We are surrounded by bacteria and many of them are essential to our health. There are more bacteria in our intestines than there are cells in the body! More than 700 different species of bacteria (flora) thrive in our digestive system and the interactions between our body and these bacteria constantly reshape our immune system. An unhealthy, imbalanced gut flora or dysbiosis can have profound health consequences.
Many factors can affect the health of our gut flora. Things like antibiotics, chlorinated water, antibacterial chemicals, processed food and more all have a negative effect on the health bacteria in the body. Lifestyle changes in the past century have also affected our natural bacteria balance. Pasteurization of food products, the decrease of fermented foods in our diet and the lost practice of food preservation using bacteria means we are eating less good bacteria than we used to.
The Importance of Probiotics
Friendly bacteria or probiotics play an interregnal role in our bodies. Probiotics restore and rebalance healthy intestinal and vaginal flora, helping to prevent yeast overgrowth and aid in digestion. They can protect against pathogenic (bad) bacteria such as those that cause traveler’s diarrhea. Probiotics stimulate the immune system, control food allergies and intolerances and even lower cholesterol levels. Another essential role probiotics play is in the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals from our foods.
Supplementing with probiotics is absolutely essential while on antibiotics and for at least 1 month after. It is also important to take probiotics when traveling and when fighting yeast and bladder infections.
Choosing a Quality Probiotic Supplement
Advances in microbiology have been made in the past few years that now allows for higher quality, broad spectrum probiotic supplements. As everyone’s gut flora is as individual as a fingerprint, knowing which strain to take can be impossible. Taking a multi strain probiotic gives your body the best chance to utilize all it can as each person will respond to and utilize each strain differently.
When choosing a probiotic supplement it is important to look for a few key details. Choose a supplement that provides multiple strains of bacteria, a minimum of ten strains is a good start. Although the number of bacteria is important, the number of strains is more beneficial. Think 10/10. A minimum of 10 different strains providing at least 10 billion bacteria. In addition look for products that include primarily human strains as they are the most useful therapeutically. There are a few dairy and vegetable origin strains that have proven health benefits however human strains should make up the majority of a quality formula.
Children and Probiotics
Infants are first exposed to probiotics when passing through the birth canal. If this step is bypassed the first exposure to healthy bacteria is missed, increasing the risk of atopic illness such as asthma, eczema, allergies and ear infections. It is therefore very import to supplement infants born by C-section with a probiotic.
Infants who are breast fed have a different bacterial profile than those who are formula fed. Breast fed babies have higher levels of bifidobacteria which is essential to establishing a healthy gut flora for life. The initial colonization of the gut determine the final bacterial composition in adults.
Dysbiosis in children will contribute to atopic illnesses, ADHS, digestive problems, food intolerance’s and more. Every time a child is treated with antibiotics, healthy bacteria are eliminated, creating an environment if dysbiosis.
Children’s probiotic supplements often come in powdered form. The unflavoured varieties are safe for all children including newborns. The children’s formulas differ slightly from adult formulas as they contain more bifidobacteria and B. infantum, reflecting the natural composition of gut flora in children under the age of 5. The powders can be mixed with water or formula or applied directly info the infants mouth or on the mothers nipple. Although children’s formulas better represent the natural gut flora of a child, adult probiotic formulas are completely safe for children and still provide beneficial bacteria.
Any infant that was born by c-section, that is bottle fed or that is fighting thrush (yeast growth) can benefit from a probiotic supplement. It is also very important that children taking antibiotics, or nursing children whose mother is taking antibiotics be given a probiotic supplement to prevent dysbiosis.