So, what are probiotics all about?

Probiotics are the good germs. The body is an ecosystem with millions of bacteria aiding digestion, manufacturing food for the body, killing unfriendly bacteria and maintaining balance with fungi. When our ecosystem is out of balance, the immune system may not function properly, yeast infections occur and you may have problems with your digestive system. Probiotics, a dose of good germs, is a recently recognized treatment for some of our problems.

Ellie Metchnikoff, a Russian Nobel Prize winner, hypothesized that the good health of Bulgarian peasants was from the bacteria that fermented the yogurt they ate.

Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are the most often used probiotics but other yeasts and bacteria such as Streptococcus thermophilus also fall under the probiotic label.

Prebiotics are foods that support the growth of probiotics. Sauerkraut, yogurt, wine and cheese use the activities of these friendly bacteria in their creation. These foods supply not just probiotics but the food source for the good bacteria.

One present use of probiotics is combating digestive problems and yeast infections caused by antibiotics. Probiotics also have potential for treatment of tooth decay, periodontal disease, ulcers, IBS, respiratory and skin infections.

Useful Information

The term probiotics refers to the various bacteria that live inside our intestinal tract. These bacteria are actually useful to our bodies, providing a variety of functions. These bacteria are beneficial to our immune system, and research is bringing to light how powerful these helpful bacteria can be. These good bacteria can help prevent infections by outnumbering and crowding out the bad guys (unwanted bacteria or other infectious diseases). Probiotics also help to bolster the immune system throughout the body.

Traditional use of probiotics has been to help problems with the GI tract. Irritable bowel, bloating and diarrhea are common symptoms where probiotics may be used. Probiotics are commonly used to help children and adults when infectious agents, like viruses, cause diarrhea. The probiotics themselves do not necessarily kill the bugs, but help the body through the infection. The probiotics do seem to help prevent reinfection and may even help the body produce antibodies against the infectious bug. Probiotics have also improved treatment rates against the bacteria suspected of causing stomach ulcers. It is no surprise that given the billion plus numbers of good bacteria in our intestinal tract, these important bacteria play a critical role in keeping this environment healthy.

The benefits of probiotics expand beyond the intestinal tract. In fact, there is quite a bit of research to say that probiotics may actually help prevent respiratory infections such as the cold and flu. The increasing media coverage of the swine flew has concerned many parents, teachers, school administrators and entire communities on what to do. Fortunately, probiotics show evidence to help prevent respiratory infections. Probiotics have benefited the elderly in the prevention of infections while in the hospital. Probiotics have helped reduce potentially infectious bugs like staph and strep from colonizing in the nose. Taking a combination of a multivitamin and probiotics can help reduce the incidence and severity of colds and flu’s for three months. The Epstein-Barr virus has been implicated in chronic fatigue. Probiotics have been used to help treat the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus by increasing the body’s production of interferon, which helps decrease the viral load.

Other Benefits

In addition, probiotics help prevent vaginal infections as well as bladder infections. Probiotics are recommended to be taken during the use of antibiotics to prevent the loss of the good bacteria in the intestines, and then for even a few weeks after to make sure that the bacterial flora is maintained after antibiotic treatment. Since antibiotics kill bacteria, some of the good bacteria may be lost as well. Antibiotics do not kill fungi (or yeast), so the loss of the good bacteria needed to police some of the bad bugs gives the yeast in the gut a major opportunity to grow beyond its welcome. This can lead to bloating, vaginal infections, thrush and even greater problems. Treatment with probiotics can help prevent these problems from ever starting. Probiotics can be dosed once a day for prevention, or two to three times daily to help treat current infections. Probiotics should be used alongside medical or herbal antibiotic treatments, but not in place of them. Some probiotics come refrigerated, whereas others are not. Refrigeration is not always needed, though for some brands it does ensure high amounts of probiotics in the container. Dosing for probiotics is typically done in CFU’s, colony forming units, with recommended dosing starting 1-5 billion CFU for maintenance and 20 or more CFU taken 2-3 times a day when the body is fighting an infection. Side effects are extremely rare with probiotics, but a few cases of infection have occurred in patients with indwelling catheters.

Seasonal Safety

Probiotics represent a very helpful, safe and effective tool in the prevention of many types of infections. Great for intestinal problems, probiotics may be a very helpful option to prevent or lessen the colds and flu seen in winter.

Article By Ellin Wood (Expert On Probiotics)