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.