Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Probiotics: Getting a Glorious Gut!

Image via healthtap.com
My friend Bren recently took a road trip to Washington, D.C. She took a whole week off work and was ready for some good vacation time, exploring the city! And if I know her at all, I can guarantee she had a serious itinerary locked and loaded.

So you'll imagine my surprise when I emailed her last week to get the scoop and found out that she spent her entire vacation relegated to her hotel room, puking her brains out. Wait, I lied. She did get a grand tour of DC's finest ER, but that's about as far as she got.

This was clearly not what she had in mind for her vacation.

When I asked what in the world had happened (since Bren normally has the immune system of an neonatal nurse), she explained that she caught the flu. But this wasn't just any bout of the flu. The doctor informed her that she succumbed to the virus in the first place because her immune system had been drastically weakened due to a round of antibiotics she had taken for a dental procedure. Basically, the antibiotics had killed off most the good bacteria in her gut, giving the flu virus the green light to destroy her... and destroy her it did. 

In hopes of saving you from a situation such as this, I'm here today to talk about probiotics. Probiotics are  the good, living bacteria that actually benefit you when consumed. You can find many probiotics naturally occuring in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, honey, apple cider vinegar, kim chi, natto, tempeh and miso, just to name a few. But if your diet is lacking in probiotic foods or you want to give yourself a super dose of immunity, you can take probiotics in supplement form, whether it be in capsule form or liquid form (like Bio-K+).

Image via products.mercola.com
Almost 70% of your immune system lies in your gut, so obviously gut health is critical. There are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in your gut. These little guys do so much to keep you healthy - they keep harmful pathogens in check, aid in digestion and nutrient absorption and enhance your immune function. Though antibiotics are many times medically necessary, they wipe out the good bacteria in your gut in addition to the bad. So when you're on antibiotics, it's imperative to supplement with a probiotic to replace the good bacteria that's being lost. Otherwise, you are leaving yourself wide open to an immune system attack.

But even if you're not on antibiotics, it's my personal opinion that almost everyone should be taking  some sort of probiotic. We only have to go so far as the ingredient list on most foods to realize that what we eat is actually working against our immune systems. Probiotics can help compensate for this daily damage to our gut by protecting against the pathogens in the food we eat, the air we breath and other chemicals that we come in contact with day-to-day. The use of probiotics doesn't make it OK to continue eating these foods, but it can help replenish what is lost as a result.

Image via naturalmommie.com
You can find probiotics at your local vitamin shop, health food store or even Whole Foods. I recommend speaking with a knowledgeable salesperson to help you pick out the right one for you, keeping in mind that you'll want to avoid probiotics with sugar or glucose in the ingredient list (these actually inhibit the growth of healthy bacteria). I just started taking Bio-K+ (Organic Rice Flavor) which is sold in the refrigerated supplement section of Whole Foods. A 12-day supply will cost you a whoppin' $2.24/day... a small price to pay for good health. I can guarantee a trip to the doctor (and the ensuing prescription) will cost you more.

So... do me a favor. Go grab yourself a probiotic and make Bren feel a little bit better about getting the flu on vacation. Her misery taught us all a valuable lesson, right?

We're sorry about your vacay, Bren!

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