It’s clear that today most people have become “germaphobes.” Our kitchens and bathrooms are filled with powders, liquids, sprays, gels, lotions, and creams especially formulated to murder the tiny little one-celled animals we call bacteria. Most of these products do a pretty good job, but it’s a constant war. I recently read that these microscopic enemies outnumbers us 100 trillion to 1. There are ten times more bacteria cells than human cells in the body. There are over 500 different species of bacteria in our digestive tract alone. Don’t panic, there’s no need to wave the white flag of surrender. While some of these critters are bad, many are good guys ready to help us.
I’m actually here to drum up some support for bacteria; after all it’s the only culture some people will ever have. I want to convince you to welcome some bacteria, nurture them, feed them. If it will make you feel any better, we don’t just refer to them as good bacteria anymore, we now call them probiotics, which is a fancy term meaning “in favor of life”—in other words good bacteria.
Probiotics are live active cultures of beneficial bacteria that are similar to those already found naturally in the gut. A proper balance of intestinal flora is essential for a healthy digestive process. This balance is delicate and can be upset by taking antibiotics because they are not able to distinguish the difference between the harmful and the helpful strains of bacteria. Interestingly, steroids and even birth control pills can also compromise this equilibrium. Probiotics are profitable for more than just good digestion, they also enhance the immune system, are anti-inflammatory, combat infections, diarrhea, yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome, help maintain intestinal Ph, and are important for the synthesis of vitamin K, B12, B5, and biotin. Though the most common sources for probiotics are fermented dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheese, there are also dairy free forms made from rice, soy, and coconut milk. Other fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, miso, and brewer’s yeast contain probiotics, and there are convenient supplements available.
Many people are confused by the fairly new similar term of Prebiotics, which are a special form of dietary fiber found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. This fiber cannot be digested by the body directly, but serves as food for the probiotics. The richest source in nature is chicory root, but since that’s not a significant part of a normal daily menu, apples, asparagus, tomatoes, onions, garlic, bananas, whole grains, and legumes will provide a nourishing feast for the good bacteria. If including ample amounts of prebiotics in your regular diet proves to be difficult, there are inexpensive fiber supplements that are extremely durable in that they are not affected by time or temperature.
Prebiotics have been proven to provide a wide array of health benefits. They are instrumental in bowel regularity, combating both constipation and diarrhea. They are helpful in dealing with several chronic digestive disorders including inflammatory bowel disease. Prebiotics are heart healthy, with the daily recommendation of 25 grams contributing to an approximately 50% reduction in harmful cholesterol, while actually increasing the good cholesterol.
The combination of prebiotics and probiotics have often been referred to as the “Dynamic Duo” because they work together synergistically for our general wellbeing. If you have to take antibiotics you need to eat probiotics and feed them with prebiotics. I recently heard a guy say, “Now that I can afford anything on the menu, I can’t digest anything on the menu.” That’s kind of ironic. Do you want a happy belly? Then eat probiotics. Do you want happy probiotics? Then eat prebiotics and get the Dynamic Duo on your side.