Probiotics – What You Should Know
Today (after years of destroying our intestinal flora), we are told that probiotics are the answer. This may be partially true. However, probiotics should be used with caution.
Probiotics, or Beneficial Bacteria, are the highly complex, single-celled microorganisms found in the body and are considered good for the body due to their beneficial qualities. Beneficial bacteria are good germs that often help keep us alive and help our bodies fend off harmful germs. Essentially, and regarding supplementation, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that create a beneficial response to your health when introduced into the body via supplementation, especially in your digestive system.
For this conversation, it is important to understand that bacteria are among the earliest life forms on planet earth. They are capable of adaptation, evolution, and self-defense. Bacteria can be found almost anywhere; in the dirt, in the air, in the water, and in and on plants and animals. The human mouth alone is home to more than 500 species of bacteria. According to Harvard Medical School, an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel (Harvard Publications, 2015).
Probiotics are said to promote health by:
- Producing substances in the gut, such as lactic acid, that help to slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
- Competing with disease-causing bacteria for nutrients and space.
- Breaking down toxins.
- Aid in the digestion and absorption of food
- Aid in the absorption of vitamin B12
- Affecting the nerve and muscle function of the gut.
- And so many other factors – too many to list
It has been shown, however, that dairy-based probiotics supplements (the vast majority on the market) do not live permanently in the gut because they are NOT from a human host—so they need to be ingested frequently if they are to exert their beneficial effects (Sanders, 2015). They are considered “transient” bacteria because they will not adhere to the host and will eventually leave the host if not taken regularly. So how do we get some to host-up?
However, human strain/natural probiotics have proven to have better adhesion to human intestines. According to several specialists in microbiology, human strains are a better choice for supplementation by humans than non-human strains due to their survival in the human intestinal tract (Plummer, 2014). Once again, bacteria derived from dairy and other sources are less likely to remain in the intestinal tract of humans. So we can assume that they may afford only temporary benefits. On the other hand, human strains show better colonization and effectiveness, hence longer lasting and better results.
It stands to reason that if one could acquire a human source of probiotics, they would be more apt to stay in the body and correct certain related conditions due to their adhesion capabilities. The Mayo Clinic says that one of the best sources of probiotics that one can have is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which once again belongs to a group of bacteria that normally live in the human small intestine and vagina, with the vagina being the “cleaner” route of the two options.
So let us think about this for a second. We know that babies get their bacteria from the vagina and breast milk. It has already been proven that probiotics can be harvested from a human donor and transplanted into an unhealthy host, as demonstrated via numerous successful fecal matter transplants for treating intestinal issues such as C. diff. So have we been looking in the wrong places for beneficial bacteria? Or perhaps that is just gross or taboo.
It seems logical that a human female donor would be needed via healthy vaginal discharge for a solid re-inoculation and colonization of Lactobacillus acidophilus. At the very least, this method can potentially reestablish oral and intestinal Lactobacillus acidophilus (as well as other healthy flora) if repeated over time and sourced with a healthy donor. It stands to reason that such sources might prove more beneficial than eating yogurt or kefir alone or even taking dairy-based probiotic supplements in general. This is especially true if the current research is correct in that dairy-based probiotics are inferior to human-based bacteria. Perhaps we have been simply looking to develop probiotics from the wrong sources. Human-based probiotics would obviously be far superior to dairy-based. Why are we not seeing more of this yet?
Until that day comes, we must rely on what is available. The unfortunate part of this is that probiotic supplements can be expensive. However, you have natural options other than buying expensive probiotics from the store. Did you know you can grow and eat probiotics instead of buying them? That’s right! It’s cheap too. Nature comes well-equipped for what you need, and it has been doing so for quite some time.
Incorporating almost any probiotics into your life will do wonders, even if they are dairy or soil-based. Yogurt, Kefir, Sauerkraut, etc., are fermented foods that act as PRObiotics in the body (DiLonardo, 2016). Oddly enough (as a whole), for some reason, our society does not embrace any cultured or fermented foods as a staple in our diet. It should also be said that our culture is one of the few that does not. It is unfortunate because these foods provide billions of beneficial bacteria from numerous strains and deliver them throughout the gastrointestinal system.
These foods are foods that contain live and active bacterial cultures. Sound gross? Well, consider yogurt, cottage cheese, or real cheese. These are all created with bacteria. But don’t worry, it is the good kind, the friendly kind. My personal favorite is kefir. This is a powerhouse, and it does wonders for my overall health and wellness. I grow my own, and it literally costs a gallon of milk.
While dairy and soil-based bacteria are mostly considered transient bacteria, they are thought to fill the void of beneficial bacteria killed during antibiotic therapy and can stop many problems before they occur, such as diarrhea (Newberry, 2012). They are also considered defenders of developing beneficial bacteria, which will ultimately host long-term. Finally, they help keep yeasts at bay (Myers, 2015).
Some of you may have some dairy issues – probably due to antibiotics, but I digress. If you have lactose intolerance, I would suggest trying real probiotics or fermented dairy foods to see if they are okay. Why? Fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir are actually much easier to digest than milk because the bacteria eat away the lactose by fermenting it into lactic acid. I know many that have not only been able to tolerate it but have regained their ability to consume raw milk. It is not just dairy products here. Other fermented/probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and more.
Why are these types of foods important? Again, things like antibiotics, processed foods, and city water kill gut flora. You have undoubtedly been exposed to these at some point in your life, through your food, via your doctor, and not to mention the plethora of other things that we consume or are exposed to that are known to disrupt intestinal flora. These foods help bring the intestines back in line to where they need to be. They help make food easier to digest and break down.
With all this being said, it is important to note that science has identified three concerns regarding the safety of store-bought probiotics, which you must consider before consumption.
In rare cases, toxic or metabolic effects on the gastrointestinal tract have been reported. Again, this is extremely rare, but reports have increased as probiotic popularity has increased. I speculate that this has a lot to do with people overdoing it. Another concern is the possible transfer of antibiotic resistance in the gastrointestinal bacteria already present – either good or bad. Such instances have been reported, but again these are rare cases. Finally, there is the possibility of “probiotic infection.” This could include a simple infection, bacteremia, endocarditis (inflammation of the surface of the heart’s valves), or even sepsis.
It is crucial to understand that, at times, normally beneficial bacteria can act in pathogenic ways. For instance, while rare (or more than likely under-reported), it is known that lactobacilli can cause bacteremia, urinary tract infections, meningitis, abscesses, and more – especially when doses are exceedingly high and the immune system is not acting correctly. So please do not overdo it. This could create a problem because many probiotic formulas contain similar anaerobic bacteria. When these bacteria act pathologically, doctors will not be looking for it; even if they were, they might miss it initially.
For example: as you know, one of the most common probiotics on the market today is L. acidophilus. This is because L. acidophilus efficiently ferments sugars into lactic acid, which (keeping it simple) makes energy for the body and helps to delay fatigue. Unfortunately, L. acidophilus is also a type of anaerobic bacteria; and certain anaerobic infections are common. Not only are they common, but they sometimes turn into serious and even life-threatening infections.
Anaerobic infections are a cause for concern for several reasons. For example, they are difficult to isolate from infectious sites; they are often overlooked, often difficult to treat, and because of increased antimicrobial resistance. Another problem (regarding anaerobic probiotics) is that doctors believe that (more often than not) the source of anaerobic bacterial infections is a patient’s normal flora. It is currently unknown whether this changes anything when an infection occurs due to a probiotic overdose. However, this may be especially true when neither the doctor nor the patient can pinpoint the source of the infection or attribute the cause. As a result, obvious signs of infection will be noticed, but a cause can often be difficult to locate or treat.
If anything were stressed to you here, it should be that, as of right now, probiotic dosing is an inexact science. Clinicians remain divided on the best strains and amount people could or should take. As a result, a lot of experimentation is going on right now. Unfortunately, this can (and has) led to some infections, or what is slowly becoming known as a “Probiotic Infection” – or more simply, an infection caused by probiotic supplementation.
Things To Note
To date, there are a few things we have learned about probiotics: they can produce side effects, they can be fatal at times, they are not for everyone, but they can also be lifesavers, and for many… nature’s version is probably the best. We will cover that in a moment. Let us first discuss who should not take them and the possible side effects.
Who Should NOT Take Probiotics Without a Physician’s Oversight?
Premature infants, immuno-compromised, critically ill, etc.
Known and Reported NEGATIVE Side Effects:
Intestinal gas (expected), allergic reactions (sometimes severe), UTI, interactions with medications, negative metabolic activity, abscesses, general infection, heart infection, and sepsis.
(This is not an all-inclusive list)
The Good News?
For most healthy people, probiotics can serve as a big plus for their overall health. Humans have been consuming probiotic-type foods for hundreds of years with great results, and probiotic FOODS are known for their health benefits. These types of foods are things like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc. These probiotics will be your most diverse and, more than likely, safer means of consumption and supplementation. Even better news is that you will save a ton of money by consuming these kinds of foods over buying high-priced retail supplements.
Known and Reported POSITIVE Effects:
Better sleep, better digestion, help with fungal infections, help with certain causes of diarrhea, help prevent infections in the digestive tract, help control inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), treatment of depression, nasal treatments, better oral health, reduction in acne, strengthen overall immunity, help in weight loss, and much more.
(This is not an all-inclusive list)
If you are going to take probiotics purchased from a retailer, do not take more than the recommended dosage. By consuming too much probiotic, you risk overloading your body with the types of bacteria that can create difficult infections. Again, as I have addressed in other articles, such infections can sometimes be tough to treat.
If you decide to take probiotic supplements, don’t waste your money. Ensure they have at least 50 billion active bacteria per capsule – made up of at least Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, and Lactococcus bacteria – and take them several times a day or as directed. Some will say that you should take your probiotics away from the antibiotics if you are forced to take antibiotics. However, it is fine to space it out and follow the following regimen – antibiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, probiotics, etc. Remember, though, you need to work your antifungals in as well if you are on antibiotics.
Resource for Kefir Grains: KefirLady.com
Interested in learning how to make kefir?
RESOURCES – CLICK HERE
This article was originally published as a chapter in the book Natural Health Made Easy: The Briobiotic Protocol (2016)
This article was written from a Health Science perspective. Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.