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Probiotics - Friendly Bacteria for Intestinal Health

In this life we eat to survive, sustain our energy, grow and reproduce. Our food is partially digested in the alimentary canal, mouth, stomach and finally in the intestine, where the partially digested food is ultimately metabolized by millions and millions of micro-organisms working simultaneously and synergistically. It has been said that there are more bacteria in and on one person at one time than there are people on this earth.

Improving our digestion is the foundation to good health. Energy levels improve, our immune system is strengthened, our complexion becomes clearer, and our skin feels softer.

A lack of essential nutrients, the wrong diet and a sedentary lifestyle often results in poor digestion, a lack of absorption, abnormal gut reactions including bloating and inflammation, but infections and poor waste disposal. This then has a knock on effect throughout all our body systems.

Friendly Probiotic Bacteria

We are not always aware of the role the friendly bacteria play. Their major role is in balancing and counteracting the unfriendly bacteria. When friendly bacteria are not at appropriate levels, and when unfriendly bacteria dominate, health problems can result. These include gas, bloating, intestinal toxicity, constipation, and malabsorption of nutrients. Friendly bacteria do much more than counter the unfriendly bacteria. They also provide us with other, powerful benefits.

Friendly bacteria have many functions in the gut as they:

  • manufacture vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, K and biotin
  • manufacture essential fatty acids
  • aid in the digestive process by helping digest lactose (milk sugar) and protein
  • clean the intestinal tract, purify the colon, and promote regular bowel movements
  • produce antibiotics and antifungals that prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi.
  • present antitumoral characteristics.

Normal microbial flora provide a passive mechanism to

  • prevent infection and inflammation
  • prevent allergies
  • contribute to the destruction of molds, viruses, and parasites; increase the number of immune system cells
  • create lactic acid, which balances intestinal pH
  • protect us from environmental toxins such as pesticides and pollutants, reduce toxic waste at the cellular level, and stimulate the repair mechanism of cells
  • help maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • break down and rebuild hormones.

What exactly are Lactobacilli?

Lactobacilli are one of the most important types of friendly bacteria found in the digestive tract. These bacteria get their name (lacto) because they are able to turn milk sugar into lactic acid. They play a key role in producing fermented milk, yogurt, and cheeses.

Ilja Iljitsh Mechnikov (1845-1916)In early 1900 the Russian born professor Ilja Iljitsh Mechnikov (1845-1916) noted that people in Bulgaria lived longer than those in other countries, despite the fact that Bulgaria was considered "underdeveloped." His investigation of this led him to diet, yogurt, and lactobacilli. His work was the first to prove that lactobacilli could transform milk sugar into lactic acid. Metchnikov also hypothesized that this acidity would provide a hostile environment to unfriendly bacteria. This was later proved correct. He received the Nobel Prize in 1908.

Lactobacilli are able to "balance" unfriendly bacteria because when they produce lactic acid, they alter the intestinal environment, making it unsuitable for unfriendly bacteria. In other words, lactobacilli don't destroy the unfriendly bacteria; they destroy their home, forcing them to leave. Lactobacilli have other benefits:

  • They may help normalize cholesterol levels
  • Certain strains may antagonize Candida albicans.
  • There is indirect evidence that lactobacilli may help relieve anxiety and depression. This is because the amino acid tryptophan serves as an antidepressant, and lactobacilli release this amino acid.
  • A number of recent clinical trials, published in many esteemed scientific journals, including the British Medical Journal, have shown that supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus prevents atopic (allergic) eczema and acute respiratory infections in children.

Oligofructose or Fructooligosacharides, FOS

Friendly bacteria are living creatures which need nourishment to live and to multiply. When they receive nourishment, via the foods we eat or supplements, they are able to maintain a stable population and continue to protect our health. A favorite food of friendly bacteria is oligofructose (fructooligosaccharides or FOS).

FOS are sugar molecules linked together in such a way that they cannot be digested. Instead, FOS pass through the stomach to the small intestine and colon where they are consumed by our friendly bacteria. Feeding friendly bacteria is not all that FOS do for us. FOS can also reduce the growth of unfriendly bacteria, maintain regular bowel movements, maintain cholesterol and triglyceride levels, maintain healthy blood sugar levels. FOS should not be seen as a replacement for friendly bacteria. They are meant to amplify the benefits of friendly bacteria, not replace them. In Japan, FOS are routinely added to some 500 food products for health reasons.

A number of studies show that dietary treatment with oligofructose inhibited malignant tumor growth in experimental animals. One of the anticarcinogenic mechanisms exerted by FOS is stimulation of the apoptosis, i.e., programmed death ("suicide") on the cancer cells. Furthermore, FOS supplementation seems have a positive influence on tumor chemotherapy. According to some scientists, such dietary supplementation potentiating current cancer therapy could be introduced into classical protocols of human cancer treatment as a new, nontoxic, and easily applicable adjuvant cancer therapy without any supplementary risk for patients (Taper et al. 1999; 2000).

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