When I speak to groups, one of the most asked about subjects is probiotics. Probiotics are the friendly or good bacteria in our guts. They are said to help prevent and relieve allergies, yeast infections, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowl syndrome, urinary tract infections, colic, asthma, autoimmune diseases, constipation, diarrhea and even cancer. There’s new evidence they even help fight asthma and heart disease.
I’m reading Gary Huffnagle’s book The Probiotics Revolution. Huffnagel is Professor of Internal Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Miles is smiling because his tummy is happy.
Huffnagle calls probiotics the “new essential food group” because probiotics protect our bodies by killing harmful bacteria in our gut and help the immune system to function properly. He says “probiotics provide nutrients just as important to our health as vitamins and minerals.”
One hundred trillion bacteria (about three pounds) line your intestinal tract. In fact, eighty percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system. It’s no wonder probotics support good health.
Probiotics live in the tube that runs right through the middle of us. It includes our nose, sinuses, mouth, upper airways, lungs, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum and anus. Not surprisingly, our intestinal environment is directly influenced by the food we eat. In the last 50 years, we have changed the way we eat and increased the use of antibiotics, which kill not only bad bacteria, but good. After taking a course of antibiotics the good bacteria grow back, although slowly. We don’t help at all, because we no longer eat a healthy diet with natural foods containing good bacteria, so the bad bacteria proliferate.
Huffnagle relates a study done by Finnish researchers with healthy children in daycare, ages one to six years old. Half of the kids were given probiotics in their milk; the other half drank plain milk. The results were published in the British Medical Journal. The children given probiotics had significantly fewer absences, fewer and less severe respiratory tract infections and fewer antibiotic treatments. Probiotics can help avoid seasonal illness like the flu and cold.
Naturally fermented foods such as yogurt, cheeses, sauerkraut, pickles, etc. not only preserve food but enriches it by adding health-promoting probiotics. Naturally fermented foods are not usually found in a supermarket (except for yogurt and then it’s usually loaded with sugars which feed the bad bacteria). You can find naturally fermented foods in your local natural grocers. If vinegar is on the ingredient label, then it’s not naturally fermented.
If you eat a lot of processed foods, you’ll have a hard time keeping a good balance of bacteria. Not surprisingly, refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar) give the advantage to harmful bacteria. So when you eat a healthful food such as yogurt, stay away from added sugars. Make your own fruited yogurt by stirring mashed soft fruit like peaches, bananas, strawberries or blueberries into plain yogurt. You can make a yummy snack by adding fruit to little yogurt and topping with crunchy granola.
I take probiotics every day. I used to take them before bed, but I’ve changed to mornings. I learned that there is a greater benefit when probiotics are taken with milk or food, so I add them to my morning fruit smoothie. Also, by opening the capsule and adding them to food or drink allows the probiotics to flourish all the way down the “tube” not just the stomach. To keep your child’s tummy happy, there are powdered probiotics formulated just for infants, babies and children. The dosage is listed on the containers.
Click Here for ordering information for the storybook The Forest Feast and the parenting book Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater.