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.

What are Probiotics?
You’ve heard us talk about probiotics before – if not us, then someone else in the media, drugstore, or doctor’s office!  Probiotics are “good” bacteria, similar to the beneficial microorganisms found naturally in your digestive system.  These good bacteria are found in certain foods, such as yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetable foods like sauerkraut and suguki.  They are also readily available as dietary supplements.

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 severity of colds and flu.

How Can 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.

How Can You 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.

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