Maintaining a healthy intestinal tract is a matter of balance. While some bacteria are dangerous, even deadly, other bacteria are helpful for a healthy gut. Harvard Medical School notes that every person has about one hundred trillion tiny organisms of around five hundred different types making up the natural flora of a healthy intestinal system. These bacteria help with digestion, absorption of vitamins and nutrients, and regulate the immune system. An already healthy person would benefit from the health effects of probiotics, but they have been shown to be of particular benefit to people with gastrointestinal problems.
When good bacteria are not present in sufficient numbers, gastrointestinal problems may occur such as diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease. The most common helpful probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus (found in yogurt) and Bifidobacterium. By taking probiotics, the large dose of good bacteria overwhelms the bad bacteria, knocking down the levels of pathogens and viruses which might otherwise make a person ill.
The Effect of Antibiotics
While it is clear antibiotics are useful in preventing and curing bacterial infections, it is also clear overuse is a problem – especially with use in livestock. Carrington reports that the amount of antibiotic resistant strains of deadly bacteria is on the rise, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). About 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic resistant strains. Taking antibiotics also kills the healthy bacteria in the gut. After completing the regime of antibiotic treatment, probiotics should be taken for a minimum of four weeks weeks to restore the natural flora of the intestinal tract.
A study recently conducted at the University of Chicago, found allergic responses decreased by having the bacteria called Clostridia in the gut. This study noted there has been a dramatic increase in children suffering from food allergies – up about fifty percent in the past decade. The study also reports a correlation between antibiotic usage and the increase in food allergies. Having helpful bacteria in the gut, like Clostridia, triggers an immune response, which blocks the food allergens from getting into the system.
Immune System Response
Dr. Guandalini of the University of Chicago Medical Center noted that where societies have better hygiene, there is an increase in both autoimmune diseases and allergies. This is due to the immune system not being challenged by the good bacteria in healthy ways. Probiotics create a proper immune system response, which strengthens the body.
Safety of Probiotics
Because live bacteria of the good kind are found in foods such as yogurt and cheese, they are considered very safe. However, probiotics may not be safe for those with weak immune systems or those with severe pancreatitis.
Bacteria that may be most beneficial to a healthy gut are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, bulgaricus, and casei
- Streptococcus thermophiles
Written by Monica Gomez. Monica is a freelance health writer. She is passionate about helping people live healthier and happier lives.