There are billions of bacteria, known as intestinal microflora, living in our digestive system. Adults typically have several hundreds of different species of bacteria in the intestinal tract - some good and some potentially harmful.
Staying healthy depends on maintaining the optimal balance of good vs. bad bacteria in your digestive system.
Aging, dieting, stress, travel and certain medications can disrupt the natural balance of intestinal microflora in our digestive system.
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that help restore the balance to support healthy digestion, promote a healthy immune system and keep us generally healthy.* In fact, the word pro-bi-o-tic means “for life”.
Experts have debated how to define probiotics. One widely used definition, developed by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is that probiotics are “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
(Microorganisms are tiny living organismsï¿½??such as bacteria, viruses, and yeastsï¿½??that can be seen only under a microscope.)
Probiotics are available in foods and dietary supplements (for example, capsules, tablets, and powders) and in some other forms as well. Examples of foods containing probiotics are yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices and soy beverages.
In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation.
Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those naturally found in people’s guts, especially in those of breastfed infants (who have natural protection against many diseases). Most often, the bacteria come from two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.
Within each group, there are different species (for example, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus), and within each species, different strains (or varieties). A few common probiotics, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, are yeasts, which are different from bacteria.
Some probiotic foods date back to ancient times, such as fermented foods and cultured milk products. Interest in probiotics in general has been growing; Americans’ spending on probiotic supplements, for example, nearly tripled from 1994 to 2003.
There are several reasons that people are interested in probiotics for health purposes.
First, the world is full of microorganisms (including bacteria), and so are people’s bodiesï¿½??in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other orifices.
Friendly bacteria are vital to proper development of the immune system, to protection against microorganisms that could cause disease, and to the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. Each person’s mix of bacteria varies.
Interactions between a person and the microorganisms in his body, and among the microorganisms themselves, can be crucial to the person’s health and well-being.
This bacterial “balancing act” can be thrown off in two major ways:
By antibiotics, when they kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria. Some people use probiotics to try to offset side effects from antibiotics like gas, cramping, or diarrhea.
Similarly, some use them to ease symptoms of lactose intoleranceï¿½??a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest significant amounts of the major sugar in milk, and which also causes gastrointestinal symptoms.
“Unfriendly” microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance. Researchers are exploring whether probiotics could halt these unfriendly agents in the first place and/or suppress their growth and activity in conditions like:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that causes most ulcers and many types of chronic stomach inflammation
Tooth decay and periodontal disease
Stomach and respiratory infections that children acquire in daycare
Another part of the interest in probiotics stems from the fact there are cells in the digestive tract connected with the immune system. One theory is that if you alter the microorganisms in a person’s intestinal tract (as by introducing probiotic bacteria), you can affect the immune system’s defenses.
Scientific understanding of probiotics and their potential for preventing and treating health conditions is at an early stage, but moving ahead. In November 2005, a conference that was cofunded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and convened by the American Society for Microbiology explored this topic.
According to the conference report, some uses of probiotics for which there is some encouraging evidence from the study of specific probiotic formulations are as follows:
To treat diarrhea (this is the strongest area of evidence, especially for diarrhea from rotavirus)
To prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract
To treat irritable bowel syndrome
To reduce recurrence of bladder cancer
To shorten how long an intestinal infection lasts that is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile
To prevent and treat pouchitis (a condition that can follow surgery to remove the colon)
To prevent and manage atopic dermatitis (eczema) in children
The conference panel also noted that in studies of probiotics as cures, any beneficial effect was usually low; a strong placebo effect often occurs; and more research (especially in the form of large, carefully designed clinical trials) is needed in order to draw firmer conclusions.
Some other areas of interest to researchers on probiotics are
What is going on at the molecular level with the bacteria themselves and how they may interact with the body (such as the gut and its bacteria) to prevent and treat diseases. Advances in technology and medicine are making it possible to study these areas much better than in the past.
Issues of quality. For example, what happens when probiotic bacteria are treated or are added to foodsï¿½??is their ability to survive, grow, and have a therapeutic effect altered?
The best ways to administer probiotics for therapeutic purposes, as well as the best doses and schedules.
Probiotics’ potential to help with the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the gut.
Whether they can prevent unfriendly bacteria from getting through the skin or mucous membranes and traveling through the body (e.g., which can happen with burns, shock, trauma, or suppressed immunity).
Digestive enzymes are protein molecules, which function to aid in the breakdown of food. They are catalysts, meaning the accelerate the rate of chemical reactions. Enzymes are involved in the breakdown of food from complex molecules to simple molecules, so they can be absorbed into the blood.
People can actually produce these digestive enzymes, which function to break down food as we consume it. Our mouths excrete digestive enzymes through our saliva, where they actively break down starch into sugars, ready to be broken down some more as they travel to the stomach and the small intestine, where other digestive enzymes wait.
These aid in good and proper digestion of the food we eat.
Bodybuilders are not so special that they do not produce their own digestive enzymes, but their frequent exercising burns up their naturally produced enzymes more than most people do, since digestive enzymes cannot exist in intense heat.
But even if they didn’t burn them up, they still wouldn’t be able to produce an adequate amount of digestive enzymes to regularly aid in digestion.
In fact, most people of any shape and size produce as much digestive enzymes as bodybuilders do ï¿½?? which is not always enough. Certain factors also affect natural digestive enzyme production, such as old age, living conditions and even specific lifestyles.
It’s safe to assume that we’ve all experienced indigestion at one point or other, either from overeating or not eating the right food, and this is an example wherein the digestive enzymes our bodies naturally produce are inadequate.
Which is why everyone would actually benefit from taking digestive enzymes as health supplements, to ensure proper and effective digestion.
Since enzymes are proteins, they also exist in most food that contain protein, but cooking destroys these enzymes, which is why you can only consume enzymes from fresh and raw food, like fruit and vegetables.
To have the necessary amount of digestive enzymes means an elaborate raw food diet, and there are too many toxins and scary bacteria living in raw meat for this option to be viable. Digestive enzymes as bodybuilding products, however, are made from food and can be eaten with our food, proving to be more effective in the long run.
Aside from losing their natural digestive enzymes each time their body temperature is raised when they work out, bodybuilders need digestive enzymes because of the benefits to their workout goals.
Digestive enzymes break down food a lot faster and transfer the needed nutrients to the corresponding parts of your internal system. Bodybuilders need digestive enzymes more as they eat more protein than regular people, in the interest of building up muscle.
Proteases, which are the enzymes that break down protein, also aid in boosting the immune system, and helps repair muscles that wear down easily from exercise and weightlifting. They also help ease gas and bloating, which are definite no-no’s in bodybuilding.
Of course, you don’t need to be a bodybuilder to benefit from digestive enzymes as bodybuilding supplements. They’re great for just about anyone