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The Scoop on Poop and Probiotics

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Probiotics: Your Gut Protection System
We have more bacterial cells in our gut than we do in the rest of our body — about four pounds of it! There are three types of gut bacteria: harmful, neutral, and beneficial — that’s the kind known as probiotics, the friendly bacteria that acts as our “gut protection system,” or “GPS.”

Probiotic means, literally, “for life,” in contrast to “antibiotic,” which means “against life.” The most common and most widely studied probiotic bacteria are what Ms. Watson calls the L’s and the B’s — Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria are most associated with the small intestine, and the Bifidobacteria are mostly found in the large intestine, or colon.

The probiotic system works by

  • protecting the intestinal lining and improving the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut by “crowding out” bad bacteria;
  • producing substances that neutralize harmful bacteria;
  • and influencing the immune system so that it responds appropriately to invaders, such as harmful organisms, toxins and even food.

It’s sometimes hard to make the connection, but imbalances in the digestive system can affect every other system in the body.

According to Ms. Watson, in addition to the obvious things like heartburn, bloating, and gas, conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, skin conditions, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even arthritis are all related to the gut.

Factors such as age, use of antibiotics, poor diet, and stress can cause pathogenic bacteria levels to increase. The imbalance in intestinal flora is called dysbiosis. Ms. Watson reports that studies have been done with people consuming hundreds of billions of various probiotics daily and, typically, the only negative side effects from high doses of probiotics are increased gas and bloating, which soon pass. Most people find the right dose for themselves by trial and gradual adjustments.

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Ann Pietrangelo

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. She is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


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2:18AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

I should add that a growing number of experts are urging us to make and use our own fermented foods to help balance our gut microbiota. Try listening to this week's The Splendid Table podcast with host Lynn Rossetti Kaspar interviewing one of these expert chefs (Noma) on the techniques and benefits of fermented foods. It's outstandingly clear, surprisingly simple, and simply entertaining.

2:08AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

The only problem with taking probiotics is how expensive they are and how tiny a dose we get even from the highest-dose probiotic products, in comparison to the vast numbers of microbes in our guts. If we want to tip the balance we may need to do microbiome transplants. Another way, according to scientific experiments, is to switch to a vegan diet for as little as a few days, which can transform the proportion of beneficial to bad microbiota very quickly. Wish I didn't need animal protein because of my food sensitivities. let everyone become more aware of how our bodies react to foods and other factors & we will become more capable of regulating our nutrient intakes for health.

6:22AM PDT on Nov 1, 2013

ive been irregular for a couple of months now, and have had good days and bad...was going along fine with nice firm movements, but now most of them seem to be soft. i added metamucil, started eating more fiber, etc, that seems to help, but the pro biotic i take, seems there is a laxative type effect as the movements are still soft, compared to the firm ones i used to this normal?

6:00AM PDT on Mar 17, 2013

This should not be uncomfortable subject because it's so important. (Dr. Oz has helped greatly by making it open topic on his show. lol. Wasn't so long ago that it was shocking to say "pregnant" - sssshhhhh you were "in a family way".) This is helpful article - thanks. I have been buying a commercial yogurt with probiotics but trying to find better alterative.

11:06AM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

Adding probiotic's to any diet is beneficial to overall health.

8:03PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

I already use probiotic and it's really a turn around.

10:14AM PST on Dec 19, 2011

I had to send this to my husband. I recently started working for a big kefir company and we've been having it with our morning granola every day. We've both noticed major changes in our, well... poop. We're both going 2-3 times a day as opposed to once, and it's definitely (sorry to be gross) a lot more in quantity and much longer than usual. I don't know about you, but I feel awesome when I go more like that. I feel a lot less bloated and just kind of... clean. I'm pro-probiotics all the way. And if you're not into the way kefir tastes you might try it mixed into a fruit smoothie or over fresh fruit or yogurt.

3:52PM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

Interesting artical, Kefir no can do, I just can"t get into it. Like the last two lines of your artical, so true.

11:51PM PDT on Jun 9, 2011

Thanks for the informative article. Let's eat more yogurt and fermented foods.

6:18AM PDT on Jun 5, 2011


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Interesting article, but I will pass on the beer.

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All sound delicious :-)

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