We’ve all heard of antibiotics. The doctor prescribes an antibiotic to help us fight off a bacterial infection. The antibiotic either kills the bacteria or stops it from reproducing so the body’s natural defenses can take over.
Bacteria, of course, are those microscopic, living critters – or microorganisms – that exist virtually everywhere.
Not all bacteria are bad. In fact, trillions of bacteria from more than 400 species exist in the average adult’s intestinal tract. These bacteria perform countless functions that are very beneficial to the human body.
The problem is that we as a society have destroyed our guts with bad food and high stress levels, and we consume far more bad bacteria than good bacteria.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy and promote good digestion. Babies pick up probiotics and other bacteria as they pass through the birth canal during delivery, and the probiotics multiply from there.
Antibiotics can cause an imbalance in bacteria levels in the intestinal tract, which can be harmful. Probiotics help to balance the good and bad bacteria to strengthen the immune system and keep the body functioning like it should.
It’s important to realize that we don’t want to kill off all bacteria in our bodies. We need a balance of good and bad. But an imbalance of more bad than good has been linked to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, muscle pain and fatigue.
Probiotics are also found in many foods, including yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-like beverage), unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, Gouda cheese and sour pickles.
Taken in therapeutic doses, probiotics have been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), constipation and diarrhea. Some research has shown that probiotics can help with eczema and other skin conditions, urinary and vaginal health, allergies, colds and asthma.
Giving probiotics to kids has been shown to reduce respiratory tract infections, colic and irritability, antibiotic use, duration of diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and even dental cavities. Probiotics can be added to expressed breast milk, baby formula or cereal. There are also probiotics supplements on the market for older children.
Generally speaking, over-the-counter probiotics supplements are very safe with virtually no side effects. However, keep in mind that the FDA regulates probiotic supplements like foods, not medications. Food makers don’t have to prove that their products are safe or effective. Do your homework, choose a reputable brand, and have the supplement checked by a doctor who regularly prescribes nutritional supplements.
Most research into probiotics and their health benefits has occurred within the last 20 years. Although more clinical studies are needed, the data produced thus far is encouraging. There’s a good chance that we’ll soon find that the good bacteria in our bodies are even better than we thought.