Yes, you can you beat the systemOur digestive tract isn’t a simple, one-dimensional pathway, where food goes in one end and waste comes out the other. It’s a sophisticated system of specialized organs, each with certain jobs only it can do. In the stomach, for example, food and drink, including our wonderful probiotics, get broken down—burned alive is more like it—in a powerful acid and enzyme bath. Probiotics still do a world of good, and some strains survive better than others. But very few survive that roiling acidic environment fully intact. And in order to get any benefit from your probiotics, they MUST arrive in your lower gut, alive and intact. (Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir and kombucha, you should know, take an especially brutal beating. Don’t count on them for a significant probiotic boost.) So when the remains of our probiotics arrive in the small intestine, their next stop, they’ve lost a great deal of their remarkable power to fight off bad bacteria, toxins, infections, inflammation, and other unwanted visitors. We’ve recently learned just how much power they lose—one study shows up to 80% is lost! But we’ve learned how to prevent that loss.
Laughing in stomach acid’s faceIn one resoundingly conclusive study, half of the subjects started out with one billion micro-encapsulated probiotics, and half started out with five billion of the same probiotic strains, but not micro-encapsulated. Conclusion? The groups showed similar increases in probiotic activity…even though the non-micro-encapsulated group ingested five times more probiotic bacteria than the micro-encapsulated group. Put another way, fully 80 percent of the non-micro-encapsulated probiotics’ health benefits were lost. And put another other way, one micro-encapsulated probiotic banged home the health benefits of five non-micro-encapsulated ones. That’s a sensational deal, whose importance can’t be overestimated. While several kinds of food are inherently probiotic—including fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, some aged cheeses, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha—the amount of probiotic content you’re getting from a food can never be certain—every food is different, and every body is different. So probiotic supplements are really the only way to ensure
What are the best probiotics?After reading the above, it’s not surprising that I’ll judge micro-encapsulated probiotics the best of the bunch. But they come in many, many varieties. The great majority of them are members of two main groups or “families”: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. In each family, there are hundreds of variants, or strains. You can tell which of the two major families a strain belongs to when you see the letter L. or B. preceding the name, as with lactobaccilus acidophilus. You’ll see that on packaging as L. acidophilus. Here are some of the most common strains that appear in probiotic supplements and in foods and beverages.
- B. animalis aids digestion and fights off food-borne bacteria, and is also thought to boost the immune system.
- B. breve fights off infection-causing bacteria, helps your body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars, and breaks down plant fiber to make it digestible.
- B. lactis is used as a starter for a great number of cheeses.
- B. longum helps break down carbohydrates and also acts as a powerful antioxidant.
- L. acidophilus helps digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria.
- L. reuteri may reduce oral bacteria that cause tooth decay, and is also thought to help the digestive system.
Directions: Pile onIn general, all of the probiotics above have been thoroughly studied and found to be profoundly beneficial in more ways than one. So if you’re looking for a probiotic supplement, it’s always best to pile on the strains—the more strains, the better. You’ll see labels that tell you which strains and how many colony-forming units (CFU) the product contains. A CFU is a bacterium that can live and reproduce to create billions more of itself. I recommend at least 10 billion CFUs of varied strains in a micro-encapsulated probiotic supplement. While side effects linked to probiotics are essentially non-existent, please consult with your doctor if (I hope when) you plan to begin taking a probiotic supplement. It’s only a minuscule few meds and medical conditions that have been on the scene of an upset, but caution is always good medicine. I wish you happy and healthy supplementing. It’s one of the best ways I can think of to take good care.
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