People all over the world have been consuming foods rich in beneficial bacteria (a.k.a probiotics) in the forms of fermented food and cultured milk products for centuries. In America, the land of processed foods and refined sugars, we are just beginning to rediscover the multitude of health benefits these “friendly” bacteria give us.
My interest in probiotics began in earnest only recently. Big Brother had a lot of food allergies when he was an infant and toddler. Those food allergies eventually led to really itchy eczema. Try what we would, the eczema kept coming back. It was horrible to see bloody scabs on the back of our baby’s legs from where he’d scratch at night.
When Little Brother was fewer than two months old we discovered that he too had food allergies. I was determined to be more informed this time around. In my hours of “food allergy” searches I came across many mentionings of probiotics. My interest was piqued.
So, just what are probiotics?
Most probiotics are similar to the healthy bacteria found in peoples’ gut, especially in that of a breastfed infant (breastfed infants have a natural protection against many diseases). Most probiotics come from two groups: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Within these groups are species and within the species are strains. You can purchase over-the-counter probiotic supplements or consume foods such as yogurt that contain probiotics.
Here are some encouraging things I learned about probiotics:
Studies in probiotics are showing encouraging results:
- To treat diarrhea (this is the strongest area of evidence, especially for diarrhea from rotavirus)
- To prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract
- To treat irritable bowel syndrome
- To reduce recurrence of bladder cancer
- To shorten how long an intestinal infection lasts that is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile
- To prevent and treat pouchitis (a condition that can follow surgery to remove the colon)
- To prevent and manage atopic dermatitis (eczema) in children
- To reduce the risk of acquiring common cold infections (with certain Lactobacillus strains)
- To reduce the severity and duration of common cold infections (with certain Lactobacillus strains)
- To reduce the risk of allergic disease in infants when the mother takes them during the prenatal period
Lastly, I learned that research on probiotics is still in its infancy. Much is unknown concerning just how the bacteria interact on a molecular level with the gut and its bacteria. Also very little is known concerning just how much and in what form is most beneficial in the administration of probiotics. One thing that researchers do know is that effects from one strain of probiotic may not hold true for another.
Despite the infant state of the research it is clear that we should be friends with these friendly bacteria. I’m sure as more research on probiotics is produced we will come to realize how much we have undervalued this simple key to our greater health.
To learn more visit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed