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Wall Street Journal Gives BIG Thumbs Up to Good Bacteria

probiotics, yogurt, good bacteriaConsuming healthy bacteria, or probiotics, can improve your body's overall balance of good versus bad micro-organisms, boosting your general health. But be careful -- not all of the probiotic-containing products found on store shelves provide the health benefits they claim.

Some regular foods contain healthy bacteria naturally, such as yogurt and naturally fermented pickles. But pasteurization has eliminated many of the probiotics that should be found in modern foods. The recent boom in probiotic products reflects an effort to re-introduce bacteria that promote good health.

When choosing a probiotic, look for products that list a specific strain of bacteria on their label, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG -- the final two letters identify the strain. A product that simply uses the first two names may include a similar, but not identical, bacterium that doesn't have the same scientific testing behind it. It’s best when the actual product -- not just the bacterium -- has been tested in humans. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of research, especially when a simple Web search can yield a lot of information.

Some additional tips: Look for the word "live" on the package, since organisms killed by processing won't be helpful. The expiration date may be particularly important, because even if a product still tastes good the bacteria may no longer be alive. For maximum benefit, try to consume a variety of different bacteria, as each may contribute something slightly different.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
The Wall Street Journal article linked above shines some mainstream media attention on something I have been promoting for many years -- probiotics. In fact, probiotics are one of only two supplements that are recommended to all new patients who come to the Natural Health Center (the other being an omega-3 fat supplement). It’s also one of the few supplements that I personally take every day.

Ensuring that you’re getting a regular supply of good bacteria in your digestive system is so important because 80 percent of your immune system is located there.

That’s right, 80 percent!

So supporting your digestive health is essential to also supporting your immune system, which is your number one defense system against all disease.

Quite simply, if your digestive system is crawling with unhealthy bacteria, there’s a good chance your immune system will be suppressed as a result.

What are Probiotics Doing in Your Digestive Tract?

Your body is loaded with bacteria, of both good and bad varieties. In fact, about 100 trillion bacteria live inside you -- which is more than 10 TIMES the number of cells you have in your whole body.

The ideal balance between the bacteria in your body is 85 percent good and 15 percent bad. This ratio between the "good" bacteria and the other bacteria is one of the critical factors determining your optimal health, as the good bacteria are essential for:

• The proper development of your immune system
• Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
• Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients

The probiotics in your gut also play a role in helping numerous bodily functions, such as:

• Digesting and absorbing certain carbohydrates.
• Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins.
• Keeping bad bacteria under control.
• Preventing allergies. Friendly bacteria train your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately.
• 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 microflora in your digestive system is also emerging as a major player in weight management. A baby’s gut bacteria is linked to his or her future weight, and babies that are given the best start nutritionally by being breastfed (the source of your first immune-building good bacteria) also tend to have intestinal microflora in which beneficial bifidobacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria.

One Washington University professor likened the functioning of this gut microflora in your body to that of an ant farm that works together as an intelligence to perform an array of functions you're unable to manage on your own.

One of those chores includes extracting calories from the foods you eat, so the microflora in your gut may play a key role in obesity.

Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people, and it appears that the microbes in an overweight body are much more efficient at extracting calories from food.

Aren’t There any Natural Ways to Get Probiotics?

This is a common question and a important one … and the answer is YES!

In the past, and to some extent still today, people used fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut to support their digestive health, as these foods are rich in naturally beneficial bacteria.

Fermented foods are part of nearly every traditional culture. As far back as Roman times, people ate sauerkraut because of its taste and benefits to overall health. In ancient Indian society, it became commonplace (and still is) to enjoy a before-dinner yogurt drink called a lassi.

Bulgarians are known both for their longevity and their high consumption of fermented milk and kefir. In Asian cultures, pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots still exist today. One such variety that I personally eat often is a type of fermented soy called natto.

If you were to eat a diet rich in fermented foods that have NOT been pasteurized (this will kill the probiotics), then you could likely still enjoy great digestive health.

However, if you eat a lot of processed foods or rely on mostly cooked foods, the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract will have a hard time staying optimal. Sugar is also an incredibly efficient fertilizer for growing bad bacteria and yeast in your gut, so if you indulge in a lot of it you’re fueling the bad bacteria. Likewise, stress, pollution, and taking antibiotics can further upset the balance in a negative way.

Since helpful bacteria are increasingly absent in most people’s diets, it is important to purposely include foods that contain live probiotic bacteria in your diet, or take a probiotic supplement.

I have used many different brands over the past 15 years and there are many good ones out there. But one of the best is the one that I had developed late last year, Complete Probiotics, as it incorporated everything I have learned about these valuable tools over the years.

+ Sources and References