All germs are not created equal. Because our intestines are naturally lined with more than 400 different kinds of organisms, two terms have gained familiarity in our medical lexicon: prebiotics and probiotics. Chiropractor Rob Elder of Metro Chiropractic and Nutritional Wellness Centre calls his treatment approach “weed, feed and seed.” For a gastrointestinal problem, Elder advocates cleaning out the toxins (weed), then prebiotics to create a receptive environment (feed) for the probiotics (seed) to grow. “Good intestinal function helps the immune system operate,” Elder says. “Probiotics get us there by helping create vitamin K, restore normal bowel function, maintain a proper pH (acid-base balance) and provide bulk for bowel movements.”
He says frequency and quality of bowel movements are markers for the general state of our health. He concentrates on getting rid of problem bacteria and reseeding with good bacteria. Prebiotics include inulin and galactooligosaccharides. Probiotics come in a variety of organisms that have to be matched to the patient’s needs.
Elder says that while eating yogurt is thought to be a good way to get probiotics, label-reading is essential. “The yogurt you choose should say ‘live cultures’. Even if it does, the effective dose is small; and the sugar in the yogurt can be toxic to cells. Probiotic supplements give much more benefit, but we also have to realize that diet is key. No supplement replaces getting enough fiber, raw fruits and vegetables, and water.”
Dr. Diane Hood, an internal medicine physician at St. Luke’s Hospital, uses probiotics with any patient taking antibiotics. “About 10 to 30 percent of people on antibiotics will develop diarrhea due to overgrowth of bad bacteria,” she notes. “The probiotic strain is important. For antibiotic diarrhea, lactobacillus and saccharomyces should be included in any probiotic supplement. For women on antibiotics, they can also prevent yeast infections.” She says you can find non-prescription probiotic supplements in the drug store aisle with diarrhea medications.
“There is even some evidence that probiotics help with traveler’s diarrhea, especially formulations that contain lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, because they suppress inflammation in the colon and boost the immune system,” she says. Try the probiotics first to stop diarrhea before taking an anti-diarrheal. If it persists, then use the medication, she advises. Hood says that probiotic bacteria boost the immune system, and studies show that young women with the diarrheal type of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can find relief with daily probiotics. Researchers are looking into whether probiotics can treat ulcerative colitis, as well.
The thing that’s important to know about probiotics, says Hood, is that those bacteria are already part of your normal bowel flora and have become very mainstream in physician practices. They are not FDA-regulated, so it’s important to read labels.
Chiropractor Cheryl Shea of Complete Wellness Center says probiotics are good for preventing urinary tract infections, yeast infections and bowel problems, as well as countering the negative effects of antibiotics. “Any time you are on antibiotics, you should be taking probiotics concurrently and for a week after finishing the prescription,” she stresses. “I think probiotics are a good place to start with any gastrointestinal issue: diarrhea, gas, bloating, even constipation. You can’t overdose; you will simply shed what you don’t need.”
Probiotics seem to be useful in helping with conditions such as allergies, skin rashes, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues and even high cholesterol, she adds. Some specific strains Shea uses in blends include: acidophilus, which boosts immune activity; bifidobacterium lactis, useful in preventing allergies in babies; and saccharomyces boulardii, which helps get rid of clostridium difficile (C-diff), an organism implicated in autism and confusion in older adults.