Gastrointestinal complaints are a common cause of lost work days and visits to the doctor. Like millions of others, you may not realize that bloating, acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea are not a normal part of your digestive process. Poor digestion symptoms like these indicate an imbalance in your intestinal microflora that may lead to more serious disease. And it's why you need to understand the benefits of probiotics.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms of poor digestion?
- Rectal Itching
- Weak, Cracked Fingernails
- Iron Deficiency
- Food allergies
- Gallbladder disease
- B12 deficiency
Probiotics – The Bugs You Don’t Want to Kill
At first, the thought of bugs in your intestines may make you feel a bit weird, but they are absolutely essential for good digestive health and immune function. These friendly bacteria, referred to as “probiotics” are becoming more and more mainstream among clinicians for both preventative and therapeutic reasons.
The literal translation of the word probiotic is “for life”. Probiotics work to offset bad intestinal bacteria that produce putrefactive and carcinogenic toxins. If harmful bacteria dominate the intestines, digestion suffers, candida yeast grows out of control, and essential vitamins and enzymes are not produced.
Without these critical nutrients, your immune system becomes weakened, leading to an increased risk of serious diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer.
Where Did All Your Good Bacteria Go?
In an ideal world, you would have billions of health-promoting beneficial bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, our modern world is anything but ideal for our health and well-being. Everywhere you look, there is a synthetic toxin destroying your beneficial gut bacteria, leaving you vulnerable to myriad chronic diseases.
So, where did all your good bacteria go? In the past three decades, soil, water, air, and food quality have all gone downhill. The beneficial bacteria we used to get from our food isn’t available anymore and our diet and lifestyle choices further deplete what little friendly bacteria we do have.
Let’s look at the top 10 causes of good bacteria deficiency:
1. Processed-Food Diet
A processed-food diet filled with refined flours and synthetic sugars deplete your natural gut bacteria. These foods also feed candida yeast and encourage it to grow while severely depleting your beneficial gut bacteria. Convenience foods like microwavable meals, canned soups, soup mixes, snack chips, candy, and soda not only destroy your natural gut bacteria, they make your body too acidic, which can leave you at increased risk for cancer development.
Coffee and tea can be beneficial to your health in small, regulated doses. However, excessive caffeine use can turn your stomach too acidic and deplete your healthy gut bacteria. Also, if you use caffeine as a method to stave off chronic exhaustion, you may have adrenal burnout and make the problem that much worse. Too much coffee, tea or cola causes hyper-secretions in the stomach, which can lead to chronic gastrointestinal disease.
Many of my patients are surprised when I tell them that the most common cause of their acid reflux is low stomach acid, not high. When stomach acid is low due to poor diet, excessive use of NSAID pain relievers or antibiotics, antacids only make things worse. Your stomach needs to have a high enough acid content in order to digest food. Each time you pop an antacid, it encourages your proton pumps to overproduce acid to counteract the effect of the pill. A combination of digestive enzymes and probiotics rebalance your gut and stop acid reflux at its source.
Clinical studies have shown that smoking greatly alters the health and vitality of your gut by depleting essential intestinal microflora.
5. Prescription Antibiotics
Prescription antibiotics were never meant to be used as liberally as they are used today. They were only designed for critical cases where all other methods had been exhausted. Excessive antibiotic use is one of the top causes of low intestinal flora because they do not differentiate between beneficial and harmful bacteria; they just eradicate everything! This is why so many women who take antibiotics end up with a yeast infection due to an overgrowth of candida.
A commonly-overlooked source of danger to your gut health is the synthetic antibacterial agent, Triclosan. Triclosan was first designed for use in the critical care units of hospitals. Doctors and nurses would scrub up with the chemical to ensure their patients would not contract a serious disease. It is now estimated that hundreds of grooming products, ranging from antibacterial soap to toothpaste contain this chemical. Like prescription antibiotics, Triclosan does not differentiate between bad bacteria and good; it just destroys everything in its path.
Corticosteroids for pain and inflammation destroy your healthy gut bacteria over time. If you are taking this type of drug, it is imperative you add a high-quality probiotic supplement to boost your beneficial bacteria.
Excessive use of X-Rays can also damage your intestinal flora. If you have these procedures often, your depleted gut bacteria must be replaced.
Fluoride is not the healthy, cavity-preventing substance it’s been made out to be. It has been proven to cause severe neurological problems and chronic gastrointestinal complaints due to depleted gut microflora. Even if you make your own toothpaste or use a fluoride-free version, you’re still ingesting this synthetic chemical from your water, tea, coffee, and soft drinks.
Gut bacteria changes as you get older, leaving you more susceptible to serious disease and gastrointestinal problems. The more mature gut will greatly benefit from probiotic supplementation.
How Probiotics Work
Probiotics boost your immune system and protect you from viruses, fungus, bacteria, allergens, and chemicals by surrounding and neutralizing the offending substances. These good bacteria form a barrier along your intestinal lining, preventing viruses from passing into your bloodstream. These beneficial bacteria tell your body to produce organic acids, hydrogen peroxide, and bacteriocins that neutralize bacteria and viruses before they can make you sick.
They are also able to resist translocation, preventing pathogens from passing from the GI tract to extraintestinal sites such as the mesenteric lymph node (MLN), spleen, liver, kidneys, and blood.
Probiotics stimulate your immune system by secreting various proteins both in your gut and throughout your entire body. These helpful organisms also enhance enzymes like lactase, sucrase, maltase, alpha-glucosidase, and alkaline phosphatase to ensure maximum nutrient absorption.
Prebiotics Work in Harmony with Probiotics
While taking a high-quality probiotic supplement will improve your digestion and overall health; it will not work as effectively without prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible or partially-digestible food ingredients that encourage the growth and proliferation of good bacteria.
These foods “team up” with the healthy bacteria in your gut to stimulate peristalsis (intestinal muscle movements), which improve your digestion and elimination naturally.
Foods highest in gut-healing prebiotics include:
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- The Dahlia Plant
The Health Benefits of Probiotics are Virtually Endless!
Think probiotics and prebiotics are just for your digestive health? Think again. The health benefits of beneficial bacteria are virtually endless. Everything from autoimmune disease to depression can be effectively treated with these beneficial bugs!
Treats Autoimmune Disease
Your immune system is designed to protect you against foreign invaders such as pathogens, viruses, bacteria, and environmental chemicals. However, in certain cases, the immune system begins to mistake healthy tissue for a foreign invader and goes on the attack. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, crohn’s disease, celiac disease, lupus, thyroiditis, and scleroderma often begin in the gut where bacteria is abnormal or critically-low.
Autoimmune disease affects nearly 2 million Canadians and the numbers are rising fast. High-quality probiotics have been shown to correct autoimmune disease by treating chronic inflammation, stabilizing an overactive immune system, and decreasing intestinal permeability.
In autoimmune disease, increased intestinal gut permeability is often overlooked. Chronic use of NSAID pain relievers, antibiotics, hormone treatments, and antacids can thin the protective lining of your gut, causing undigested food, bacteria, and other pathogens to leak into your bloodstream. This produces a strong inflammatory response that never turns off. Probiotics and prebiotics heal this damage, treating intestinal permeability, and decreasing inflammatory response.
When most people think of their mental health, they don’t consider their gut but it plays a critical role. Contained in your gut is a “second brain” called the enteric nervous system, which regulates autonomic functions such as digestion, coordination of reflexes, motor functions, immune function, and localized blood flow. Though this “second brain” doesn’t think the way the brain in your head does, it does serve a strong sensory function that can have a negative effect on memory, impulse control, and emotion.
A controlled clinical study recently revealed that even a small amount of probiotics can have a profound effect on overall brain health and function. In one study, a group of women ate a yogurt containing probiotics, another ate a yogurt-like substance with no probiotics, and the control group was given nothing at all.
The women who ate the yogurt containing probiotics showed a marked improvement in their cognition, sensory process, and emotional control. The most unusual part of the study was that any yogurt at all seemed to do the trick; even the ones containing preservatives and sweeteners.
This means that a high-quality probiotic product may offer 10-20 times this benefit.
Regular probiotic supplementation has been shown to improve memory, behavior, and cognition even for those with developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD. Probiotics do this by decreasing chronic inflammation in both the brain and gut, which, in turn, heals the nervous system.
Eliminates Chronic Candida Infection
Chronic candida infection is a problem for millions of women. Over-the-counter and prescription anti-fungals only work in the short-term because they do nothing to address the underlying cause of the condition.
Candida is a naturally-occurring yeast found in the digestive and vaginal tract. In small amounts, this yeast is actually beneficial to your health. However, chronic use of antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs, and hormones as well as a high-sugar, high-refined-carbohydrate diet can cause this yeast to grow out of control and become systemic.
When yeast overgrows, it enters the bloodstream and vital organs, where it can cause chronic inflammation, chronic pain, and mental health symptoms. Regular probiotic supplementation helps counteract this yeast overgrowth, eliminating the need for ineffective anti-fungals and antibiotics that only make the problem worse.
Treats Digestive Disorders
Judging by the wide array of digestive products you’ll find at the pharmacy, Canadians sure do suffer from an incredible amount of stomach problems. Inflammatory bowel disease, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, leaky gut syndrome, gas, bloating, flatulence, and H. pylori infection can all be treated using probiotics.
Regular probiotic supplementation activates your “gut protection system”, which prevents pathogenic bacteria from proliferating.
Many of my patients are surprised when I tell them that the most common reason for acid reflux is not high stomach acid but low stomach acid and low gut bacteria. Adding beneficial bacteria to the diet often clears this condition with no further need for antacids (which only worsen the problem by encouraging proton pumps to work overtime producing more acid).
Probiotics have been shown to reduce the gastric inflammation associated with H. Pylori infection and intestinal ulcers. Studies have shown that probiotics have an in-vitro inhibitory effect on H. Pylori, which can inhibit the pathogen long enough to heal intestinal ulcers and put them into permanent remission.
Those with inflammatory bowel disease and chronic intestinal upset due to food allergies can also benefit from regular probiotic supplementation. The probiotic strains, lactobacillus helveticus and streptococcus thermophilus have been shown to reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
A diet high in processed meats can greatly increase your risk of developing both colon and bladder cancer. When you eat sausage, bacon, and other processed meats containing preservatives called nitrates, putrefactive gut bacteria (bacteroides) turns them into carcinogens called nitrites. Probiotics counteract this effect by inhibiting these bacteria.
In high doses, probiotics are naturally anti-cancer because they boost your immune system and encourage cancer cell apoptosis. They also encourage the uptake of vital nutrients, which further enhances the way your body responds to pre-cancerous tumor development.
Read more about cancer prevention
Improved Skin Health
Skin and gut health are very closely linked, which means any kind of chronic skin condition is a symptom that something has gone wrong with your immune system. Conventional treatments for these skin conditions include topical antibiotics, steroidal anti-inflammatories, and benzoyl peroxide, which work in the short term but worsen skin problems over time.
Antibiotics and steroids further deplete your immune system, causing dependence and leaving you vulnerable to the development of more serious disease.
Allergic skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis all respond well to high doses of probiotics. Probiotics reseed your gut, boosting your immune system and encouraging your body heal itself. Its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits help cut down on embarrassing breakouts and rashes, leaving your skin looking healthier, younger, and more supple.
Reduction in Allergy Symptoms
Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines help reduce symptoms in the short term but they’re just a Band-Aid for a deeper problem. To truly reduce the symptoms of chronic rhinitis, post-nasal drip, and other sinus problems, you’ve got to start with the gut. Probiotics give your immune system the boost it needs to treat allergies at their source while providing relief from chronic sinus congestion and discomfort.
Protects Against the Adverse Effects of Radiation Treatment
Studies have shown that the probiotic strain, lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, may protect against long-term intestinal side effects of cancer radiation treatment. Since radiation treatments do not differentiate between good bacteria and bad bacteria, all of the beneficial bacteria in the gut become severely depleted. This can lead to increased intestinal permeability and bouts of explosive diarrhea. In extreme cases, this intestinal leak can lead to sepsis; an often-fatal whole body inflammatory state. A high-powered probiotic can combat this condition and stabilize the digestive system before symptoms get out of control. .
Stabilizes Blood Cholesterol
Studies have shown that probiotics bind to cholesterol in the lower intestine, preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Regular probiotic supplementation was shown to reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol levels by as much as 12 percent.
Research has shown that probiotic organisms enhance fertility through the management of pathogenic bacterial infections. Many women who are unable to conceive often have infections they are unaware of, which inhibits their ability to have a child. Probiotics not only improve chances of conception, they minimize complications during pregnancy by decreasing systemic inflammation and risk of premature birth.
Probiotics also support the future health of your child by providing a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria during birth. Certain strains of bacteria, namely lactobacilli, have been documented to reduce the incidence of postpartum complications.
The health benefits of probiotics also extend to your bones. Without a good amount of beneficial gut bacteria, your digestive system cannot properly assimilate nutrients from food. If you’re not absorbing vitamin D3, calcium, and magnesium due to low gut bacteria or chronic intestinal inflammation, your bones could be at risk. Probiotics reduce this risk by healing your gut and decreasing damaging inflammation.
Counteracts the Side Effects of Antibiotics
Common side effects of antibiotics include vaginal yeast infections, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Probiotics help counteract this effect by protecting your gut from candida overgrowth. These beneficial bacteria can also help eliminate your need for further antibiotic use by giving your immune system a much-needed boost.
Aids in Weight Loss
Yes, probiotics can even be used to aid in your weight-loss efforts. The better you are able to absorb nutrients from food, the more full and satisfied you’ll feel after meals. Probiotics also treat chronic constipation, which can help cut down on belly bloat.
Prevents Periodontal Disease
Poor gum health is a strong indicator that something is going wrong in your gut. Adding a probiotic supplement to your diet can help prevent the pain, discomfort, and halitosis associated with periodontal disease.
Protects Against “SuperGerms”
More and more diseases are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This is largely due to an excessive use of antibiotics from both prescription and food sources. Conventionally-raised meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products are loaded with antibiotics, which make your immune system more naturally-resistant to them when you need them to treat a serious infection. In high doses, probiotics help prevent the spread of pathogenic bacteria while strengthening your immune system. This gives you a chance to build up a natural resistance to these ever-evolving superbugs.
Common Probiotic Myths
“Yogurt is Enough”
Most commercial yogurts are very high in added sugar (13-17 grams) and other harmful additives. Also, a typical serving doesn’t provide even the minimum amount of 10 billion active bacteria required for probiotic effectiveness. Also, there is nothing that protects the friendly bacteria from being digested by the hydrochloric acid in your stomach before it reaches your intestines, where it does its best work.
“HSOs are Best”
There is a cult belief that homeostatic soil organisms (HSOs) are safe and effective probiotics. These are usually much higher-priced than your usual brand-name products. HSOs originated in Japan and go by the names bacillus subtilis and bacillus licheniformis. Studies do indicate that they work for many people but the major problem with HSOs is that they can enter the bloodstreams of people who suffer from leaky gut syndrome or depressed immunity and cause a bloodstream infection called septicemia. This does not happen with lactobacilli or bifido bacteria unless the dose given is astronomically high.
“Avoid Probiotics When Taking an Antibiotic!”
Another myth is that one should not take probiotics when using prescription antibiotics. This is completely false because most antibiotics destroy both friendly and pathogenic bacteria, thereby producing an immune-compromised state. If you take the antibiotics and probiotics at different times, both the antibiotic and the probiotic do their jobs, with the probiotic making up for the damage caused by the antibiotic.
What Makes a Probiotic Supplement Superior?
With so many probiotic supplements on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is best for your individual needs.
Here are some things to look for:
Culture count is very important in choosing a probiotic supplement. I recommend 2-12 billions colony forming units for digestive and immune system maintenance.
Number of Strains
In order for a probiotic to be effective, it must contain a varied number of strains as each strain is responsible for a different function.
An investment in a high-quality probiotic supplement is an investment in your health. However, you could take a 50 billion colony forming unit probiotic supplement with all the right strains and still not receive the health benefits if you don’t have the right delivery system. That’s why I recommend my patients take probiotics in enteric capsules that will survive passage through your stomach acid.
Additives and Preservatives
Many store-bought probiotic supplements contain unnecessary and sometimes dangerous additives and preservatives that do nothing to improve the quality of the supplement.
Probiotics are generally considered to be very safe and well-tolerated in the usual dosages prescribed. However, highly-sensitive individuals have reported the occasional occurrence of indigestion (nausea, heartburn), which disappeared when the supplement was discontinued or the brand of probiotic was changed. Very rare cases of liver abscesses due to L. acidophilus have been reported in cases of chronic pancreatitis undergoing surgery.
More is Not Necessarily Better
When you’re struggling with digestive disorders or other chronic conditions, once you find the right supplement, it can be tempting to overuse it. More is not necessarily better in this case. Too high a dose of probiotics could actually be harmful to your health.
The safest and most effective dosage for most is 1-15 billion viable L. acidophilius, L. casei, or bifido bacteria organisms daily. Combinations of 10 or more species per capsule work best according to most studies.
Dosages in excess of 20 billion viable organisms can produce gut disturbances and are not recommended. Smaller amounts of viable organisms are usually sufficient for therapeutic effect. For example, studies indicate that a daily supplement of 1.5 billion colony forming units of L. sporogenese are adequate for all purposes.
The odd thing about this is that many supplement companies manufacture 40, 50 or even 70 billion live bacteria per capsule. Not only is this overkill and completely unsupported by medical literature, it could also be dangerous for many people with sensitive digestive systems.
Add L-Glutamine to Your Probiotic for Leaky Gut Relief
The lining of your intestines is only one cell-layer thick. Overuse of antibiotics, NSAID pain relievers, synthetic hormones, and poor diet can deplete this vital lining, allowing undigested food particles, bacteria, and viruses to enter into your bloodstream. This encourages chronic inflammation and allergies as well as mental and behavioral disturbances.
In addition to probiotics and prebiotics, I also recommend another supplement; L-Glutamine. L-Glutamine is a free amino acid found within skeletal muscle and blood. L-Glutamine improves gut integrity and water absorption in the gut, thus hydrating the entire body.
It is important to note that those with bipolar disorder may experience mania on an L-Glutamine supplement so it is contraindicated in this case.
Tri-Star Probiotic Supremacy – The Perfectly-Balanced Probiotic
Tri-Star Probiotic Supremacy is a perfectly-balanced probiotic you can trust. It contains varied probiotic strains to protect your health, boost your immune system, and treat your digestive problems encased in protective enteric capsules.
Since the intestinal micro-ecosystem typically carries up to 400 strains of bacteria, it makes sense to use a product that provides a broad spectrum of viable organisms. Some suppliers claim that the probiotic strains can only work if given one at a time. There is no evidence that this is true. Single strain probiotics are sufficient for individuals with healthy digestion and a relatively strong immune system who just want a little extra boost. Most individuals, however, could benefit from multiple strains. After all, certain single strains do not have the near-magical properties that some advertising hype would lead you to believe. The best advice here is to consult the knowledge and experience of health care practitioners familiar with probiotics.
Dr. Zoltan P. Rona practices Complementary Medicine in Toronto and is the medical editor of “The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing.” He has also published several Canadian best-selling books, including “Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin.” For more of his articles, see www.mydoctor.ca/drzoltanrona and tristarnaturals.com.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, One of the Most Important Supplements You Can Take; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/24/one-of-the-most-important-steps-you-can-take-to-improve-your-health.aspx
Catanzaro, John A. and Green, Lisa. Microbial Ecology and Probiotics in Human Medicine. Alt Med Rev 1997;2(4):296-305).
Chaitow, Leon and Trenev, Natasha. Probiotics. Prescott, AZ:Hohm Press, 1995.
Elmer GW, Surawicz CM, McFarland LV. Biotherapeutic agents: a neglected modality for the treatment and prevention of selected intestinal and vaginal infections. JAMA. 1996;275:870-876.
Gilliland SE, Nelson CR, Maxwell C, Assimilation of cholesterol by Lactobacillus acidophilus. Appld and Envir Microbiol 1985; 49:377-81.
Gilliland SE, Speck MK, Antagonistic action of Lactobacillus acidophilus toward intestinal and food borne pathogens in associative cultures. J. Food Prod 1977; 40:830-33.
Gorbach SL, Chang TW, Goldin B. Successful treatment of relapsing Clostridium difficile colitis with lactobacillus GG. Lancet 1987; ii: 1519.
Gotz VP, Romankiewics JA, Moss J, Murray HW, Prophylaxis against ampicillin-induced diarrhea with a lactobacillus preparation. Amer J Hosp Pharm 1979; 36:754-57.
Hilton , Isenberg HD, Alperstein P, France K, Borenstein MT, Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as prophylaxis for candidal vaginitis. Ann Intern Med 1992; 116:353-57.
Kaufmann, Klaus. Kefir Rediscovered. Burnaby: Alive Books. 1997.
Lidbeck A, Nord CE, Gustafsson JA, Rafter J, Lactobacilli, anticarcinogenic activities and human intestinal microflora. Eur J Cancer Prev 1992; 1:341-53.
Lidbeck A, Allinger UG, Orrhage KM, Ottova L, Brismar B, Gustafsson JA, Rafter JJ, Nord CE, Impact of Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements on the fecal microflora and soluble fecal bile acids in colon cancer patients. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 1991; 4:81-8.
Neu HC. The crisis in antibiotic resistance. Science. 1992;257:1064-1073.
Reid G, Bruce AW, Taylor M. Instillation of Lactobacillus and stimulation of indigenous organisms to prevent recurrence of urinary tract infections. Microecol Ther. 1995;23:32-45.
Salminen E., Eloma I, Minkkinen J, Vapaatolo H, Salminen S, Preservation of intestinal integrity during radiotherapy using live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures. Clin Radiol 1988; 39:435-37.
Spiegel JE, Rose R, Karabell P, Frankos VH, Schmitt DF, Safety and Benefits of Fructooligosaccharides as food ingredients. Food Tech 1994: 85-89.
Wilson K, Moore L, Patel M, Permoad P. Suppression of potential pathogens by a defined colonic microflora. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 1988; 1: 237-43.
Rachel Mendleson. Probiot