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Probiotics: The Bugs That Are Our Friends (Part 1)
April 23, 2012
We’re a country that shuns bacteria. From antibacterial hand soap to stories in the news about contaminated food to frequent calls to the doctor asking for antibiotics, the thought of germs invading our bodies, our food, or our homes is enough to make us shudder. So it’s probably hard to imagine that there are bacteria that are really quite friendly — so friendly, in fact, that they work hard at keeping us healthy and keeping illness and disease at bay. Where are these bacteria, you ask? Right inside you. In your digestive tract, to be exact.
Some Respect, Please
Probiotics, or “friendly bacteria,” are actually found in many different foods and beverages, as well as in dietary supplements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved health claims for probiotics, meaning that a manufacturer can’t claim that taking a particular strain of probiotic could treat a particular condition or disease, but more and more research is pointing towards the benefits that these friendly bugs have to offer. And you might be interested to know that the more probiotics you have in your gut, the better off you are in terms of being protected against sickness.
Bugs With a Past
These Bugs are “Bad”
They can counteract antibiotics. Antibiotics may be overused in this country, but the reality is that they’re needed for bacterial infections, such as strep throat. While effective, these potent medicines can have some rather unpleasant side effects, including diarrhea and yeast infections in women. The problem is that they eradicate the good bacteria in your gut and reproductive tract, along with the bad. Taking probiotics along with your antibiotic can greatly lessen the chances of a secondary infection or diarrhea from cropping up as well.
They can help you digest milk and other dairy foods. If you’re one of the 50 million Americans who has lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk products), you’re not alone. But a lot of foods contain milk or lactose and you may inadvertently end up ingesting lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. The Lactobacillus strain of bacteria, found in yogurt and acidophilus milk, helps you break down the lactose, so you don’t have those uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating symptoms.
They soothe irritable bowel syndrome. I’ve written about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) before, and for those of you who deal with this, you’re not alone. IBS isn’t a disease, but it sure can be uncomfortable, with symptoms including cramping, pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. IBS can be tricky to manage, but the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium infantis may help.
They bolster your immune system. Are you someone who seems to constantly catch a cold or is bedridden with the flu every year? If so, your immune system might need a little help from certain strains of probiotics that can give immune cells a helping hand to fight off invaders that can cause the flu, a cold, or respiratory infection.
I’m out of room for this week, but I’m not done yet! Probiotics provide even more benefits, so stay tuned. Also, learn which foods contain these friendly bugs. Your homework? Find a food or two in your fridge that contains probiotics!
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