Billions of bacteria normally reside in your large intestine. And, in return for a warm place to live, they do good things for the gut. These “bowel bugs” (as I like to call them) are also called intestinal flora because like plant life they are the fertile soil that contribute to colon health and contribute to the health of the whole body. Besides healthful bacteria residing in your colon, harmful ones also get in from the food supply. Most of these harmful bacteria (those that cause intestinal upsets such as diarrhea or gastroenteritis) are killed by the stomach acids, but some do find their way into the colon. Colon health is basically helping the healthy bacteria far outnumber the harmful “bugs,” and that’s what you can do for colon health. The healthful bacteria are also known as probiotics because they are pro-life or add health to life. Let’s now learn how these probiotics bring health to your gut and to your body.
How probiotics are beneficial to healthy aging. Since the gut is the body’s largest immune system organ, it stands to reason that the better you feed your gut the better you feed your immune system. When you eat probiotics, you essentially are feeding your immune system to help it work better. You may also have heard the term prebiotics which, like fiber, are indigestible carbohydrates that feed the probiotics. Think of prebiotics as food for the good bowel “bugs.” Here are the good things that probiotics do for your gut:
Boost intestinal immunity. The most important benefit is they enhance your intestinal immune defenses. The GI tract is the body’s largest immune organ. Probiotics enhance the immune barrier of the gut lining. They help increase the immunoglobulin IGA and increase the thickness of intestinal mucus, which act like a protective paint to keep harmful bacteria from getting through. Probiotics (good “bowel bugs”) compete with pathogenic bacteria (bad “bowel bugs”), thereby discouraging the growth and harmful effects of bad bowel bugs that get it. These good bugs stick to the intestinal lining, effectively crowding out the bad bugs and preventing them from getting a foot-hold on the intestinal lining.
Promote a healthy gut environment. Probiotics produce acidic and lactic acid, which creates a more acidic environment in the gut, which favors the growth of good bacteria (“good bowel bugs”) and discourages the growth of harmful bacteria (“bad bowel bugs”).
Reduce intestinal allergies. Probiotics promote anti-allergic processes by stimulating the production of growth factors, which suppresses the allergic response and generally increases tolerance. They are helpful in reducing the severity of inflammatory conditions, such as gastroenteritis and colitis. Probiotics may alleviate inflammatory bowel disease by suppressing the auto-immune response of the gut. Persons with inflammatory bowel disease tend to have less healthy intestinal micro flora.
Produce healthful nutrients. Probiotics ferment some of the fiber in food to form short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which nourish the cells lining the colon, stimulate healing of these cells, and reduce the likelihood of colon cancer. These short-chain fatty acids are also absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to the liver where they lessen the liver’s production of cholesterol. These SCFA’s also inhibit the growth of yeast and harmful bacteria in the gut.
Suggested gut food. Here are our recommendations for prebiotics and probiotics to nourish your intestinal health:
Eat yogurt. Yogurt and other fermented dairy products such as kefir are the main dietary source of probiotics. The two most familiar bowel “bugs” that are added to yogurt during the culturing process are lactobacillus bulgaricus and lactobacillus acidophilus. Be sure to use organic yogurt.
Take probiotic supplements. Besides eating yogurt at least several days a week, I take a probiotic supplement called Culturelle®, the one that is used in most of the scientific medical studies showing the health benefits of probiotics.