acid producing bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM produces the enzyme that helps lactose-intolerant people digest lactose.

Not all probiotics are the same. When choosing a probiotic supplement, the label should state the identification of the genus (eg Lactobacillus) and the species (reuteri or acidophilus NCFM) of each strain and have a concentration of bacteria which generally should be in the range of more than one billion colony forming units (cfu).

A probiotic supplement should be stored in the refrigerator and carry an expiry date. The probiotic strain used must be of human origin, safe for consumption and have been researched and published for its health benefits.

Nov 29 2005


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