Health Corner 06-12-2015

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A few words about probiotics

By Patricia A. Woodbury, RN MSN

One of my readers, after reading my last column on “Boosting the Immune System,” asked about the use of probiotics and how they affect the immune system.
It is well documented that the presence of probiotics or “healthy bacteria” in the intestinal tract may improve immune function and aid in digestion. Inside all of us is a unique microbiome teeming with bacteria that lines the gastrointestinal tract, which is the largest organ of immunity in the body.
According to Rachel Begun, MS, RDN the make-up of the intestinal tract microbiome—the total of all microorganisms in the gut—has changed over time, due to environmental factors, and that this change may be partially responsible for the rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders, which involve the immune system.
Fortifying the intestinal microflora with probiotics should be one of the top health priorities, as this promotes a stronger immune system.
According to an August 2013 article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a plant-based, high-fiber diet is the best way to positively impact the intestinal microflora.
Fiber-rich plant foods such as whole minimally processed grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds offer a better defense against disease-causing invaders.
Eat at least 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories or 28 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet.
It is best to eat whole foods that are natural sources of probiotics, says Begun, as these are nutrient dense foods that contribute to other health benefits, such as yogurt made with live and active cultures, fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, fermented soybean products like miso and tempeh as well as kombucha, fermented tea, apples and berries.
Over-the-counter probiotic supplements are also gaining popularity as digestive health aids.
Supplements are a viable option for a digestive condition or diet that prevents one from eating yogurt. According to Anita Curpier, RD, research on probiotic supplements is ongoing and in some cases limited to animal studies.
The studies need to be larger, expanded in scope, and of a longer duration. The claims for probiotic supplements are varied and extreme. On the one end, there are claims that probiotic supplements are a miracle cure for all that ails us, and on the other is strong skepticism.
Not all probiotic supplements are created equal and they are regulated as foods, not drugs, and there is no testing of the ingredients. Speak to your health care provider before deciding on probiotic supplements.
Avoid stress which can be hard on your intestinal microflora, causing an upset gastrointestinal system and lead to an overload of low-nutrient foods.
Stick with a healthy, balanced diet during stressful times to maintain microbe stability in your intestinal tract.
Begun also says that it is just as important to eat a diet rich in prebiotics, which are foods that fuel the good bacteria in the gut.
Prebiotic foods include high-fiber plants, such as artichokes, asparagus, bananas, raisins, onions, garlic, leeks, and oats.
Finally, researchers are discovering that just by eating fewer calories, you can change your intestinal flora bacterial profile for the better.
Source: Environmental Nutrition, The Newsletter of Food, Nutrition & Health, October and February 2014. University of Michigan, Newsroom, March 6, 2006. Rhonda Alexander, MS, MA,CFT, Do Probiotics Improve the Immune System, February 4, 2014. Anita Curpier, RD, Probiotics and the Aging Immune System, April 30, 2015.