Have you ever thought about what is going into your body each day? If not, then you should. One of the main ways to feel and be healthier is eating nutritious food and making sure your GI (gastrointestinal) tract has the right tools to digest and absorb nutrients. The GI tract, which includes the stomach and intestines, works to digest food and eliminate waste. A variety of "good" bacteria, called probiotic bacteria, can help to keep the digestive running as well as digest food, process waste, and keep take care of "bad" bacteria which causes disease and illness.
Although some kinds of bacteria do cause illness and disease in humans such as strep throat, the majority of bacteria do not cause disease. Instead, they are actually beneficial and are used in the manufacturing of food and beverages like buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, sausage, and acidophilus milk. These same kinds of "good" bacteria can also be found in our intestines, where they help keep the digestive system running by digesting food and processing waste. Probiotics, or live bacteria that is non-toxic and does not cause disease, are found in yogurt, intestines, and most natural supplements.
Up until the middle of the last century, bacteria found in food ingredients naturally were used to make fermented food products such as cheese. This process was known as wild fermentation. However, this process is no longer used, as the probiotic bacteria found in food and natural supplements now are harvested through a highly controlled fermentation process resulting in high numbers of bacteria and ensuring quality and purity of the bacteria.
Probiotic bacteria are very important for digestive health. Normal microflora (intestinal bacteria) is associated with good health, as an imbalance in this natural microflora is linked to various disease states including yeast infections and cancer. By eating foods or taking a nutritional supplement containing probiotic bacteria, one can help support and modify the composition of the intestinal bacteria. These bacteria will offer protection against disease-causing bacteria, and stimulation of the immune system.
Lactose is an important sugar that is converted to lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria. Lactose intolerance results when there is an inability to digest lactose because of a failure of the small intestine mucosal cells to produce lactase, which is an enzyme needed in order to digest lactose. This is often caused by genetics, gastrointestinal disease, or a decline in the amount of intestinal lactase levels associated with aging. People who are deficient in lactase accumulate non-absorbed lactose in the GI tract, drawing water and electrolytes into the gut and speeding waste through the intestines which leads to bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. About 50 million people in the U.S. have partial or complete lactose intolerance. Lactic acid bacteria have been shown to help the breakdown of lactose by enhancing the activity of lactase and improving lactose digestion and tolerance.
Digestive enzymes including protease, amylase, and lipase act upon food by breaking it down into simpler components that can be used by the body for energy. Without these enzymes, digestion could not take place and the food that we eat could not be absorbed and utilized by our bodies. Probiotics help the digestive enzymes to digest food and process waste, working together to ensure that the digestive tract is running smoothly. When they are taken together, enzymes ensure greater levels of digestion and absorption of your food while probiotic bacteria aid the enzymes in the digestion while keeping problems in check.
However, ensuring a healthy digestive system is not the only use for probiotics. Probiotic bacteria have been found to prevent vaginal yeast infections in women that suffer from these reoccurring infections. Probiotics keep levels of Candida, a fungus component of the normal GI microflora, in check, preventing overgrowth which is associated with vaginal infections, oral thrush, or even serious systemic yeast infections. Probiotic bacteria have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties and significant benefits for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Along with the above, probiotic supplementation can improve and prevent skin diseases such has eczema and actually control inflammation that is associated with skin conditions.
In order to ensure optimal support of the digestive system, probiotics should be replenished by consumption of foods containing probiotic bacteria or by taking a probiotic natural supplement, as probiotic bacteria do not permanently colonize in the body. Whatever form you choose to replenish the intestinal probiotics, they should be ingested daily to ensure their health-promoting effects. The critical factor to a good supplement is not how many bacteria that supplements contains, but how many bacteria reach the intestines healthy, vigorous, and ready to work. A good supplement will deliver at least 1 billion living, healthy probiotic bacteria to your intestines with each dose. The critical key to a good quality supplement is, once again, that the bacteria are alive and can colonize in the intestines. A good quality product will have guaranteed levels of live bacteria at the point of consumption rather than at the point of manufacture. To ensure that the bacteria are live at the point of consumption, look for a product that has a "use by" or "expiration" date clearly stated on the package. It is also important to look for a probiotic supplement that does not require refrigeration, as those that do have often been subjected to warm temperatures during shipment and storage that will kill off some or even all of the bacteria. Along with this, it is important that the label guarantees live bacteria at the time of purchase, not at the time of shipment or manufacturing. There is one scientifically validated process truly delivers live bacteria to the intestines by suspending the probiotic bacteria in a moist paste that seals the bacteria in a gelatin ball, completely protected from air and dryness, so the bacteria are alive until the specialized gelatin dissolves in the intestines. Because probiotic bacteria are anerobic, they do not require oxygen to live, and the presence of oxygen can actually injure or kill them. In addition, this coating which seals in the bacteria eliminates the need for the nutritional supplement to be refrigerated. However, it can be kept in the refrigerator if desired. By protecting the bacteria on the shelf and in the body, the probiotic can successfully reach the intestine, resulting in a greater number of healthy, intact bacteria to colonize in the intestine.
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