Why You Need Probiotics
Patricia Zifferblatt | March 18, 2008

From a reader:
“I’m hearing and reading so much in the media about probiotics in foods, in the diet, and so on. Can you help me to better understand what probiotics are and what they do in my body? Why are they so important?”

Excellent question! A probiotic is a beneficial bacteria culture found in some foods and supplements that can help the naturally occurring flora in the body’s gut re-establish themselves, thereby helping to strengthen the body’s immune system and overall digestive system. Most nutrient absorption of foods and supplements occurs in the gut--also known as the intestinal system. A healthy gut means your absorption-and-elimination system works better, and that benefits the entire body.

The body’s digestive system is very complicated. And like all complex machines, it takes not one action to help keep it healthy, but a variety of actions. When the body is not cared for properly, it doesn’t eliminate well, it can’t absorb and utilize nutrients effectively, and it begins to lose its ability to function in an efficient manner. Then the breakdown begins.

In the fast-paced world of today, what we eat, when we eat it, plus the stresses of the day and our personal lifestyle habits can affect our health in subtle ways that may not be apparent until a health issue occurs. Then we usually stop and ask, “What can I do to make my body work better?” These health issues can materialize as persistent yeast infections (Candida), tiredness, allergies, very bad breath, constipation and/or diarrhea, as well as an impaired immune system resulting in recurring colds, sick days, and so on. That is when a probiotic--which literally means ‘for life’--enters the picture.

What can a body do?
Change your lifestyle! At Better Life, we highly recommend lifestyle change as well as daily probiotics to all our clients. Here are some tips to help you take better care of your body:
  • Better food choices: Fast foods that are high in fat, low in fiber, or high in sugars should be restricted or eliminated from the diet. The gut operates best with a healthy diet of lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and unrefined grains.

  • Better living habits: Limiting or eliminating alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and refined sugars from the daily diet can help the body keep a better balance. And get the eight or nine hours of sleep your body needs every night. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done--as a mother of nine, I know all about sleepless nights! But I’m willing to bet there are ways you can get to bed earlier if you look for them hard enough, and there are ways to sleep better once you get there. See this earlier article on insomnia from Better Life for some good tips.

  • Better stress management: We all react differently to stress, but it’s well documented that those people who have out-of-control stress in their lives seem to have more immune-system health problems than those who have learned how to deal with stress. You really can learn how to manage stress--just make the effort to seek out classes or more information, such as this article on stress from Better Life.

  • Better exercise habits: It’s well-documented that a regular exercise program is most important for a healthy life. This doesn’t mean you must start running marathons--it simply means that regular daily exercise is a very important factor in life and in overall health, including your gut.

  • Better nutrition: Not only should you try to improve your lifestyle as suggested above, but you should also include foods and supplements that can help the gut work better. The foods and supplements that are high in probiotics are foods such as yogurts and kefirs that contain a range of probiotic bacteria, and supplements such as acidophilus. Here are some examples of these beneficial bacteria--look for them on the labels as you buy foods and supplements:

    • Bifidobacterium animalis, breve, longum, and infantis found in some yogurts and kefirs.
    • Lactobacillus acidophilus, casei, johnsonii, lactis, plantarum, reuteri, rhamnosus, and salivarius.
Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no quick fix, nor is there a silver bullet. But a healthy lifestyle that includes probiotics is a great start!
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