Moment for Health: The Benefits of Probiotics

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There is a world deep within our body where “good” and “evil” strike a battle to exist. It’s Star Wars in miniature, the Evil Bacterial Empire lurking around to be constantly attacked by the Probiotic Rebel Alliance so the Force, peristalsis, can keep things moving inside our gut.

And that is a good thing, a blockbuster for sure. I certainly can feel the battle within my own belly when my lactose deficient troops are confronted with Darth Cheddar and unable to defy its milk-filled presence.

The world of lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and other probiotics is part of a very important process in the digestion of food.

Discovered by Russian Nobel Prize recipient Élle Metchnikoff in 1907, he described how intestinal microbes can modify the gut flora inside our bodies by replacing harmful microbes with useful ones.

Probiotics also play an active role in immune response, production of vitamins, repression of pro-carcinogenic enzymatic activities and improve the intestine’s mucosal (lining) barrier; quite a lot for such tiny heroes. Most recognizable strains are L. acidophilus and B. bifidum.

Digestion is really quite a complicated process but to simplify, the break down of our foods cause certain “bad” bacteria to grow which in turn produces toxic substances such as ammonia that inhibits cellular growth and, according to Metchnikoff, contributes to the aging process. The “good” bacteria keeps everything in balance with its process that lowers the pH in the intestines which the “bad” bacteria dislikes.

In older days, way back before grocery stores stocked yogurt cups, fermented foods naturally fed the body good microbes. In those ancient times, many traditions hung a goat-skin bag filled with milk by the front door. The bag got knocked about by people coming and going, producing Kefir, a sour fermented milk drink. And the very first probiotic in existence, after looking into certain good bacteria genome, may have originated on the surface of plants.

Though there are many probiotic supplements on the market, utilizing fermented foods is probably the best way to insure the proper balance of bacteria in the gut.

Every country has a type of fermented food passed down through generations. For instance Germans have sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage.

Koreans have Kimchi, a vegetable side dish traditionally fermented underground in jars for months.

And then there’s Tzatziki, a Greek favorite, made with yogurt, cucumber and dill.

Today in our society, yogurt is most people’s means of getting a fermented product in the body. Many liquids can make into yogurt such as soy, almond, and coconut milk. Cow or goat milk yogurt is rich in many nutrients including B6 and B12 and both children and the elderly benefit even more from this fermented product. Elderly intestines with their declining amounts of bifidus create an over-growth of toxin-producing bacteria that can cause or contribute to many health problems.

Look for yogurt with active cultures and without all the added sugars and thickeners, the only products worthy of probiotics’ gut-defying feats.

Try different types, since all carry different amounts and types of these good bacteria. Find which one works best. Better yet, make home-made with a yogurt maker, it is simpler, cheaper and stocked with more probiotics due to its freshness.

The opposite of probiotics is antibiotics, the stuff that kills microbes. Antibiotics are meant to work on bad bacteria that cause many of our illnesses. Unfortunately not only the targeted bad bacteria, but good bacteria found in the gut are wiped out from the ingestion of antibiotics.

With the tendency for antibiotics to be over-prescribed by doctors, fermented products in the diet can maintain the gut flora for continued health and well-being.

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