by Lawrence J. Hoberman, MD
I have spent a substantial portion of my medical career focused on gastrointestinal health, and I am known to be passionate about the benefits of probiotics. I enjoy educating my patients about the ways probiotics can help offset the unintended consequences of antibiotics while promoting wellness through digestive health.
To understand what probiotics do, it is important to have a little background information about the world of intestinal bacteria. As we evolved, bacteria inhabited our intestines, where they helped our immune system fight infections due to parasites, viruses and bacteria. The intestinal bacteria also helped us digest food and enhance normal intestinal motility.
We have a symbiotic relationship with our intestinal bacteria. We provide shelter and nourishment for them, and they provide health benefits for us. We have more than a hundred trillion bacteria in our intestines, with most residing in our large intestines or colon. Most of the intestinal bacteria are beneficial or “good guys,” but there are some harmful bacteria. As long as the healthy bacteria are in control, our intestines work fine.
But when we take antibiotics, eat unhealthy, travel or become stressed, there can be a disruption in the balance of the intestinal bacteria. The “bad guys” start to multiply and stimulate the immune system, which leads to inflammation in the intestines and breakdown in the intestinal barrier.
As a result, we develop a variety of intestinal symptoms. In addition, the inflammation can lead to a “leaky gut” and contribute to development of other disorders like obesity and diabetes. By taking a probiotic supplement, it is possible to re-establish the healthy balance of the intestinal bacteria, reduce the inflammation and restore the integrity of the intestinal barrier.
How Probiotics Help
Probiotics are micro-organisms, primarily bacteria, that confer health benefits when they are ingested. The two main probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species. There are many varieties of these bacteria, and each particular bacterium may have specific health benefits.
Lactobacillus casei strains have been found to lessen the risk of developing antibiotic-related diarrhea. Lactobacillus acidophilus strains have been found to lessen the symptoms of bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea in patients who struggle with Irritable Bowel Disease.
Similarly, there are different Bifidobacteria species and strains that provide specific benefits. For example, Bifidobacteria are the first bacteria to inhabit an infant’s intestines when delivered vaginally. These bacteria breakdown starches in breast milk and produce substances that provide nourishment for the colon-lining cells and stimulate the maturation of the intestines.
Choose a Good Probiotic
You can go into most grocery and health food stores today and find many probiotic options. When considering a probiotic, take the supplement in a capsule or pill form. Using yogurt or other food supplements can’t provide the amount or variety of bacteria available in pill/capsule formula. Look for a product that has multiple species and strains of probiotics; one organism can’t provide all the benefits, like altering the immune system and improving digestion of resistant starches in our diet.
Also, it is important to look at the amount of bacteria in a serving size called colony-forming units (CFUs). It is best to take a product that has at least 8 to 10 billion CFUs in each serving size.
Generally, it can take at least one week to notice improvement after starting a probiotic, but sometimes it can take two to three weeks. Don’t give up after only three to four days of taking a probiotic.
When someone has ongoing gastrointestinal disorders without an identifiable cause, or when someone is going to take an antibiotic, I recommend taking a probiotic. Fortunately, probiotics have been found to be very safe without any serious side effects. As a precaution, consult with your physician if you are on special medications or if your immune system is suppressed.
Lawrence Hoberman, M.D., has spent more than 40 years practicing medicine and is board certified in both Internal Medicine (1972) and Gastroenterology (1975). In 2007, he developed his own probiotic supplement: EndoMune Advanced Probiotic (www.EndoMune.com). Dr. Hoberman currently sees patients as a part of a health and wellness practice that stresses preventative medicine called Health by Design, located at 13409 George Road in San Antonio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (210) 862-2138.