“Good bacteria” critical for Digestive Health

~ Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Many of us would like to believe that our bodies are clean and sterile, but the truth is that we are made up of 10 times more bacteria than body cells. These bacteria manage our immune system, digest our food, and keep the ‘bad’ guys in-check. These friendly bacteria are not only crucial for our quality of life, but they keep us alive. When we change our balanced digestive environment, such as with acute use of antibiotics or chronic use of acid blocking medication like Nexium and Prevacid, susceptibility to damaging species like C. difficile and H. pylori increases, our risk for mineral deficiencies and associated diseases like osteoporosis increases, and our immune system function declines.

Bonnie Basseler, via TED talks, (a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading”), provides fantastic insight into how bacteria in our bodies communicate with each other, so that they can successfully protect us, or attack us. Her informative talk, which is less than 20 minutes, can be viewed here.

Not all probiotic supplements are made alike! Look for brands that provide research data on their own products, since some supplement companies make health claims based on research conducted with someone else’s bacterial strain. For example, it’s important to know that your particular brand of probiotic survives in the intestine when ingested, and multiplies well there. Also look for supplement companies that provide regular quality control analysis documentation and a guarantee for the dose on the label even when the supplement has been unrefrigerated for at least 30 days.

Therapeutic probiotic supplements usually include a high balance of Lactobacillus species (which make up a significant portion of the upper digestive tract), and Bifidobacterium species (primarily in the lower digestive tract). Current research suggests that different states of health often respond best to one species of bacteria in particular. IBS for example, may respond better to L. plantarum species, whereas many children’s digestive complaints respond well to probiotic supplements that contain L. reuteri. My favourite probiotic companies include Genestra, Natren, and Metagenics. Other popular brands include Bio K+ and VSL#3.
When under the guidance of a health professional, probiotic doses in the range of 40 to 100 billion cfu (colony forming units), are common after antibiotic use. Maintenance doses usually fall in the range of 10 to 15 billion cfu daily, with food.