By SABRINA DEPSEY
The complex ecosystem of bacterial organisms that live in our intestinal tract is commonly referred to as “intestinal micro flora” or “gut flora.” It is essential to our well-being.
Under normal circumstances, the friendly bacteria far outnumber the bad. However, factors such as stress, lack of sleep, antibiotics, illness, aging and eating habits can alter the types and numbers of bacteria in our intestinal tract.
This is when probiotics can help.
Probiotic means “for life,” and it is used to describe conventional foods or dietary supplements that contain friendly, beneficial, “good” bacteria.
Certain yogurts and fermented dairy drinks are the most common probiotic foods.
Probiotic dairy foods can also provide a much needed source of calcium for most individuals who are unable to enjoy other dairy foods due to lactose intolerance. However, all probiotics are not the same.
It’s important to choose probiotics that contain a strain or combination of strains that have been tested for efficacy. The survival rate of the specific strain of bacteria contained in a probiotic product is an important factor when determining its potential benefits.
Strains such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have demonstrated the ability to survive stomach acids and increase the chance that probiotics survive and make it to the intestine.
The use of probiotics is not new. Nobel prize winner Elie Metchinikoff (1845-1916) was recognized as the discoverer of probiotics.
He was the first to suggest that consuming bacteria could have a beneficial effect on health.
In 1907, he proposed that the acid-producing organisms in fermented dairy products (for example, Kefir, yogurt and certain cheeses) if consumed regularly, lead to a longer, healthier life.
He based his conclusion, in part, on the observation that some areas of Europe where people who regularly consumed fermented dairy products were known for their longevity and superior health. Since then, decades of microbiological and clinical research have supported the idea that consuming certain probiotics can help improve different body functions.
Dempsey is a registered dietitian for the Blanchard Valley Health System. Questions for Blanchard Valley Health System experts may be sent to Weekend Doctor, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay, OH 45839.
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