Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Beneficial Bacteria in the Gut: Crowding out Bad Bacteria with Probiotics

There are many different bacteria in the gut, in fact beneficial bacteria is so important to health that according to a blog on WebMD it is often thought of as another organ! Beneficial and pathogenic bacteria always co-exist inside our gut, but the ratio between them is crucial to having a well functioning gut. Sometimes the balance is upset by antibiotics (which kill the good when they go after the bad), a modern diet or poor digestion. If you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria you can have gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea. Also, the tip of the villi is where the enzymes to break down the food are made. When your villi are shot, you don't make the enzymes to break down the food. Then the bad bacteria have a field day with the undigested food. There are several things you can do to reset the balance of your intestinal flora. One thing you can do is to starve the bad bacteria by not eating food that it needs to survive by implementing a special diet like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or Body Ecology Diet.

The easiest way to increase the good bacteria and they can "crowd out" the bad bacteria is to use probiotics. Before preservatives and pasteurization, we had a lot more good bacteria in our food supply as fermented food (yogurt, pickles,etc.) which added beneficial bacteria to food was a way of preservation. But now, according to the Journal of Nutrition, "In the U.S., yogurt is not required to contain any viable cultures" so only yogurt labeled "Live Active Culture Seal" will contain live cultures. But there are so many strains of bacteria, this doesn't tell you the level of beneficial bacteria or the strains. So if you don't make your own yogurt, I would recommend a quality probiotic as the most efficient way to increase good bacteria.

Also, a double blind study cited in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition showed a better antibody response to typhoid vaccine in adults who received the probiotic strain Lactobacillus GG than placebo. Which doesn't mean run out and get lactobacillus before your next vaccine--it just suggests that good bacteria help the immune system to function well.

Another thing you can do to help restore the good bacteria is to take plant based digestive enzymes which will break down the food better. Because the bad bacteria feast on undigested food, breaking down the food can be another way to discourage bad bacteria.

When it comes to restoring beneficial bacteria in the gut, it is truly a situation where "it isn't a sprint--it's a marathon."

1. Jung LK. Lactobacillus GG augments the immune response to typhoid vaccination: a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. FASEB J 1999;13:A872 (abstr).

Related posts:

Why Alkaline Foods Might Keep You Healthy
SCD and Why Grain Free is Healing for the Gut