Role Living Organisms Play In Better Health


yogurtAn apple a day? We might be better off trading in that Granny Smith for a yogurt – as long as it’s one packed with probiotics.

With hundreds of new probiotic-infused products including yogurt flooding the market right now, friendly bacteria is big business, and that’s especially good news when it comes to our health.

Strength Training For The Immune System

That’s because probiotics help challenge our immune systems, much like adding extra weight during a strength training session, encourage muscle growth, the presence of bacteria stimulates the production of antibodies, which immediately go to work fighting off infections and inflammation.

When those friendly bacteria are at optimum levels – on hand to kill off bad, disease-causing bacteria – we feel great. Our digestive systems are regulated, we’re not troubled by gas and bloating and we don’t feel exhausted from an overload of toxins.

We also have a better ability to fight off colds, flu and the symptoms of seasonal allergies, so while our coworkers are tied to a tissue box, we’re making them wish they were in on our health secrets.

Irregularity? Probiotics to the Rescue

When it comes to digestive woes, probiotics are the superheroes of the supplement aisle.

Whether from a poor diet, medication, illness or stress, irregularity can sometimes strike. Not only are the symptoms absolutely no fun, when the digestive system is sluggish, toxins and waste are given the opportunity to be reabsorbed, slowing things down even more while zapping the energy we need to get through the day.

Probiotics – especially acidophilus and lactobilli strains – not only stimulate the production of energy-boosting B vitamins, they also have the ability to restore harmony to the digestive tract by elevating levels of friendly flora. These microbes can then instantly go to work targeting gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, getting us back in the game.

A Respite from IBS

With the right probiotics, those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome could also see significant relief.

But, experts warn, not all probiotics offer the same ability to alleviate chronic symptoms.

Believed to be caused by an infection of the intestines, irritable bowel syndrome has symptoms that vary greatly from patient to patient, making it a challenge to treat.

That makes natural remedies like probiotics particularly attractive in treating abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

But even though  IBS symptoms mirror those caused by irregularity, research has shown that the disorder is best managed by probiotics containing the bifida bacteria, according to Dr. Lawrence Shiller, a Texas-based gastroenterologist, in an interview with webMD.com, rather than the acidophilus strains. If you want to know how to choose the best probiotics for you, please visit How To Choose A Good Probiotic. If you are willing to grow your own, one of the best sources of probiotics is without a doubt kefir.

The Trouble With Antibiotics

While our ability to kill germs and tackle infections has allowed us to survive past the Dark Ages, we may have gone too far, creating an environment where antibiotic-resistant bacteria thrive.

The overuse of antibiotics as well as anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners has led to bacteria mutations that are resistant to both, making new infections  tougher to treat.

In our battle against these mutants, probiotics can easily come to the rescue. Not only can they restore  friendly bacteria that are unwittingly targeted by infection-killing antibiotics, they can also help prevent the unwelcome side effects of antibiotics such as yeast infections, thrush or digestive upset.

Infection Fighters

Our bodies need the challenge of existing bacteria to fight off infections such as yeast.

Although the vagina usually stays healthy on its own, antibiotics, spermicides and birth control pills can wreak havoc on bacteria balance, leading to yeast infections. Probiotics restore that balance, preventing unwelcome infections such as yeast as well as urinary tract infections, according to studies out of Britain and the Netherlands.

Another pesky infection, strep throat – a common ailment for children and adults alike – can not only be treated, but perhaps also prevented, through the friendly bacteria.

Though not yet tested in humans, when researchers cultured probiotics containing the strain lactobacilli together with the bacteria causing step, the presence of the probiotic prevented the infective bacteria from growing.

That’s good news for anyone who has ever been sidelined by strep.

A Weight Loss Miracle?

When it comes to weight loss, we’ve been waiting impatiently for a miracle in a bottle for decades. Probiotics, it turns out, could bring that wait to an end.

According to Mireille Guilliano, author of the best-selling diet book “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” one of the main reasons French women are less likely to be obese compared to their American sisters is their use of yogurt as a diet staple.

Too, a variety of different studies have shown that those who eat yogurt every day lose more weight than those who don’t, and are better able to keep it off.

But news out of a top Ivy League school is perhaps even bigger when it comes to the role probiotics might play in weight loss.

According to a recent study from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, thin people have different types of bacteria present in their guts than those who are obese.

Not only do the so-called “thin” bacteria boost metabolism, they also extract fewer calories from foods during the digestive process.

Tests using mice found that transplanting those bacteria into the guts of obese mice allowed them to drop excess weight, setting the stage for the use of probiotics in the treatment of obesity.

Turn Dairy Into A Friend, Again

If you’re lactose intolerant, you’ve probably given up all hope of enjoying an ice cream cone again. But certain probiotics can help your body better digest dairy, allowing you to bring cheese, milk and ice cream back into your diet plan.

To make dairy products more palatable, look for foods or supplements containing the following strains:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus salivarius
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Streptococcus thermophiles

In addition to dairy foods, probiotics may also help tackle other food allergies, especially those that cause skin reactions such as eczema or hives.

By boosting the immune system, probiotics create an environment where more antibodies are on hand to target such skin inflammations, stopping that itch in its tracks.

Probiotics: A Powerhouse

Global and national studies have also looked at probiotics to help treat a wide variety of other ailments, including:

  • Skin problems. Troubling skin imperfections including acne, psoriasis and childhood eczema can all benefit from probiotics, which help the body eliminate waste and toxins that could reveal themselves through the skin.
  • Seasonal allergies. According to a 2011 study from Yale University, probiotics have the potential to erase the symptoms of seasonal allergies including hay fever, meaning your stuffy head, watery eyes and runny nose could be a thing of the past.
  • Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s, a chronic inflammatory disease that shows itself with diarrhea, abdominal pain and inflammation, could potentially be treated by probiotics. The friendly bacteria may not only help fight off inflammation, but could also better regulate the digestive system. Lactobacillus is a top choice, but French researchers also called F. prausnitzii “promising” in the treatment of Crohn’s, according to a 2008 study.

Other health concerns that could potentially benefit from probiotics include ear infections, asthma symptoms, ulcerative colitis and a variety of intestinal inflammations including necrotizing enterocolitis, primarily seen in infants, and pouchitis, an inflammation that can be a side effect of intestinal surgery.

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