Probiotics . . . The Good, The Bad and the Have to Have for your “Gut” Wellness

Beneficial bacteria anyone!?!  These days with all the craze of the quick fix diets and perpetual “Cleanse” your system products flooding the market I thought about some minor stomach issues that I suffer from and after having a conversation with a girlfriend about it during our morning run, I thought maybe others would be interested in learning more about this so-called, “friendly bacteria” and if may help you.  So here we go with the good, the bad and the have to have take on this tummy dweller. 

So what exactly are Probiotics?  According to many medical publications, Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts provide a positive health benefit to the host.  (it in noteworthy to say that animals, infants and small children have benefited from the ingestion of Probiotics)  They also may help tame gas, diarrhea, and other digestive problems, reduction of bladder cancer recurrence, prevent and reduce the severity of colds and flu, as well as the treatment of eczema in children.  While most consumers would rather a quick fix pill for supplements, Probiotics are also found in other food forms such as:

  • Yogurt – “good” bacteria like lactobacillus or bifidobacteria that keep a healthy balance in your gut. Studies suggest that probiotics can help ease lactose intolerance.  You may also choose more expensive yogurt options that are available on the market for digestion such as Dannon’s Activia, Yoplait’s YoPlus and Dannon’s DanActive, but any labeled as “live and active cultures” may also help.
  • Miso Soup – A popular breakfast food in Japan, this fermented soybean paste really can get your digestive system moving.  Filled with probiotics, miso is said to contain more than 160 bacteria strains.
  • Soft Cheeses – While potentially good for your digestion, not all probiotics can survive the journey through your gastrointestinal tract.  Research has found that the lactobacillus strains in some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, may be hardy enough to survive the digestive tract journey. 
  • Sourdough Bread – San Francisco’s famous sourdough bread is not only something that I would totally steal right out of your hand if you grabbed the last one, but it also has lactobacilli, a probiotic which may benefit digestion.
  • Tempeh – Created from fermented soybeans, this Indonesian patty produces a type of natural antibiotic that fights certain bacteria and is also very high in protein.  Described as smoky, nutty or similar to a mushroom, Tempeh can be marinated and used in meals in place of meat (similar to how we use Tofu).
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) – has the beneficial microbes leuconostoc, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. When choosing Sauerkraut as your probiotic source you should choose unpasteurized sauerkraut because pasteurization kills active, beneficial bacteria.

Supplement form probiotics are available in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form.  Although they do not provide the nutritional value that consumption of probiotics in foods can offer, they can be convenient.  You should note that if you are acutely ill or have immune system problems, you may want to be cautious about consuming probiotics.

Some reasearch has also shown that there may be a link between probiotics and mental health.  According to a study published by WebMD from Digestive Disease Week Conference in San Diego, “45 women ages 18 to 50 without psychiatric or medical illnesses were divided into three groups. One group was assigned to eat a probiotic yogurt, one got non-fermented yogurt (with no probiotic bacteria), and the third got no product. Those in the first two groups ate one cup of yogurt twice a day for four weeksAfter the four weeks, everyone was shown a series of pictures of frightened and anxious faces — images design to evoke an emotional response.  They had functional MRI scans to capture brain activity before and after looking at the pictures.  The people in the probiotic group showed a muted response in brain areas involved in processing and sensation, compared with the other two groups.  On the flip side, people who didn’t eat any yogurt had more activity in the sensory and emotional regions of the brain.

Growing up in the age of laxative fixes, these days changing to probiotics may help you change your options for getting yourself healthy and regular, starting with your gut!  Recently, I was told about a condition that is often unknown by laxative users and natural laxative users that may hinder your ability to get a clean view in your later years of colonoscopy exams after prolonged use.  Known as Melanosis coli or pseudomelanosis coli, Melanosis is a disorder of pigmentation of the wall of the colon, often identified only during a colonoscopy.  Gastroenterologist say that when this brown pigment is present it makes it more difficult to show potential problems that may be present in the colon because the brown pigment does not allow the colon to light up during the procedure.  Generally benign, and often no significant correlation with disease, Melanosis causes the wall of the colon to develop brown pigment.  The most common cause of melanosis coli is the extended use of laxatives containing Senna and other plant glycosides.  Senna is a large variety of flowering plants in the Fabaceae family.  This genus is commonly found throughout the tropics.  Here is a list of common brand name items containing Senna on the US market for consumers today:

Black Draught, Dr Caldwell Laxative, Ex-Lax Chocolated, Ex-Lax Maximum Relief Formula, Ex-Lax Regular Strength Pills, Fletchers Castoria, Innerclean, Little Tummys Laxative Drops, Pedia-Lax, Perdiem Overnight, Senexon, Senna, Senna Lax, Senna Smooth, Senna-gen, Senokot, Senokot Extra, Senokot To Go, SenokotXTRA, SenoSol, SenoSol-X
 

You do not necessarily have to have probiotics to be considered healthy, but having healthy bacterial to fight the harmful bacteria is a good health benefit.  And let’s face it, these days supplements are not easy on the wallet.  I take a Probiotic supplement daily that costs $33.95 for 45 servings.  After the first two days of taking the supplement I noticed a difference in my “gut” mood.  Also a change in my mental mood because my stomach was feeling much better and feeling less bloated.  I mean let’s face it, a chick feeling bloated, not the path we want to cross anytime soon.  As I wrote in an earlier post, Make a Plan . . . Make a Plan . . . Make a Plan, eating for your body is better than going by what may be working for someone else.  I recommend writing things down and keeping track.  My rule of thumb on tracking your foods is what did I eat, when did I eat it and how did it make me feel after I digested it.  Looking back over your notes several times after consuming the same thing and getting the same result may help you decide what other things you may need to change, add or remove to help your overall feeling of wellness. 

As with all changes in diet, you should consult your physician based on your current health issues and needs before starting any new supplement regime.  I would say, if you are planning to make a significant change in your day-to-day eating, make an appointment after taking notes for a few weeks and sit down and talk to your healthcare provider.  It never hurts to get a professional opinion if you can afford it.