Probiotics – they’re in everything these days from yoghurt to a murky beverage known as Kombucha that all the a-listers are drinking. But what are probiotics, and do you really need to take them?
Like most things in life, balance is the key to a healthy body. When your body becomes overrun with too much ‘bad’ bacteria, and not enough ‘good’ bacteria, you can become out of balance, with a compromised immune system and a whole host of health problems.
Probiotics or ‘good’ bacteria help to balance bad bacteria, assist in digestion, help your immune function, and are an integral part of the gut-brain connection.
If you suffer from any of the conditions below, it might be time to choose a probiotic to help re-establish the dominance of good bacteria in your gut.
Sign 1: You Suffer from Poor Digestion
There are some obvious signs you are not digesting food properly: diarrhea or its inverse, constipation, are the most common. But feeling bloated or gassy can also be indications of poor digestion. And then there is the silent surprise – your Bowel Transit Time rating. Turns out, even if you poop every day, you might not have a good digestive system.
A good Bowel Transit Time is 12-24 hours. That’s the length of time between when you eat something and when you excrete it. After food leaves your stomach, it travels to your small intestine, where the nutrients that were broken down by your stomach enzymes are picked up for use in your body. Food continues on through your system, eventually combining with bacteria and waste products to be excreted.
Now, you know that a good time is 12-24 hours. But what you might not know is that a faster transit time might mean you are not absorbing the nutrients in your food.
And scoring too low – more than 48 hours – may mean that food waste is sitting in your gut and rotting, and potentially allowing toxins into your bloodstream and increasing the likelihood that you will develop disease.
How do you know what your transit time is? Here’s a simple test you can try at home:
Roast or steam a large number of beets – think two or three per person – and eat them all at one serving. Alternatively, a big plate of grated beet salad can achieve the same goal. Now, keep track of how many hours (or days) it takes your poop to have a pinkish or reddish halo around it. (By the way, an estimated 10-15% of people will also see their urine turn color. Don’t worry, you’re not dying!)
Be sure you are absorbing the nutrients in the food you eat. A course of probiotics can help rebalance your gut bacteria, allowing you to absorb more nutrition with each bite.
Doin’ al-right! Great job!
|72 Hours or More||
Digested food isn’t making its way out of your system efficiently enough. Consider a course of probiotics and some dietary changes to improve your digestion.
The best probiotics for women will help to improve your bowel transit time and contribute to better digestion overall.
Sign 2: You’re Suffering from Acne or Rosacea
Adult acne affects between 40 and 55% of the population between 20 and 40, according to the International Dermal Institute.
[1. International Dermal Institute – Why is Adult Acne on the Rise? by Dr. Diana Howard http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/13_article_Why_is_Adult_Acne_on_the_Rise_.html] Some of it is caused by hormonal sensitivity; some by stress; in other cases it is caused by an overactive immune response.
“There is an unravelling of some people’s immunological response,” explains Dr. Yves Poulin, president of the Canadian Dermatology Association. “Their immune systems are attacking follicles and oil glands.”
This attack causes inflammation that we see in the form of acne, or [tooltip text=”Rosacea /roʊˈzeɪʃiə/ is a chronic skin condition characterized by facial redness, small and superficial dilated blood vessels on facial skin, papules, pustules, and swelling. Rosacea affects all ages and has four subtypes, three affecting the skin and the fourth affecting the eyes (ocular type). Left untreated, it worsens over time. Treatment in the form of topical steroids can aggravate the condition. (Wikipedia).”]rosacea. [/tooltip]
Stress is often accompanied by eating comfort foods, which tend to be low in fiber. This slows down your digestion and starts to offset the balance of good versus bad bacteria. The delay in processing food waste (see point #1, above) can cause toxins to enter the bloodstream, causing system-wide inflammation.
In a study in Italy [2. Marchetti F, Capizzi R, Tulli A. Efficacy of regulators of the intestinal bacterial flora in the therapy of acne vulgaris. Clin Ter. 1987;122:339–43. Italian. (PubMed)], half of a group 40 patients took 250 mg freeze-dried L. acidophilus and B. bifidum. The other half did not. The result? Less rosacea and acne in the group receiving probiotics.
A similar result was seen in a larger study in Korea [3. Jung JY, Yoon MY, Min SU, Hong JS, Choi YS, Suh DH. The influence of dietary patterns on acne vulgaris in Koreans. Eur J Dermatol. 2010. in press . (PubMed)] with patients who drank a probiotic beverage, with a marked reduction of acne lesions in 12 weeks.
Adding a probiotic in times of stress may help to rebalance the bacteria and protect the gut against inflammation – and its accompanying pals, acne and rosacea.
Sign 3: You’re Out of Sick Days by June
If you’re routinely sick with just about anything that is going around, you could have a weakened immune system. What does this have to do with probiotics?
Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your digestive system. Some of the bacteria in your gut is responsible for bolstering the immune system and helping to balance out bacteria deficiencies. The healthier your gut is, the stronger your immune system and the better your ability to fight off infections.
Probiotics are also anti-inflammatory. As noted in the point above, reducing inflammation reduces a whole host of bad reactions in the body. Because probiotics help to produce antibodies to germs, they help to reduce inflammation, keeping you healthier.
Recent research in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport followed a group of New Zealand athletes. They found that the number of colds and gastrointestinal infections was reduced by 40% when the athletes were taking probiotics, vs a placebo. If you’re looking to stay healthier this year, you might want to look at using a probiotic like the New Zealand athletes did. Look for a shelf-stable product (one that does not require refrigeration). The best probiotics for women contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Sign 4: Speaking of Infections . . . Antibiotics and Probiotics
One of the major killers of healthy gut bacteria is antibiotics. They are known to cause diarrhea, and promote yeast growth, and cause other gastrointestinal difficulties. In fact, antibiotic-associated diarrhea is the most common adverse effect of taking antibiotics.
According to recent research, taking probiotics at the same time as antibiotics can help alleviate these symptoms by keeping up levels of good bacteria. Impressively, in a 2012 study with a sample set of nearly 12,000 patients, people who took probiotics had a 42% lower risk of getting diarrhea from antibiotics. [4. JAMA. 2012 May 9;307(18):1959-69. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.3507.] In order get the most benefit from your probiotic, separate it by 2 to 3 hours from your antibiotic.
If you watch the news at all, you’ll know that one of the most dangerous outbreaks in a hospital is Clostridium difficile or C.diff. In recent years the rate of people who die from the infection has risen exponentially – from 1.5% in the 80s, to 8.5% in the 2000s.
Antibiotics such as amoxicillin, clindamycin, and the cephalosporins seem to put patients at the most risk of having their healthy bacteria removed and damaging the colon. Patients in nursing homes or hospitals on these antibiotics are at heightened risk of catching the disease from dirty hands or shared instruments.
Researcher and Naturopathic Doctor Joshua Goldenberg led a team that reviewed 31 randomized trials.
“Twenty-three studies (4213 participants) assessed the effectiveness of probiotics in preventing CDAD in participants taking antibiotics. Our results suggest that when probiotics are given with antibiotics they reduce the risk of developing CDAD (C. diff-Associated Diarrhea) by 64%.” [5. Johnston BC, Ma SS, Goldenberg JZ, Thorlund K, Loeb M, Guyatt GH. Probiotics for the prevention of Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec (2012) – Featured in Physician’s First Watch Newsletter – Nov 13 2012]
Given the almost non-existence of side effects from probiotics in otherwise healthy people, these are very impressive results indeed. So if you have the misfortune of needing to take antibiotics, ask your healthcare practitioner if it is okay for you to take a course of probiotics to re-establish your healthy gut bacteria.
Sign 5: You Get Recurring Yeast Infections or You Have Candida
If you’ve ever had the burning, itching redness associated with a yeast infection, you know just how uncomfortable it can be. For an estimated 5% of women, yeast infections aren’t an occasional nuisance – they’re a recurring issue that derails regular life.
Yeast infections and [tooltip text=”Candidiasis is a fungal infection due to any type of Candida. When it affects the vagina, it is commonly called a yeast infection. Signs and symptoms include genital itching, burning, and sometimes a white cottage cheese-like discharge from the vagina. (Wikipedia).”] candida [/tooltip] are caused by an overgrowth of the naturally occurring yeast that lives in your vagina. But antibiotics, elevated estrogen from Birth Control Pills or from being pregnant, or even diabetes can all contribute to the overgrowth.
Recent studies in Italy proved that when women supplemented with probiotics, they were 87% less likely to have a recurrence of the infection.
Why? Having enough good bacteria helps to overwhelm and reduce growth of the bad bacteria, restoring balance again. According to Spanish researchers, adding probioitics can help to restore the vagina’s natural acidic environment, creating a defence against the germs that overwhelm the good bacteria in the first place.[6. Haya, J. , García, A. , López-Manzanara, C. , Balawi, M. and Haya, L. (2014) Importance of Lactic Acid in Maintaining Vaginal Health: A Review of Vaginitis and Vaginosis Etiopathogenic Bases and a Proposal for a New Treatment. Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 4, 787-799. doi: 10.4236/ojog.2014.413109.]
Sign 6: You’re Out of Breath Just Reading This
Asthma is on the rise: in 2001, 20 million Americans had it; by 2009 that number had swelled to 25 million Americans. It affects women more than men, and it costs $56 billion a year in health care expenses.
About 70% of asthmatics have allergies[7. World Health Organization. Global surveillance, prevention and control of chronic respiratory diseases: a comprehensive approach, 2007.] , and that is where probiotics come in. Studies have shown that probiotics have positive effects on bronchial hyperactivity in children with asthma.
Additionally, probiotics are found to be helpful in clearing the nasal congestion that comes with seasonal allergies. By relaxing and clearing airways, the symptoms of asthma and allergies are greatly reduced.
So how can you choose a good probiotic?
There are a few things to look for:
- Two strains of probiotics in particular have been clinically proven to promote good gut bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
- Look for a brand that is dairy, yeast, egg and gluten-free to ensure you don’t have any unexpected reactions.
- Check the live cultures at time of manufacturing: if this number is below 2 billion, chances are all the bacteria will be dead by the time the supplement gets to you.
Another way to help control the signs you may need probiotics is to try to minimize the amount of bacteria-killing food you are eating on a daily basis. Sugar – both added and natural – feeds bad bacteria. Limiting the amount you eat will help your good bacteria thrive.