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NATURAL MEDICINE WITH DR. MONIQUE: Virtues of good bacteria
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Western medicine discovered probiotic function in North Africa during World War II. Doctors noticed that the Arabs seemed immune to the dysentery that was ravaging their troops. They found that at the first sign of diarrhea, the locals would follow a horse or a camel. When it would drop its dung they would gulp it down.
They investigated the dung and found the Bacillus subtilis, the bacteria that eliminated the dysentery. You’ll be happy to know that today’s forms in no way resemble the original.
As a naturopathic physician, I often see patients with questions and issues regarding digestion. One topic many of these people want to discuss is probiotics.
Probiotics are the microorganisms (often bacteria and yeast) that are beneficial to your health when consumed. The original source of these good bacteria has always been food. Today we can find these beneficial bacteria in unpasteurized yogurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha or in pill, powder or liquid form.
When I think of probiotics, the microorganisms that come to mind are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii, although through the Human Microbiome Project we have learned there are 400 different species in the human digestive tract. Recently, more research is being done in this field and companies are developing beneficial flora products specific for mood, digestive health, immune and women’s health.
Probiotics benefit your health in many ways. From the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, “Probiotics appear to be useful in the prevention or treatment of several gastrointestinal disorders, including infectious diarrhea, antibiotic diarrhea, and traveler’s diarrhea.” For the enthusiastic traveling community in Jackson, this can be very helpful in decreasing the possibility of digestive problems on that surf trip to Mexico or Central America, or from that street food you couldn’t resist in Hanoi.
Probiotics can also strengthen your immune system, which is useful in a place that sees as many visitors as Jackson. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that subjects had about 40 percent fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections when they took a probiotic versus a placebo.
The genitourinary tract also is affected by bacterial balance. Urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections in women may benefit from Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Similar studies have found probiotics to be beneficial in obesity, mood/anxiety, heart disease and infant colic.
Probiotics aid our body in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. They produce Vitamin K necessary for blood viscosity (coagulation) and bone health. They produce B vitamins, although in this country we get them from our food. Beneficial flora metabolize and recycle hormones like estrogen, thyroid hormones and phytoestrogens, possibly being beneficial to breast cancer.
Are all probiotics created equal? Absolutely not! Many of the probiotic product ingredients I see on the market are not viable or are not processed in a way that allows them to survive your stomach acid and make it to the small intestines, where they do their job. Make sure you buy your probiotics from a reliable source.
Are probiotics for everyone? Naturopathic physicians strenuously avoid treatment plans that are “for everyone.” Our approach is to identify and treat the underlying cause of disease by restoring normal function. Everyone is different. If you are rigorous in your approach to diet and nutrition, you may not need additional probiotic support. If you’re like most of us, sometimes you need a little help.
We all definitely need healthy biological flora in our digestive tract, which is affected negatively by food containing antibiotics, steroids and chemicals. The modern American diet of heavily processed food makes it more difficult to source these critical microorganisms solely through meals. To determine your individual needs, I recommend reviewing your diet and digestive health with your physician and only taking the recommended dose for the product you are purchasing. Working on the terrain is as important as planting the seed.