Probiotics: Safe & Handy

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

A key characteristic of healthy bacteria is their ability to antagonise unhealthy, or pathogenic, bacteria. Pathogenic organisms are dangerous because they either cause infection or release harmful substances as a by-product of their natural digestive processes.

Probiotics work in a variety of ways to keep unhealthy bacteria in check. Some crowd out problem bacteria by competing with them for the same nutrients; others produce substances like peroxides, or lactic acid, which can kill pathogenic bacteria by virtue of their respective detergent-like and acidic properties.

Probiotics can sometimes absorb excess minerals which pathogens use for growth. Some probiotics form a defensive barrier around the walls of the intestines to protect against damage and can even release their own natural antibiotics, such as acidophilin.

Probiotics may sometimes be safer and more effective than antibiotics, since man-made antibiotics are so lethal that they kill not only bad bacteria such as E coli, Salmonella, Klebsiella, and Staphylococcus, but also the good strains.

When healthy strains are killed, any harmful bacteria that have survived the antibiotic onslaught adapt to resist the medication and reproduce — the next time this antibiotic is used, it is rendered useless against the strengthened, ‘smarter’ pathogens. Increasingly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have caused recent epidemics of tuberculosis and meningitis, reminiscent of ancient scares. Unlike antibiotics, natural probiotics have smaller, more selective targets, and they promote healing.

How Probiotics Can Help

Probiotics produce enzymes that help us digest our food. They are even responsible for manufacturing essential B vitamins in the process of metabolising nutrients. By cleaning up the gastrointestinal tract, probiotics reduce embarrassing symptoms like bad breath, gas, and diarrhoea, stemming from digestive problems. They also treat more serious conditions like vaginal and yeast infection, and even some food allergies.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is often a symptom of gastrointestinal distress caused by bacteria. Probiotics normalise bowel function by neutralising infectious microorganisms. A study of Pakistani children with acute diarrhoea reported that only 31 per cent of those treated with the probiotic strain called L acidophilus continued to experience diarrhoea, as opposed to 75 per cent of the non-treated group.

Urinary Tract Infection

Although antibiotics are usually prescribed for urinary tract infections, studies indicate that probiotics might be an effective treatment. In a study of 41 women with urinary tract infections, just 21 per cent of subjects taking probiotic supplements had recurrence of the illness, while up to 41 per cent of subjects on antibiotics experienced further infection.

Yeast Infection

Yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics, and one study showed that consuming it daily could prevent recurrent yeast infections, a nagging health concern for many women. Subjects in a study who ate yogurt every day for six months displayed a three-fold decrease in vaginal yeast infection.

Dermatitis

Whether you have allergic skin rashes, otherwise known as eczema, or dermatitis, or psoriasis or acne, chances are that probiotics can be part of your programme. When intestinal bacteria are unhealthy, the lining of the intestines can become inflamed and permeable. Toxins can be released into the bloodstream, and result in skin eruptions. A study of L rhamnosus, a good bacteria strain, showed that the probiotic significantly improved atopic dermatitis.

Food Allergies

A study proved L rhamnosus effective in treating food allergies. Researchers from Finland noted that infants with cow milk allergy demonstrated significant improvement of symptoms when taking this probiotic.

Lactose Intolerance

The gas, bloating, and bowel problems some people experience when they consume milk and cheese, more technically known as lactose intolerance, is often caused by the deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which helps digest dairy products. Because probiotics actually produce significant quantities of lactase, they are extremely beneficial to those who want to eat dairy products without experiencing painful symptoms.

Immune System

The L casei strain of healthy bacteria was found in one study to stimulate production of secretory IgA, a chemical weapon used by our immune system against invading pathogens. Another study showed that 68 adults who consumed live cultured yogurt for four months displayed a four-fold increase in gamma interferon — a sign that probiotics in the yogurt had boosted immune function.

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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