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By: Jule Klotter

Jule Klotter tells us how "Basic Health Publications User's Guide to Probiotics" by Earl Mindell, RPh, PhD really opened her eyes to the many ways in which 'friendly' bacteria (probiotics) maintain our health.

Firstly, she says, probiotics commonly found in a healthy Gi tract inhibit the growth of pathogens by producing lactic acid. Yeast and harmful bacteria tend to flourish in environments with a neutral pH. Lactic acid holds them in check. Some probiotics also produce hydrogen peroxide, which the immune system uses to destroy pathogens.

One of the predominant friendly bacteria, L. Acidophilus (DDs-1 Strain), produces acidophilin. This substance is lethal to at least 22 potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli, Shigella dysenteriae, Stapyhlococcus aureus, Streptococcus lactis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Salmonella schottmuelleri.

In addition to preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, she says, probiotics protect us in other ways: Firstly, they keep harmful microbes from adhering to or crossing the intestinal lining and entering into the bloodstream.

Mindell says, "Friendly bacteria can actually move through already-adhered layers of harmful bugs to offer this protection."

Probiotics also support immune response throughout the body. Various strains of friendly bacteria increase the activity of lymphocytes (white blood cells that produce antibodies) and phagocytes (cells that engulf and digest microbes and debris). Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus, stimulate antibody production as well.

The friendly bacteria even have a role in disrupting autoimmune responses, she says. They are known to increase interleukin-10 activity. Interleukin-10 is a cytokine that tells the immune system to calm down before it harms us.

Not only do these friendly bacteria defend our bodies, Jules Klotter tells us, they also nourish us. Probiotics in the intestines produce B-complex vitamins, including biotin, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5), and pyridoxine (B6). They also make shortchain fatty acids, antioxidants, and amino acids, and vitamin K. Probiotics also aid digestion.

Many strains of these bacteria produce enzymes that help break down food. The bacteria's acidifying effect creates an environment that promotes the passage of nutrients through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Nutrients in foods that have been fermented with bacteria cultures (e.g., yogurt, kefir, sour cream, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh) are more readily absorbed than the nutrients in non-fermented milk, cabbage, or soy.

Until recently, she notes, friendly bacteria have been a regular part of everyone's diet from the first day that they have their mother's milk. All traditional diets include lacto-fermented food. Fermentation is a traditional way to preserve vegetables, according to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions.

People eating a Western diet of processed, refined foods are not ingesting these friendly bacteria. In fact, the refined carbohydrates and sugars so common in the Western diet actually promote the growth of yeasts and harmful bacteria. In addition to processed foods, many medications, including antibiotics, antacids, synthetic estrogens (birth control pills and hormone replacement), and steroid drugs (oral and inhaled) discourage probiotic growth.

Chlorinated water also damages friendly bacteria. Eating fermented foods regularly boosts the probiotic population. She warns everyone to be aware that probiotic bacteria does not last long in yogurt. She recommends watching due dates and avoiding yogurts with gelatin, used to give yogurt it's thickness as the bacteria dies off.

Jule Klotter explains that a diet that contains plenty of fiber-rich vegetables, fruits beans and whole grains provides the probiotics with their food-of-choice: fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Sometimes, probiotic supplements are needed to get the gut back on track, she says. She tells us that in choosing supplements, Dr. Mindell recommends choosing a brand that has a statement about the number of living bacteria and an expiration date on the bottle. Bacteria viability decreases with exposure to heat, moisture and oxygen, so refrigeration is advisable.

In addition, liquid preparations tend to be unstable. Dr. Mindell recommends that a healthy person take two to five billion CFU/day. ('CFU' stands for 'colony forming units.') People with gastrointestinal problems can take up to ten billion CFU/day.

Dr. Mindell also recommends that adults and children over two years take supplements containing L. acidophilus and/or other Lactobacillus strains and strains of Bifidobacteria. For younger children, he recommends a powdered formula prepared specifically for babies, which generally includes Bifidobacteria, with lesser amounts of L. rhamnosus, L. Paracasei, and L. salivarius.

For children, the powdered supplement can be mixed with juice or milk. Adults should take probiotic capsules, or powder mixed in unchilled water, ten to 30 minutes before meals. People using the higher therapeutic doses may experience 'cleansing symptoms' as yeast and harmful bacteria die off.

Dr Mindell also recommends that people with severe immune dysfunction or life-threatening illness proceed cautiously and check with their doctor before using probiotics, as seriously ill people have developed infections in rare cases.

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