Probiotics, which means ‘for life’, have been used for centuries as natural components in health-promoting foods. One that you would most readily recognize is yogurt. Probiotics are “friendly or good” bacteria similar to the beneficial microorganisms found naturally in the human gut and are available to consumers in the form of dietary supplements and foods.
If I already have these ‘good’ bacteria in my gut, why should I take the supplements? The answer to this is simple. There is a constant war going on in the gut between good and bad bacteria, and the good guys need reinforcements. In our modern world, we are bombarded daily with bad bacteria entering our systems in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and our water supply. It has become a toxic world. By taking probiotics, we bolster the good bacteria in our digestive tracts, helping to fight off daily toxic invaders that would make us sick and let disease take hold. Think of it this way, the digestive tract is your first line of defense against germs. Probiotics strengthen that line.
Good health starts in the gut.
For many years in traditional Chinese medicine, the philosophy has been that if your gut is healthy, your entire body is healthy. The world is now starting to catch up to this way of thinking. We now know that the gut plays a crucial role in your overall health. While much is known about the relationship between gut health and disease, there are enormous amounts of information about the gut still to digest.
What exactly is the gut?
The gut, also known as the digestive tract or gastrointestinal tract, is a system of organs primarily responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and getting rid of the waste. It includes the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Functions of the Gut
Digestion and absorption: The main function of the gut is to process the foods we eat into life-giving nutrients.
Gut barrier function: In addition to food, many bacteria and toxins are also ingested and it is up to the gut to make sure they do not penetrate the body where the will cause sickness and disease. The gut serves as a barrier to monitor and seal off our interior from unfriendly intruders including bacteria, toxins, and antigens/allergens. This is called the gut barrier function.
Immune system: The gut also has connections to the way your body responds to antigens that cause allergies and inflammation.
What is gut flora?
In the gut lies a complex ecosystem or community comprised of tiny microorganisms called the gut flora. Few people know that the gut naturally contains huge numbers of bacteria. The very word bacteria is loaded with unsavory associations. It’s a common misconception that all bacteria should be eliminated, that they are our enemies, but the majority of the bacteria in the gut are critical to good health. These bacteria, known as probiotics, are part of the protective shield that is our immune system, on the alert to detect unfriendly invaders. These unfriendly invaders enter our gut on a daily basis via our food, water and air. It’s the job of our healthy gut flora to fight these dangerous bacteria, toxins and antigens that cause allergy and inflammation and keep them from colonizing and penetrating the digestive tract. Other functions of the gut flora include:
- Influence the development and function of the gut
- Assist in digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Synthesize vitamins
- Assist in the absorption of minerals
- Break down dietary carcinogens
- Influence the development and function the immune system
- Form a natural defense barrier against bacteria, toxins and antigens
- To teach the immune system not to overreact to intruders that should be harmless, like allergens
In the war against germs, probiotics are tough soldiers that we can employ to help us. A good balance of bacteria in our gut equals better health.