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Why You Should Eat Bugs

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Why You Should Eat Bugs

By Catherine Guthrie, Natural Solutions

Its name isn’t sexy, and neither are its living arrangements. Probiotics, which are live microorganisms (read bacteria) that are added to your gut, sound like some sort of squirming critter you’d rather steer clear of. But because of their supposed powers to soothe stomachs and boost immunity, probiotics have become increasingly popular. Last year, sales soared 12 percent, making them among the fastest-growing supplements in the United States.

And that’s a bit ironic, because it’s hard to know if you’re getting the genuine article. According to a recent test by ConsumerLab.com, an independent laboratory that tests supplements, one-third of probiotic products have far fewer live organisms than their labels claim. Many of the supplements tested had only 1 percent of the billion or so organisms you would expect to find; some had only one-ten-thousandth. Overall, one-quarter of the probiotic products analyzed made claims their labels couldn’t support.

So how do you make sure you’re not getting stiffed? And should you even bother with probiotics? They may be selling big, but the claims take some sorting through; the evidence is stronger for some than for others.

First, a bit of Biology 101. Our intestines sport a steamy forest of bacteria, whose balance is essential to health. When the balance is upset by an external influence, mainly food-borne bacteria or antibiotics, our bodies become unhappy in any number of ways. Our digestive systems suffer, our immunity can wane, and according to many practitioners, this bacterial imbalance plays a role in ailments as wide-ranging as lactose intolerance, respiratory problems, and even heart disease. The job of probiotics is to repopulate our gut with the bacteria that have been lost.

So far, most of the research has focused on probiotics and diarrhea. In addition to reseeding the intestines with beneficial bacteria (which antibiotics typically kill off), probiotics release acids that kill harmful bacteria. This double whammy has proven so effective that many practitioners now routinely prescribe them–in supplement form or in foods like yogurt and kefir–to patients on antibiotics.

These good bacteria may also relieve the opposite problem, constipation. According to several studies, probiotics may increase acid levels, which boosts the gut’s ability to push waste through. They may also inhibit the staying power of Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria associated with gastritis, ulcers, and gastric cancer. In fact, many practitioners are using probiotics to treat a variety of intestinal ailments, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and colitis.

When Rahima Hirji, a naturopath at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, prescribed probiotics to an 18-year-old woman with irritable bowel syndrome, her pain and irregularity significantly improved after only three weeks.

Some research supports Hirji’s clinical experience. A 2002 University of California, Los Angeles study found that probiotics eased pain and gas and improved regularity in patients with IBS. Another study found what may be a causal link: Those with IBS tended to have low numbers of beneficial bacteria in their intestines.

And probiotics aren’t just friendly placeholders in the gut, says Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and founder of www.drgreene.com. “They also help bring the immune system to a nice stable midpoint.”

In laboratory tests of cell cultures, probiotics have been shown to increase the production of immune cells that fight viral infections and tamp down antibodies associated with allergies. They also ease inflammation, which is why some experts think they can protect against respiratory infections and heart disease.

Human studies of probiotics and immunity are limited, but Greene says he sees a real improvement in the overall health of patients who take probiotics regularly. “The people who load up on the stuff have fewer colds and allergy attacks,” he says. “Kids come down with fewer ear infections, and I�m seeing evidence that probiotics help prevent urinary tract infections.”

In fact, Greene is so impressed by probiotics that he now routinely advises his patients to eat lots of yogurt. (Look for brands with the LAC seal, meaning they contain live active cultures.) But in order to treat specific conditions, he says, you’ll probably need to rely on a supplement.

Probiotics may sound creepy at first, but invite them in, and you’ll find they make very friendly houseguests.

Next: Supplement Guide

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Read more: Colitis, Crohn's & IBS, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, Health, , ,

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Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living.

17 comments

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6:28PM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

I drink my miso for dinner and fat free yogurt with honey for breakfast, both naturally have probiotics which help me fight off disease and sickness when my body is feeling too weak to. As long as I can't see them, i love them

7:28AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Because of the limited food available daily, I cant seem to go to my Probiotics.

1:26PM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

We shouldn't live in a aseptic world because we need bacterias all around us! did you know there is more bacterias in the mouth than there is people in the world? Bacterias are found on our skin, in our eyes, etc and they help us not to get infected by other bacterias that are dangerous to us. Good bacterias keep us safe. If we catch a bad one, our immune system fights over it and keep a memory of the intruder so the next time it goes around, the immune system will react far more rapidly. Therefore, it is good to stay in contact with bacterias to be in good health!

1:56AM PST on Feb 5, 2010

What turns me off from eating bugs? It's the eyes and the legs, mostly. I can't even eat lobster, or crab. Sure, shrimp are fine, but only when they've been shelled, and have had their insectoid bits removed.

If you want people to eat bugs, then find a way to make them look more like shrimp. Hell, I'd even take a shot at worms, provided they had the texture of ground beef.

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11:23PM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Jarro-Dophilus is packaged in vegeterian capsules. i have been using them for a few years.

my favourite, though, were the ones offered on dr mercola's web site.

2:15PM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Charles...hahaha!

11:23AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Homeland Security would be happy to provide them for free.

6:37PM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

Hmmm I was advised to eat pro-biotic yoghurts for IBS and it's hard to tell if they really help or not. I thought this article would be about eating insects I once read a book of my brothers written at the turn of the century. The author provided a good nutrious scientific case. The reason for his study so the poor wouldn't poach his game. Still in the East it's common availability of nutrition for a mass population.

4:52PM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

For those who avoid artificial sweeteners, don't buy Vidazorb because they use Sucralose (Splenda) -- don't fret.. you can find a few vegetarian probiotics on ebay, just search for "vegetarian probiotics" - I'm so glad there are vegetarian options!

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2:21PM PDT on Sep 14, 2009

Good to see an article promoting Probiotics! But please don't think that only folks on an antibiotic regimen need these beneficial organisms. I'm convinced that the majority of the U.S. population is deficient due to the processed foods and artificial ingredients we consume that kill off good bugs. Oh, and don't bother taking ANY supplements containing Magnesium Stearate or Titanium Dioxide as your body will regard these as poisons and a biofilm will develop on your intestinal wall prohibiting absorption of "the good stuff" you think your getting. BTW: I prefer the Complete Probiotics offered at mercola.com.

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