Go For Probiotics

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

The case of fifty-eight-year-old Peter Francis has to be one of the strangest I’ve seen in my years of practice. Although Peter had suffered from arthritis for a number of years, which is odd at his age, we could find no reason why such joint pain should strike so early in his life. At the young age of thirty, Peter began experiencing stiffness in his hands. As time passed, arthritis had spread from his fingers into his arms and legs, until it got so painful that he could hardly work anymore. Known especially for his quick and intricate carving and attention to detail, Peter’s claim to fame dwindled as the arthritis took over, leading to fewer customers and less income. The worst part of this scenario, however, was the depression he felt at losing his woodworking talent.

I was determined to uncover the secret of Peter’s premature arthritis. I tested all the usual suspects: allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and as many medical conditions as I could. Peter was negative for every single culprit. I had read a study in The Lancet, the well-respected medical journal, proposing an intriguing hypothesis about enterometabolic disorders — that is, disorders of the intestines.

The hypothesis, posited by Dr J O Hunter, Department of Gastroenterology, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK, stated that the intestines affect human health so profoundly that their increased permeability, or overgrowth, of harmful bacteria can lead to serious conditions in other distal parts of the body. As I read that seemingly simple idea, Peter Francis appeared in my mind’s eye. Perhaps, a proliferation of bacteria was causing his arthritis.

Stool Test

The next day, I called him in for a stool test. My hunch proved correct: his gut was so flooded with pathogens and so devoid of healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus that it seemed a quite possible cause of arthritis, according to Dr Hunter’s hypothesis. I told Peter the good news, but warned him that recovery from a condition as far gone as his might take a good amount of time and commitment.

“I’m willing to try practically anything at this point, Doc,” he told me. “I can’t face going through the rest of my life getting worse and worse, or the possibility that one day I won’t even have the strength to lift a hammer to nail. Tell me what to do.”

First, I wanted to purify Peter’s intestinal tract as well as I could after years of abuse from bacterial toxins. I asked him to refrain from eating milk, wheat, nightshades, junk-foods, and greasy snacks. Peter also had a terrific sweet tooth and was constantly munching on the delicious baked goods his wife concocted. These, too, had to go. In their place came fibre, flaxseed, and supplements of glutamine, aloe, and zinc, all designed by Mother Nature to soothe the damaged intestinal lining and guard it from future attack. For two weeks, Peter dutifully stuck to his strict diet and varied regimen of pills and tonics, but he did not substantially improve.

Perhaps, I thought, administering probiotics might prove powerful enough to solve not only his intestinal problems, but also the accompanying arthritis. Peter, ever the good sport, agreed to start taking a complete bacterial replacement programme composed of all the major different types: L acidophilus, L rhamnosus, B bifidum. It may sound too good to be true, but within two months, Peter arrived in my office with a beautifully built solid oak chair. As he placed it in front of my desk, I sat speechless.

“It’s for you,” he cheerfully explained. “Hard to believe, but my joint pains are going away… My hands have more movement now than they did when I was forty.” Peter’s arthritis never completely vanished, but it was much alleviated. Could replenishing his gut with healthy bacteria really improve a condition that took its toll nowhere near the intestines? Did probiotics alone do the trick? I honestly think so.

Healthy Gut. Happy Gut 

Like any city, or neighbourhood, our intestines are inhabited by a diverse variety of organisms, some dangerously insidious, others virtuously good. Nature provides us with a balance of bacteria both healthy and harmful, allowing them to co-exist peacefully as long as the helpful type remain in the majority.

Although people have long thought of yogurt as a life-sustaining food and feared strains like Salmonella and E coli, few realise the importance of specific bacteria in our gut for our health and well-being. The truth is, the symbiotic relationship between these tiny species and our bodies knows no parallel and ultimately produces a wide range of major health benefits.

I recommend probiotics to everyone, even healthy individuals who have no digestive problems. They can be taken in the form of yogurt [or, for those allergic to cow’s milk, soy, or goat’s milk yogurt]. The question of when to take your probiotics is a matter of debate. These supplements work best when the stomach isn’t excessively acidic [when you haven’t eaten for a long time], or alkaline [when it’s filled with neutralising food]. Most people tend to take them before meals. Studies using yogurt cultures show that probiotics that work well may not stick to the intestines for long periods, so daily use is most beneficial.

In general, keep your ‘bacteria’ in a cool environment, refrigerating them especially in the summer. Statistics on bacterial survival during storage indicate that within six months of purchase, over half the microbes will be destroyed if kept at 70°F. Even if you don’t take daily probiotic supplements, there are other measures you can take to avoid unhealthy bacteria. Washing your hands frequently with soap is a simple but extremely effective method. Trying to drink tap water that is filtered and eating produce that has been well washed, or cooked, would be another route of precaution. Some foods, while not bacteria laden, have natural antibiotic effects and will steer pathogens clear of your intestines; these include garlic, oregano, and turmeric.

Supplements taken a few times a week can also be beneficial. The most potent probiotic supplements

usually come in powder form and are kept refrigerated. During illness, a full teaspoon can be taken in water on an empty stomach in the morning. As a maintenance dose, an eighth of a teaspoon in a glass of water, or three capsules containing 1 billion bacteria per capsule, should be sufficient. Probiotics that are put on the shelves of health food stores can lose some of their potency over a period of months.

Probiotics are especially useful when travelling, to prevent diarrhoea; they are also a necessity whenever you take antibiotics.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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