A new study shows that probiotics can modulate immune responses via your gut‘s mucosal immune system.
It was found that probiotics have an anti-inflammatory potential. They caused a decrease in serum CRP levels, and a reduction in the bacteria-induced production of proinflammatory cytokines.
Most people, including many physicians, do not realize that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health. Remember, a robust immune system is your number one defense system against ALL disease.
Although I do not recommend taking supplements on a regular basis (as food is your best source of vital nutrients), a high quality probiotic is one of my exceptions. In fact, it’s the one supplement recommended to all new patients in my clinic.
This is because the nutritional root of so many health concerns are related to an imbalance of intestinal bacteria (the optimal balance is about 85 percent “good bacteria” and 15 percent “bad”).
Proper food choices will help shift the bacteria. But, just like your lawn, sometimes you may need to "reseed" areas that have become barren for whatever reason.
Normally, you don’t need to take probiotics forever, but I have found them to be incredibly helpful at certain times, such as when you stray from the food program and consume excess grains or sugar, or if you have to take antibiotics.
I also take them when traveling to foreign countries or when eating at suspicious restaurants, and I’ve found that using a high-quality probiotic every 30-60 days will typically help maintain a well-functioning digestive system.
The Vital Functions of Probiotics
The friendly bacteria that reside in your gut have a number of very important functions, including:
- Digesting and absorbing certain carbohydrates. Without good gut bacteria, your body cannot absorb certain undigested starches, fiber, and sugars. The friendly bacteria in your digestive tract convert these carbohydrates into primary sources of important energy and nutrients.
- Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins. Probiotics help in the production of both vitamin K and B vitamins, and promote mineral absorption. They also aid in metabolism and the breakdown of toxins.
- Keeping bad bacteria under control. A large part of the influence of the "bad" bacteria is on your intestinal lining (mucousal barrier) that is over 300 square meters, or about the size of a tennis court. Simply stated, friendly bacteria compete with the bad guys for room and board, but since beneficial bacteria are more at home there, they win most of the battles for nutrition and attachment sites within your colon.
The good bacteria tell your body how much nutrition they need and your body responds by supplying just that much and no more - so that any excess bad bacteria are starved out. The helpful bacteria also produce a substance that kills harmful microbes.
- Preventing allergies. Friendly bacteria train your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately. This important function prevents your immune system from overreacting to non-harmful antigens, which is the genesis of allergies.
- Providing vital support to your immune system. Beneficial bacteria have a lifelong, powerful effect on your gut’s immune system and your systemic immune system as well. The bacteria play a crucial role in the development and operation of the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract. They also aid in the production of antibodies to pathogens.
As you can see, probiotics perform a wide variety of functions, which renders them useful and beneficial for a number of health concerns, including the prevention or control of:
- Food and skin allergies in children
- Premature labor in pregnant women
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Recurrent ear and bladder infections
- Chronic diarrhea
Probiotics Found Beneficial for Athletes as Well
Another recent study that confirms the use of probiotics to boost your immune function was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year
In that study, probiotic supplements were able to significantly reduce the number and length of infections suffered by long-distance runners.
Strenuous training can affect your immune system and make athletes vulnerable to coughs and colds. But athletes in the study were able to cut the number of days they showed symptoms in half, by taking probiotic supplements.
Are All Probiotics the Same?
Not necessarily, which was also confirmed by this latest study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Here the researchers looked at three different kinds of probiotic bacteria:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. Lactis
- Propionibacterium freudenreichii ssp. shermanii
They concluded that probiotics seem to have strain-specific anti-inflammatory effects in healthy adults.
In this case, the CRP (a sensitive marker of inflammation) was lower in the Lactobacillus and Propionibacterium groups, showing greater effectiveness as anti-inflammatories, compared to the groups receiving the Bifidobacterium or placebo.
In addition to checking out which bacterial strains are included, other main features you should look for when purchasing a probiotic supplement are:
- No need for refrigeration
- Long shelf life
- Can survive stomach acid so that it reaches your small intestine
- Stays resident in your digestive tract long enough to be effective
Even though I’ve come to the conclusion that no one solution works for everyone, the Bacillus Coagulans strain has been proven highly effective. It’s the one I use personally, and the one we recommend in my Natural Health Center. Its main benefits are that it is present in spore form, and survives the acidic environment of your stomach -- making it to your small intestine where it does the most good. They also survive high temperatures and do not need to be refrigerated, which adds convenience.
What’s Even Better Than a Probiotic Supplement?
Historically, people used cultured or fermented foods to support their intestinal and overall health, way before the invention of the probiotic supplement.
Cultured foods like yogurt, some cheeses, and sauerkraut are good sources of natural, healthy bacteria. And fermented foods, such as natto, can give your body the similar benefits of consuming a whole bottle of good bacteria, at a fraction of the cost.
One of the best and least expensive ways to get healthy bacteria through your diet is to obtain raw milk and convert it to kefir, which is really easy to make at home. All you need is one half packet of the kefir start granules in a quart of raw milk, which you leave at room temperature over night. By the time you wake up in the morning you will likely have kefir. If it hasn’t obtained the consistency of yogurt you might want to set it out a bit longer and then store it in the fridge.
A quart of kefir has far more active bacteria than you can possibly purchase in any probiotics supplement, and it is very economical as you can reuse the kefir from the original quart of milk about ten times before you need to start a new culture pack. Just one starter package of kefir granules can convert about 50 gallons of milk to kefir.
Don’t even think of using pasteurized milk, however, as pasteurized milk has its own set of negative health ramifications and should be avoided at all cost.