Probiotics: Keeping your Internal Ecosystem in Balance?
Friends You Never Knew You HadDid you know that your intestinal tract is your body’s main disease-fighting organ? It contains an amazing ecosystem. It’s made up of living microorganisms called microflora that play a critical role in your health. Some of these microorganisms are friendly, some not-so-friendly. The “friendly” microorganisms are called probiotics, and they’re an important component of Breyers® Yogurt.
Although some things have been known about probiotics for a long time, these microflora cultures have been getting a lot more attention—and respect—in recent years. A growing number of studies point to probiotics as microscopic workhorses that seem to be useful in improving the immune system, reducing cholesterol levels, treating intestinal bowel disorders, protecting against allergens, treating illnesses, preventing some cancers and even warding off tooth decay.
Hardworking Sentinels of Health
Probiotics are living microorganisms normally found in certain areas of the body, primarily the digestive tract. Humans are not born with them; we accumulate them in the gut from birth and throughout life.
Unlike the harmful bacteria that cause infections and trigger allergic reactions, probiotics actually do the opposite—they protect against harmful bacteria, in addition to helping with the many tasks involved in digestion. Probiotic bacteria even produce their own natural antibiotics, called bacteriocins, which destroy bad bacteria.
Researchers still haven’t identified every type of probiotic microorganisms in the intestine. The most common probiotics are in the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium families, with additional cultures in the Escherichia, Enterococcus and Saccharomyces groups.
Some of these bacteria come from the foods we eat. Fermented dairy products, especially yogurt, have been recognized for centuries as valuable source foods for probiotic microbial cultures. In fact, it is reported that Nomads drank soured milk for over 2,000 years, apparently for their healthful effects.
In general, dairy products have proven to be effective “delivery vehicles” for probiotics. With yogurt in particular, milk constituents help to shield the bacteria from the caustic acids in the stomach.
As food passes through the body, we lose some of these valuable bacteria. Illnesses that cause diarrhea and other conditions including stress and poor diet can result in dramatic reductions in probiotic microflora.
Another reason for significant loss of probiotic bacteria is antibiotics. Treating an infection with antibiotics also wipes out large numbers of these bacteria, killing the “good” bacteria as well as the “bad.” In response to the increasing numbers of bacteria that have become drug resistant, researchers are now studying the potential for a natural preemptive approach, using probiotics as part of a safe, more cost-effective preventive strategy against infection.
Maintaining a Healthy Balance
The important thing is to continually replace these microbial cultures in the intestinal tract to maintain a constant, healthy balance between the “friendly” and less-friendly cultures.
The easiest and most practical way is to make foods with active probiotic cultures, such as Breyers® yogurt, a regular part of your daily diet. Since probiotics don’t attach to intestinal walls they should be replenished often, at least three times a week.
You’ll find probiotics available as dietary supplements, as well. For those who are lactose intolerant, this may be a good alternative—although the probiotic strain most often added to yogurt is known to improve the digestion of lactose. However, as with vitamins, health care professionals often recommend consuming these nutrients in the foods you eat, as part of healthy diet.
Click here to learn more about probiotics.