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Found this a while back. Great advice. Good luck.
Probiotics: A Million Hippies Can't Be Wrong
Q: I'm hearing a lot about probiotics lately. What are they? Do they work?
A: Probiotics are definitely hot. This category of supplements, which was once confined to the shelves of natural food stores run by flower children, has recently become so popular and mainstream that yogurt giant Dannon has released their own probiotic containing product: Activia.
No, you don't put the yogurt in your bellybutton.
You can also find cottage cheese in the supermarket that advertises "live cultures" (usually L. acidophilous and B. bifidus). Always pick these over other brands. But for some people, diary products with live cultures aren't enough.
If you think about it, purchasing probiotic supplements seems a little strange because what you're buying is bacteria. For the most part, the word bacteria has a negative connotation, but the little buggers ain't all bad. The human gut contains over 500 million different species of bacteria. These bacteria have a myriad of different functions, from food digestion to vitamin production to enhancement of immune function.
Unfortunately, the state of agriculture and diet in this country has led to alarmingly high rates of intestinal problems ranging from Crohn's disease to the various mysterious forms of inflammatory bowel syndrome. Many people believe that all these intestinal problems are due to a disruption in the intestinal flora (a fancy term for healthy bacteria in the gut). This is where probiotics come in.
Probiotics have been shown to prevent or reduce the severity of inflammation in the GI tract. They do this through a few different mechanisms:
1. They decrease the production pro-inflammatory cytokines.
2. They stimulate the production of IgA. (This is part of the body's first line of defenses against bad bacteria, fungus, viruses, etc.).
3. Probiotics occupy binding sites in the gut preventing the binding of bad bacteria.
The immune system benefits of probiotics would be helpful to just about anyone. Probiotics can also have more individual applications. For example, they've been shown to aid in the treatment and/or prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). This form of diarrhea is seen all the time in hospitals, affecting up to 39% of patients receiving antibiotics. But it also plagues many non-hospitalized people who undergo a strong antibiotic regimen.
Basically, the antibiotics you take for your illness wipe out the bad bacteria causing the problems in your body. But since many antibiotics are designed like H-Bombs and destroy both good and bad bacteria, your GI tract is left unprotected by the good guys. This allows for bad bacteria to take residence and you end up with a case of AAD. Probiotics can help re-inhabit your GI with good bacteria before chaos ensues.
One of my favorite benefits of supplementing with probiotics is their positive effect on lactose absorption. Lactose intolerance is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Supplemental probiotics can help in the digestion of lactose, which makes eating dairy products much more enjoyable. I'm not promising that you'll be able to pop a probiotic and then drink a gallon of milk with no consequences, but it'll help bloating and other symptoms associated with moderate dairy consumption.
Probiotics are like any other supplement in that you need to be educated when looking to make a purchase. There are many types of bacteria, brands, and several problems that you need to consider when making a purchase.
Your gastrointestinal tract is a rough place. It has to be to protect against nasty pathogens and bacteria. Unfortunately, you can't tell your body, "Okay, I'm going to eat some healthy bacteria now so don't kill them." It doesn't work that way.
The first problem you run into with supplemental probiotics is survival through the treacherous and acidic environment of the stomach. You can get around this problem in two different ways. First, certain strains of bacteria weather the storm of the stomach better than others. The most resilient strains are:
? L. acidophilus strains 2401, 2409, and 2415
? B. longum strain 1941
? Bifidobacterium pseudolongum strain 20099
While that's well and good, many companies don't list the strain numbers on the side of the bottle.
Option two may be the better bet: buy enterically coated probiotics. "Enterically coated" means that the capsule you swallow won't open up and spill its contents until it leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine (where the pH is more friendly).
You'd think that once the bacteria enter the small intestine everything is good, right? Wrong. The next obstacle is bile.
Bile is a substance released by the gallbladder containing digestive enzymes, food emulsifiers, and other goodies that make digestion possible. Fortunately, numerous studies have shown (in vivo and in vitro) that probiotics can survive in the small intestine when exposed to bile. Like with the stomach, certain strains survive better than others. Instead of getting into the gritty details of bacterial strains, just make sure to purchase a product that contains a blend of bacteria.
Also, researchers agree that for probiotics to be truly effective they need to stick to the walls of your intestines. Unfortunately, studies have shown that supplemental bacteria don't stick very well. So to get the effect you need to take them continuously. Luckily, many people can get away with only taking probiotics when symptoms arise, so this isn't a huge problem. Because the bacteria from probiotics don't stick to your gut very well if you have chronic symptoms, taking probiotics every one to two days may be your best option.
In short, probiotics work. As I discussed above, there are several obstacles that this friendly bacteria needs to overcome, but a savvy supplement consumer can do this with no problem. Here's a quick summary:
1. You may want to consider taking probiotics if you're chronically bloated with gas and/or suffer from diarrhea. Most people could benefit from the immune system boost that probiotics provide, especially during cold and flu season and/or periods of very intense training or dieting.
2. To ensure maximum survival, purchase an enterically coated version that has a variety of bacteria strains.
3. Take your probiotics on an empty stomach or with dairy products. Taking them on an empty stomach will reduce the level of bile in the small intestine. Dairy products are believed to help maintain the effectiveness of the bacteria as they travel the digestive tract.
4. Discontinue use of the probiotics after your symptoms go away. I've found that they can be very successful in controlling GI flare-ups and most people can have success with periodic use.
Which one should you buy? I like Primadophilus Optima by Nature's Way. It's enterically coated and contains 14 different strains of bacteria.