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Probiotics Update:
The How and Why of a Healthy Digestive System

In all mammals, the process of digestion begins in the mouth with the secretion of saliva as the food is chewed or swallowed whole. Most natural foods contain many species of bacteria, some of which are able to pass through the strong acid environment of the stomach and into the small intestine. At this point these foods must withstand pancreatic enzymes and bile from the liver in order to absorb nutrients and multiply during their passage through the small intestine and into the large intestine, or colon. It is here in the colon that the largest numbers of beneficial bacteria develop, comprising about 30% of the total mass (dry weight) of the colon contents. Here also is where the most probiotic “action” takes place.

“Probiotics will be to medicine in the 21st century as antibiotics and microbiology were in the 20th century.” - Michael McCann, MD

In a normal, healthy intestine, there is a mutually beneficial ecology of microflora composed of 10 to 400 species of bacteria. These bacteria colonize the surface of the intestinal wall to form a protective, lubricating mucosal lining throughout the intestine, but that is not all. When food substances enter the intestines, these bacteria begin their own processes of digestion, releasing many by-products of their metabolism, and breaking down the ingested food into smaller, usable components.

An example of this mutually beneficial relationship is found in the subterranean termite. A small protozoan named Trichonympha companula lives in the termite’s digestive system and does the job of breaking down the cellulose the termite eats. Without this intestinal organism, the termite could not make any use of the wood it eats. The bacteria in our intestines provide a similar helpful service (but not on cellulose). Human intestinal bacteria break down many otherwise indigestible substances for us, and in the process create essential substances such as the B vitamins and vitamin K (necessary for blood clotting). These bacteria also secrete substances that help maintain a healthy balance of intestinal microorganisms.

This delicate balance of beneficial microflora can be disrupted by a number of natural and man-made factors (See Table 1). Pharmaceutical and natural antibiotics, for example, can save lives, but they are indiscriminate killers; they destroy both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Antacids, which change the pH of the digestive tract, create an environment favorable to the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeasts.

Table 1 Factors Harmful to Healthy Intestinal Flora

  • Antibiotics--pharmaceutical and natural
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Large amounts of sugar
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents
  • Radiation
  • Chlorine and Fluorine
  • Bacterial dysentery
  • Stress
  • High meat, high fat diets
  • Antacids
  • Other anti-bacterial chemicals

Friendly bacteria are also host specific: humans in different parts of the world have unique species profiles that are dependent on the historical development of their diets. As you know, the human diet is extremely variable. People inhabiting the polar regions eat an almost exclusively meat-and-fish diet, with local berries only in the summer months. The Masai tribe of East Africa subsists on a diet composed of milk mixed with fresh cattle blood. Neither of these groups has a cholesterol problem even though their intake of saturated fat is probably among the highest in the world. There is strong evidence that the intestinal bacteria of these two ethnic groups are partly responsible for this condition.

There are many beneficial bacteria that are not native to the Western digestive system. These can usually be found at the local health food stores under generic or trade names. Bacillus subtilis, commonly found in the intestines of horses and camels, is one of these very powerful helpful bacteria. It completely overpowers the most destructive dysenteric bacteria species in 24 hours or less, many times saving lives in the process. The species Oxalobacter formigenes is responsible for regulating the amount of oxalate moving through the kidneys. It breaks down the oxalate compounds found in foods such as spinach, tea, asparagus, broccoli, peanut butter, and chocolate. These compounds, when in high concentrations, precipitate out in the kidneys and form crystal oxalate “shards” or “sharp kidney stones.” In clinical studies, it has been shown that patients with these kidney stones had no Oxalobacter formigenes in their intestines.

When bacterial populations in the gut exist in the balance dictated by the genetic predisposition and diet of that ethnic group, they perform an extremely important health maintenance function. This cannot be overstated. Some of the benefits reported in the many research papers on this topic are presented in Table 2.

Table 2 Benefits of Probiotics

  • Help to maintain normal cell growth and regeneration*
  • Maintain regularity and normal, healthy stool consistency*
  • Maintain healthy intestinal pH*
  • Produce vitamin K and the B vitamins*
  • Maintain normal bowel function, tone and condition*
  • Produce enzymes that aid in the digestion of lactose*

Normal levels of beneficial intestinal bacteria prevent serious destructive action that would otherwise result from the passage of many harmful substances into the blood through an unprotected intestinal wall. When the intestinal wall is damaged, free radicals and pathogens freely pass into the blood, putting tremendous pressure on the immune system. It is no wonder that with the eating habits so common to many Americans, subtle but damaging changes are continually in progress.

To sum up, a good health plan should include knowledge and use of the beneficial bacteria that can be commonly found on the raw unprocessed foods in farmer’s markets, or from your own garden. As much as is possible, avoid the harmful factors that disrupt or destroy the beneficial intestinal ecosystem. Eat properly; consume sugar, alcohol, etc. in moderation; drink pure water; and avoid frequent use of antacids. If you want to establish a balance of beneficial bacteria in your own intestines, you can find them in the following foods: yogurt containing live cultures (make it yourself to be sure), buttermilk, kefir (a fermented milk product), cottage cheese, and uncooked fruits, grains, and vegetables. If these have been treated too harshly with herbicides and pesticides, consider probiotic supplements.

Many companies offer probiotic supplements. Be sure to use only the ones containing live cultures and starter nutrients so that a healthy friendly bacteria population can be established, and so that you receive all the benefits of probiotics described above. Buy from a reputable company that accurately reports the numbers and kinds of organisms in its products. (A recent study shows that many companies don’t.) We are the first and only company to offer top-of-the-line probiotics combined with Wild Bluegreen™ Algae. We sell only the highest quality probiotics with the highest counts of viable beneficial bacteria.

Do we need probiotics? Absolutely--even as much as we need food, because without both, the digestive system doesn’t run at peak efficiency.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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