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Improving Digestion with Probiotics

Sep 05, 2016 08:24AM ● By Michael Joseph

The digestive system is a complex combination of organs and tissue critical to every system in the body. The microbiota, or gut flora, is the ecological community of organisms in our intestine. It includes the good guys (probiotics) and the bad guys (pathogens), and the trillions of these organisms outnumber all the other cells in the body by almost 10 to one.


These creatures exist in symbiosis with humans, and the good organisms are responsible for many functions that humans cannot perform, from the digestion of certain foods to the production of B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Lack of these probiotics is a common cause of constipation and overall digestive unrest.


It was once thought that bad organisms were of no importance, but current research suggests that greater diversity of the organisms in the gut is one of the main factors of maintaining good gastrointestinal and overall health. The key is to assure that no one pathogenic organism gains supremacy, because a greater diversity of organisms creates a more stable environment.


Probiotics are created by the fermentation of food products to allow the growth of certain organisms such as bacteria and yeasts that we consume as part of our diet. Two among several types are the lactic acid-producing lactobacilli and the bifido bacteria.


Lactic acid-producing bacteria are the primary probiotic for the human gut. They include popular strains such as L. acidophiulous and L. rhamnosus. They are known as transient bacteria, meaning they do not typically colonize well, and so need to be supplied constantly via diet. They are not spore-forming organisms, which means they cannot become pathogenic, which give lactobacilli an amazing safety record.


The lactic acid agitates and eradicates bad microorganisms, and also aids in the breakdown and digestion of certain proteins and carbohydrates, including dairy. Lactobacilli are an "army" that works on our behalf to support health and fight the bad guys. Organisms such as L. rhamnosus mostly affect the small intestine, but also the large intestine.


The bifido bacteria are the primary colonizing probiotic of the large intestine and the end of the small bowel. They work in synergy with the lactobacilli. The dominant bifido bacteria such as B. longum break down complex carbohydrates such as those found in onions and beans, and are known to improve inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases. Healthy colons contain high concentrations of the bifido bacteria, and low concentrations are found in people with irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Bifido bacteria are critical to the immune system, increasing immune responses to pathogens and activating B cell IgA secretion.


One of the major causes of constipation is probiotic deficiency. Forty to 60 percent of bowel movements are comprised of probiotics and other microorganisms, so one of the simplest ways of improving bowel movements to where they are more solid, consistent and predictable is to increase the diversity of gut flora by taking a multispecies probiotic daily, which includes both the lactobacilli and the bifido bacteria. This will help regulate and normalize bowel movements. Not all probiotic products are created equal, and it is recommended to speak with a specialist in gut microflora health before proceeding.


Michael Joseph, Ph.D., a doctor of natural medicine and orthomolecular nutrition consultant, specializes in emotional eating and food allergies at HealthCare Partners, in The Villages. For appointments, call 352-750-4333. For more information, visit