Probiotics and Immunity
With cold and flu season approaching faster than you can say “Achoo,” you might be wondering how you can pump up your immunity to avoid the chills, fever, aches, and sniffles this year. Traditional wisdom would say “get your vitamin C” or “use that hand sanitizer!” But there is another way that you can help boost your immunity, and it comes in the form of friendly little bacteria: probiotics.
Why are Probiotics Important for My Health and Immune System?
There are several reasons why Probiotics are not only beneficial but also crucial to a person’s health and well-being. Specifically, our bodies constantly strive to maintain equilibrium. The bacteria in our bodies primarily get thrown off in two major ways: (1) by agents such as antibiotics (which kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria); and (2) by unfriendly microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeast, fungi, and parasites.
Although more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help:
- Improve overall digestion processes
- reduce the severity of colds and flu
- fight off dangerous intestinal invaders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Reduce the recurrence of bladder cellular maladies
- Fortify your body against existing conditions and illnesses
However, what we shall be discussing today is how probiotics can strengthen the power of your immunity!
Dr. Earl Mindell, R.PH., M.PH., Ph.D., a world-wide best selling author, and considered the ultimate authority on vitamins, nutrition, and fitness states: “… our number one natural barrier against disease is broken down. That barrier is our colon. Almost 60% of our immune cells are in our intestinal tract. They are our first line of defense against all sorts of viruses, germs, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can ravage our bodies and make us ill. Thanks to food additives, preservatives, pesticides, and other toxins in our environment, our colons have become backed up sewers… A healthy digestive system and a clean colon will give you the most powerful boost to your health imaginable…..and quality Probiotics contain what is needed to fight the ever-growing list of colon harming chemicals in our food, water, and household goods.”
Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods or supplements that contain Probiotics to their diet. Always check with your Doctor to see if adding a Probiotic supplement is right for you.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics (commonly referred to as “friendly” bacteria) are live microorganisms that are similar to beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the human gut, especially in those of breastfed infants (who have natural protection against many diseases). Microorganisms are tiny living organisms—such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts—that can be seen only under a microscope.
The human body counts on its normal bacteria to perform several jobs, including breaking down foods, helping the body take in nutrients, and preventing the take-over of “bad” bacteria. Probiotics, such as Bifidobacteria are typically used in cases when a disease occurs or might occur due to a kill-off of normal bacteria. For example, treatment with antibiotics can destroy disease-causing bacteria in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, but they also kill off good bacteria. The theory is that taking Bifidobacterium probiotics during antibiotic treatment can prevent or minimize the death of good bacteria and the take-over by bad bacteria.
Most of the buzz around probiotics has been related to digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion. And this has been great for people who suffer from those types of conditions.
A few less-known health concerns that probiotics may help with include treating and preventing eczema, treating and preventing vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections, and even reducing the recurrence of bladder cancer in some instances. And, a very important application for this time of year is the reduction in the severity of colds and flu.
Probiotics Are Necessary
Friendly bacteria and yeast are vital to proper development of the immune system because they serve as protection against harmful microorganisms that cause disease, and to the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
Most often the bacteria come from two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Within each group, there are different species (for example, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus), and within each species, different strains, or varieties. A few common probiotics, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, are yeasts, which are different from bacteria but equally as important.
Probiotics are not the same thing as prebiotics (non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms that already exist in people’s colons. Prebiotics essentially act as food for probiotics and are found in food such as whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey, and artichokes; whereas probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt. When probiotics and prebiotics are mixed together, they form a symbiotic. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered symbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Probiotics Help Boost Your Immunity!
It’s been said that your health begins in your digestive system. The good bacteria that exist there contribute to health maintenance, mostly by forming a barrier against pathogens (i.e. “germs” such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi) and by aiding in nutrient digestion and assimilation. So by adding even more of these friendly bacteria into your system, you are double-protected against disease and illness.
Probiotics have been shown to increase lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells that attack harmful matter and help fight off or prevent illness. And, they have also been shown to increase phagocytic activity in white blood cells. Phagocytic activity, or “cell eating,” means that your cells are actively eating harmful material they come in contact with – harmful material that may cause disease.
Additionally, probiotics are helpful if you’re taking antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection. The antibiotics will kill both bad and good bacteria, so it’s essential that you add the good bacteria back into your system to maintain immunity and overall health.
And finally, probiotics may help protect those who have compromised immune systems, such as babies, the elderly, AIDS patients, and individuals receiving cancer treatments.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Probiotics
Like mentioned above, you can get probiotics through certain foods and via supplementation. A few words of caution for both of these sources: food sources such as yogurt often don’t contain enough probiotics, or enough live cultures to be beneficial (Most of the live cultures are lost during the pasteurization process). And with supplementation, you should also be cautious that you’re getting the most potent supplements available. Some on the market only contain a few million live cultures, whereas you can find other varieties with billions of live cultures.
Today, we discussed:
- What Probiotic are and how they improve digestion and strengthen the immune system
- Why they’re necessary for helping our bodies regain and maintain equilibrium
- How they work and how to take them with antibiotics
- Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: How they’re different and how they mutually benefit each other
- How to make sure you’re getting enough probiotics via food or supplementation to maintain immunity
Medical research suggests there are several benefits to including probiotics in your diet. And while side effects are rare, and there are fewer risks for adults to add the friendly bacteria to their diet, it’s always best to check with a medical professional to figure out if taking the supplement is good for you.
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