Do you suffer from constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or indigestion? Your intestinal flora could be the problem, and not for the reasons you think! Our intestines contain an incredible ecosystem of microbes. It’s made up of over 100 billion bacteria from up to 1,000 different species (1). These bacteria, along with other microorganisms, are fundamental to our digestive health and overall wellbeing.
But isn’t bacteria bad, you ask? Not always. Our bodies live in harmony with billions of bacteria in our skin, respiratory system, and beyond (2). They help keep us healthy and fight off infections from the harmful microorganisms. You might be asking yourself: “What’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria? What can I do to strengthen my helpful bacteria?” We’ll answer these questions, and many more, in this guide!
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection Of The Best Products for Your Digestive Flora
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Probiotics
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- Your diet, genetics, and environment all directly influence your intestinal flora.
- Your intestinal microbiome directly influences your immune system. It helps detect and fight off harmful bacteria which could affect your health.
- Taking antibiotics can destroy bacteria which are vital for your health, as can certain medical conditions. It's important to replenish those bacteria through your diet or supplements.
Our Selection Of The Best Products for Your Digestive Flora
Do you want to strengthen your digestive health, but don't know which products to start with? Have no fear: we've compiled the standout products on the market. Let's look at which ones best suit your needs!
Shopping Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Probiotics
These bacteria finish diversifying when we're 2 or 3 years old. In exchange for our body providing shelter and nutrients, our microscopic buddies offer multiple benefits in return.
What Is Intestinal Flora?
The most common intestinal bacteria in the body are:
- E. Coli (In spite of its relationship to various medical conditions, it naturally lives in harmony with our intestines. That can change when our intestinal flora falls out of balance.)
What Do Intestinal Bacteria Do?
- Preventing foreign microorganisms from colonizing.
- Helping digest food.
- Producing vitamin B and vitamin K, which our bodies cannot synthesize on their own.
- Helping develop the immune system and keep it balanced.
- Various studies are currently underway to assess their role in reducing the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancer.
- Current research suggests some correlation between healthy intestinal flora and treating certain neurological, metabolic, and psychiatric disorders (3).
What Can Affect Intestinal Flora's Balance?
This condition can be the result of various processes: a drastic reduction in the natural population of intestinal bacteria, changes in the intestinal environment like pH levels, or colonization by toxic bacteria.
- Intestinal conditions like colon cancer, celiac disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or foreign bacterial infections.
- Conditions like obesity, diabetes, and immune disorders.
- Prolonged use of antibiotics.
- Diets low in fiber and high in sugar, refined carbs, and saturated fat.
- Aging combined with poor eating habits.
- Sedentary lifestyles.
- Alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse.
What's the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?
- Probiotics: Living microorganisms which, when consumed in appropriate amounts, improve intestinal and overall health. The most common strains on the market are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
- Prebiotics: Large molecules which our bodies do not digest, which lets them them reach the intestines in high enough amounts to serve as 'food' for our bacteria. These include inulin, potato starch, the galactooligosaccharides found in breast milk, and many more.
Who Might Need to Avoid Probiotics?
- Immunocompromised people. This group includes people living with HIV/AIDS, transplant recipients, and people with autoimmune diseases (systematic erythematous lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis) (22). For these people, using probiotics requires strict medical supervision.
- Children and breastfeeding women. Though probiotics recommended for children do exist, they should still never be taken without asking a pediatrician.
- Pregnant women and older adults. For pregnant women and senior citizens, probiotics are almost always recommended if they're needed. However, they should be taken with more caution, since these groups' immune systems can be compromised more easily (23).
Probiotics are not a universal fix for all consumers, and some may not even work as intended. To make the best possible purchase, it's important to know what to look for. These parameters will help you find the perfect probiotic for you (3):
- Resistant Bacterial Strains
- Lining of Pills and Capsules
- Colony-Forming Units (CFU)
- Specific Strains
Resistant Bacterial Strains
Look for products which can withstand humidity and survive at room temperature. Those which are highly susceptible to changes in the air or require refrigeration can easily lose effectiveness (14).
Probiotics get this resistance from quality capsule lining, as well as being combined with prebiotics like inulin and phospho-oligosaccharides (18).
Lining of Pills and Capsules
From the moment of production until their arrival in the digestive tract, probiotics come into contact with harmful external conditions which can affect them. High temperatures, humidity, and contact with stomach acid or bile can reduce the amount of live bacteria in probiotic products, lowering their effectiveness.
Putting supplements in safe capsules is shown to be one of the optimal methods for protecting the live bacteria inside (25). One of the most useful materials for this purpose is alginate mixed with biopolymers.
Colony-Forming Units (CFU)
The first two factors we discussed should be combined with a product containing anywhere from 100 million to a billion Colony-Forming Units (CFU). This refers to the amount of living or dead bacteria contained inside a probiotic (14).
On their own, high CFU does not guarantee an effective product, since microorganisms are only useful if they can reach the digestive tract alive (24).
Though some bacteria may belong to the same genus or species, strains are what differentiate their therapeutic activities. Here's an example:
|Strain: GBI-30, 6086|
Certain strains have been proven effective at preventing or treating intestinal illness, as well as other illnesses. Standouts include (10, 19, 20, 21):
|Stomach pain from Irritable Bowel Syndrome||Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086
B. longum subsp. infantis 35624
Escherichia coli DSM17252
|Bloating caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome||B. animalis subsp. lactis DN-173 010||Improves symptoms.|
|Diarrhea and/or constipation caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome|| B. animalis subsp. lactis Bb12
B. animalis subsp. lactis HN019
|Diarrhea caused by antibiotics||L. paracasei subsp. paracasei DN-114 001||Improves symptoms.|
|Respiratory illness||Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG
Bifidobacterium animalis ssp.
|Studies suggest it can prevent respiratory infection (19).|
|Diabetes||L. salivarius UBLS 22||Studies suggest it stabilizes insulin and blood sugar levels (20).|
|Seasonal Allergies||Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13
Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1
Bifidobacterium longum MM-2
|Probiotics are currently being researched as a potential treatment for respiratory symptoms in seasonal allergies such as rhinoconjunctivitis (21).|
Research into our intestinal flora has barely begun to hit the tip of the iceberg. Today, we know that these bacteria influence our immune system's development and functioning. They also impact our metabolism and can even affect our mental health or help prevent various cancers from forming.
Certain situations can decimate this bacterial population. These include intestinal conditions, malnutrition, taking antibiotics, and aging. In these scenarios, you must make an effort to support your ecosystem so it can multiply and diversify, bringing health and wellness into your life.
Feel free to leave a comment. Sharing this information can help reduce the taboo against bacteria, so go ahead and share this article! Let's make these bacteria as popular as they deserve to be.
(Featured image source: Silviarita: 3186730/ 123rf.com)
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