WIN-ning Wednesday: Probiotics

This morning my 2 year old son had his daily “slurpie.”  We have fun names for all different things that are good for him.  A “slurpie” is his powder probiotic mixed with some high potency liquid fish oil… yum!  A “crunchie” is his homeopathic pellet remedies that I give him if he has a cold or to help support his body depending on what we are working on preventatively.  His “chewies” are a little paediatric chewable fish oil supplement.  And his “smoothie”…. well, that’s just a smoothie… but like most people know, you can hide a variety of good things in a smoothie and have it taste suprisingly good.  Along with the fruit, I add a good helping of ground flax seeds and chia seeds to his.

I find this silly name game it makes it fun for him.  He gets really excited over taking these “healthy” things.  Some day I’m sure he’ll call me out on it… either he’ll think the names are ridiculous or catch on to my trickery…”Mom, that slurpie thing is gross!  It’s FISH oil!!”  🙂  But I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

So, with the Slurpie as my inspiration today, I thought it would be good to post about PROBIOTICS .  So many people are already using probiotics, and it’s being mentioned as an added ingredient in certain food products.  Yet, some people are still unsure about what exactly probiotics are and how they can help.

PROBIOTICS: this is a general term for supplementation that is the HEALTHY and good bacteria that naturally live in the human body.  This good bacteria resides in the digestive tract, but also throughout the body (skin, sinuses, genito-urinary tract).

Many different microorganisms live in the human body harmoniously.  Good bacteria, bad bacteria, yeast, etc., all happily reside together when they are in the right balance.  When the GOOD bacteria is at healthy levels, it keeps everything else in check and can prevent the bad bacteria or yeast from creating health issues.

However, when the good bacteria is depleted, unfavourable microorganisms can overgrow leading to compromised digestion, trouble with skin health, weakened immune health and a susceptibility to infections (colds, ear infections, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, sinus infections).

Things that deplete the natural balance of good bacteria, also known as “healthy flora,” in the body:

– Diet: Not enough whole foods (fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes) and pure water.  Too much sugar, coffee, synthetic or processed food can cause an overgrowth of unfavourable micro-organisms, like yeast, which can crowd out the good bacteria.

– Food Allergens: Certain foods can be allergenic.  Also, certain people have trouble digesting specific foods based on their own unique biochemical make up.  These foods can create toxicity when broken down in the gut.  The toxicity can snuff out the good bacteria over time.

– Low Fiber: See above… plant fiber provide food for the good bacteria to feed on and proliferate.  If there’s not enough good bacteria food the populations can dwindle.

– Alcohol

– Stress:  this can affect the function and biochemistry of the digestive tract’s environment.  A hostile mind can create hostile environments in our anatomy.

– Medication: certain medications, such as the oral contraceptive pill, HRT, steroids, chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics can profoundly reduce populations of good bacteria.

IS YOGURT A GOOD SOURCE OF PROBIOTICS?  

Yogurt may not be a good source of probiotics, despite advertising claims.  The majority of manufactured brands of yogurt do have some probiotic cultures in them, but they are not at therapeutic levels.  Also, many of the seemingly healthy yogurts contain a lot of sugar and other ingredients that can lessen good bacteria, and feed yeast populations, in the body.

Finally, the most significant aspect of yogurt’s ineffectiveness as a source of probiotics is: all yogurt that in Canadian grocery stores has been PASTEURIZED.  Pasteurization exposes food to very high heat to destroy any harmful micro-organisms.  Pasteurization also kills off the good bacteria.  It’s questionable how much of the good stuff is left over after this process.

There is pure and natural yogurt, like Bio K, that is a rich source of probiotics because it is designed to be a therapeutic food.

However, we need to be discerning with any foods that are commercially manufactured and say “a good source of probiotics.”  There are brands out there making probiotic bread, cereal, granola bars, you name it.  I am very sceptical that these foods contain any beneficial amount of probiotics and likely contain a variety of other ingredients (sodium, sugar, corn syrup, artificial flavours, preservatives, trans fats etc.) that are not healthy for us and can deplete good bacteria from the digestive tract.

WHAT IS THE BEST SOURCE OF PROBIOTICS?

The most therapeutic and effective way to get a probiotic in the day is through a high quality probiotic supplement.  These can come in capsules or powders.

When looking for a probiotic these are the considerations to help narrow down your choice and provide a good probiotic option:

1) Contains no allergenic ingredients (soy, wheat, corn, etc)

2) Does not have a “non medicinal ingredient list” that shows binders, fillers or other things (cellulose, stearic acid, dextrose, maltodextrin, dye, etc.)

3) Comes from a reputable supplement brand, rather than a generic brand carried by franchised pharmacies or big box stores

4) The probiotic is refrigerated when you buy it.  Note: Yes, some companies are making probiotics that do not require refrigeration.  The best probiotics I know of are still kept in the fridge, despite advances in probiotic formulation.

HOW DO I TAKE A PROBIOTIC?  DOES IT INTERACT WITH MEDICATION?

Probiotics are very safe to take, and can be taken by people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, without concern.  Probiotics do not interact with medication, therefore they are safe to take in conjunction with anything prescribed by your medical doctor.

Adults can take a probiotic supplement as directed.  For kids, specific pediatric or infant probiotics should be given based on their age.

The sign of too much supplemented probiotics is loose stools and/or an increase in intestinal gas.  This is a very rare occurrence, but something to be aware of.

For specific guidance about probiotic supplementation and how they can help, it’s ideal to consult a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.  A Naturopathic Doctor can properly assess a person’s need for a probiotic, recommend a specific amount to take and give guidance about a good quality brand of probiotics to use.

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