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How to benefit from beneficial bacteria.

Scientists from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, found that those who ate two servings a day of yogurt were significantly less likely to go on to have the disease than those who ate yogurt only occasionally or not at all. The research followed 80,000 patients over nine years and findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

bacteriaIt seems that’s it is the probiotic content of the yogurt that made the difference as regular dairy products seemed to offer no protection at all.

Probiotics used to be little known but more recently, they have entered the mainstream no doubt thanks to television advertising of yogurt drinks and the like.

But what do the good bacteria do, how do they work and what hinders their success?  Our intestines are teeming with bacteria and some yeasts, some of which are good and thus promoted, others bad and to be minimised where possible. The beneficial ones mostly belong to either the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium families and live alongside the bad bacteria in the small and large intestine, although there are some that reside in the mouth.

It is the Lactobacillus strain that is mostly found in the small intestine, whilst Bifidobacteria are more concentrated in the large intestine. They have been the subject of much research, and it is well established that the various strains of good bacteria have the following roles;

1                    They are involved in the final stages of digestion.

  1. They can help reduce cholesterol levels.
  2. They enhance protein absorption especially from dairy products.
  3. They assist in the availability of minerals, specifically magnesium, calcium and iron.
  4. They enhance the creation of B vitamins.
  5. They enhance the immune system.
  6. They assist in the absorption of vitamin K ( required for clotting ).
  7. They can guard against colon cancer and potentially other cancers too as they will hinder the creation of harmful nitrites from benign nitrates found in food.

There is some controversy whether probiotics establish themselves in the long term and are only reduced when adversely affected, or they simply get ‘used up’ daily and thus we need to take them all the time. An Austrian study showed that despite supplementation with the commercially available yogurt drinks, little or no good bacteria was present in stool, which implies that the bacteria is depleted. This may be due to the limited numbers found in the drinks and yogurts, as some 50% of all good bacteria will be lost in the presence of stomach acid. Therefore, it makes sense that taking a high strength probiotic should increase the chances of getting more of the good stuff through the stomach into the intestines.

This is usually best done by looking for a capsule, perhaps with an enteric coating ( one that can survive the acid environment )  or by taking a high strength powder or regular capsule on the understanding that around half of what you take will probably be available to do its work.  This is not to say that the yogurt drinks or foods that have been fortified with friendly bacteria don’t have benefits, but the inherently limited concentration of bacteria that they contain wont do as much as a potent capsule.

bacteria2It seems that probiotics need to be added to the diet on a regular basis, either in food or with supplementation. Perhaps the clever way around this would be to make sure we eat foods that have probiotics in them, either inherently or fortified/added, but supplement in times of stress, or when taking a course of antibiotics.

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