Probiotics are dietary supplements or fermented foods which contain live, beneficial bacteria designed to restore a healthy balance to the gut "flora" or microorganisms in your digestive tract.
These health providing organisms perform a host of useful functions, including immune system support, prevention of the growth of harmful species of other microorganisms such as yeast, regulating the development of the gut, making vitamins (such as biotin and vitamin K), and producing hormones to direct the storage of fats.
Consequences of Gut Flora Damage
A poor diet or lack of nutrition, infections and antibiotics, steroids, birth control pills, stress and toxins in the environment can all have an effect on your gut health. Antibiotics are especially damaging to your digestive system because they kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria.
If the beneficial gut bacteria are destroyed, it sets up a situation in which the non-beneficial microbes take over the lining of the gut and cause damage.
As the pathogenic microbes & toxins proliferate, the intestinal cells begin dying off. This allows various proteins, toxins & microbes through the gut wall and into places where they should not be (a condition known as a "leaky gut", which triggers the immune system into developing antibodies to try and kill off these foreign proteins.
The antibodies react against the body itself, and the result is an autoimmune attack on the body with the symptoms of inflammation, joint pain, flu like symptoms, inability to digest food, and a host of other symptoms.
Leaky gut syndrome can result in the develpment of autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, lupus and others.
Researcher Alessio Fasano, MD and his team at the University of Maryland study celiac disease, a health condition associated with severe gut damage, are finding that many diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and others are caused by gut problems and autoimmune reactions. Read more about them here.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics help restore the good bacteria to your digestive tract, which in turn will reduce inflammation and help the gut wall heal. These supplements consist of several different types of microbes. The most common are lactobacilli bacteria and bifidobacteria. These are the bacteria types found in cultured milk products such as yogurt and kefir.
Some therapeutic probiotics also contain a multi-strain product containing soil bacteria, not just lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These soil bacteria, also called HSOs or homeostatic soil organisms, are beneficial bacteria that optimize digestion and immune function.
Once a probiotic regimen is begun, the good bacteria and the HSOs optimize the digestive terrain and immune functions as they move through the digestive tract and form colonies along the intestinal walls.
As these beneficial microbes multiply, they compete with the harmful microbes living there. The probiotic microbes crowd out these harmful organisms while establishing themselves throughout the digestive tract. As a result, the bad bacteria begin to die off.
Food based probiotics have been in use for centuries. Cultures all over the world have used specific foods to enhance digestion.
Yogurt, kefir and other fermented milk products are among the most popular lacto-fermented foods. They contain various strains of lactobacillus organisms. Other fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and kombucha.
Many cultures still use fermented foods and milk as part of their traditional daily diets.
Resources for Further Reading