Probiotics: Feed Your 'Good' Bacteria
There's a lot more going on in your gut than just digestion, absorption and excretion.
Trillions of microorganisms inhabit your intestines. In fact, there are 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in your whole body. And these little beneficial bugs are busy! Scientists are beginning to unravel how friendly bacteria can protect your health and how the foods you eat can nourish them.
Fiber-rich plant foods give bacteria a fighting chance.
Fiber feeds the healthy, hungry microbes, so that's one of many reasons you should have lots of high-fiber plant foods, including grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, on your plate. Medications, hygiene, age, health status, and diet can influence your microbe balance. Eating wisely is likely your best strategy for boosting the beneficial bugs. We see hints of the effects of food on intestinal bacteria when we examine diets around the globe. In populations that consume a largely plant-based, fiber-rich diet, such as those in
Fermented foods provide healthy bacteria.
Eating fermented foods which contain live cultures can add healthy microbes to your intestines, explains
Consuming probiotics -- live "friendly bacteria and yeasts" that are added to foods or taken as a supplement -- is another way to bolster your gut's population of healthy microbes. For probiotics to work, however, there must be a sufficient number of live bacteria present, and they must survive the hostile environment of the stomach, including its acidity, and reach the large intestine. The presence of the prebiotics, which act as food to nourish friendly bacteria in the large intestine, will ensure their growth and colonization.
Friendly bacteria unlock powerful nutrients.
Unlike people, bacteria have the digestive enzymes needed to break down fiber for energy. In the process, the helpful bacteria produce gases and various acids that benefit the intestine and other body systems. The acids reduce the pH of the colon, making the environment less suitable for the pathogenic bacteria. One of the acid byproducts, butyric acid, may help prevent colon cancer by feeding the cells that line the colon and helping them to grow into healthy cells, explains Rao. And another acid turns off a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis, thus lowering blood cholesterol and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Better glucose control may be another benefit.
Bacteria in the gut also release trapped phytochemicals -- health-protective compounds in plants -- that otherwise would be unavailable to affect disease pathways. For example, the phytochemicals may be bound to fiber, or require metabolism by the bacteria to convert to an active compound. Compounds in broccoli, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, for instance, seem to have anti-inflammatory effects and decrease the risk of several cancers. These vegetables contain glucosinolates which must be activated into the biologically active form called isothiocyanates either by chewing the raw vegetable, or if cooked, through the action of the intestinal bacteria, explains
Isoflavones in soy may also exert anti-cancer effects.
They are mostly in an inactive form when they enter the colon, but the gut bacteria convert them to an active form. "Then the bacteria can also metabolize the isoflavone to additional bioactive compounds that we would never be exposed to if it weren't for our bacteria," adds Lampe. The interaction of the intestinal bacteria and the human body is anything but simple. Scientists have much more to learn. Some studies suggest that exposure to soy foods in childhood may offer cancer protection in adulthood. One theory that requires additional research is that interactions between the intestinal microbes and isoflavones in the developing gut could affect development of the immune system and the long-term microbiotic environment of the individual.
Commit to diet changes.
Changing the makeup of your intestinal bacteria requires long-term commitment, says Rao. It takes about three to six months of eating the right foods, such as high-fiber plant foods and fermented foods to see a difference. Even then, the composition will return to its previous profile if the diet is not maintained. How can you tell if you've got an ideal composition of microbes in your gut? One hint is to look at your feces. "We can characterize people into either floaters or sinkers, depending on how their fecal material behaves," he says. Feces that float suggest healthy fermentation in which a lot of carbon dioxide gas is produced and trapped into the fecal matter. Sinkers represent poor fermentation with little trapped carbon dioxide and poorer health consequences, he explains.
Tips for Selecting Probiotics
1. If you're looking for specific benefits, such as treating diarrhea or constipation, search for the specific probiotic (including genus, species and strain) with documented clinical benefits for treating that condition. It's like finding the right antibiotic to treat an illness.
2. Visit the manufacturer's website or call the customer service number to learn as much as possible about the product.
3. Identify the shelf life to tell you how long the bacteria can stay viable.
4. Read the storage instructions. Many products need to be refrigerated.
5. Make sure the food fits into your healthy eating plan. Some foods with probiotics are loaded with sugars, fats, extra calories and artificial ingredients.
Diet Tips to Boost Friendly Bacteria
1. Eat more whole, fiber-rich plant foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
2. Include fermented foods, such as live cultured yogurt, pickles, and sauerkraut in your diet.
3. Consider taking a probiotic supplement, beverage or food.
- How to Try a Juice Fast
- Fight Food Addiction
- The War on Soda Pop
- Can You Catch Cancer?
- A Prayer a Day Could Keep the Doctor Away
- Parsley Packs An Antioxidant Punch
- Probiotics: Feed Your 'Good' Bacteria
- 11 Proven Weight Loss Tips
- Choose Whole Foods First, from Grains to Fruits
- Green Coffee Bean Supplement: A Wonder Diet Drug?
- Want to Eat Healthier? Visualize It!
- Best Supplements for Strong Teeth
- Are You Brushing Your Teeth Wrong?
- Should Supersize Soda Be Banned?
- Summer Party Foods That Can Make You Sick
- 7 Kitchen Mistakes That Cause Food Poisoning
- Can Snoring Really Kill Me?
- Your Worst Bad Breath Situations -- Solved
- Have You Had Your Shingles Shot?
- The Surprising Health Benefits of Texting
- What's the Healthiest Yogurt?
Copyright © 2012 Tribune Media Services Inc.