The Importance of Probiotic Supplements in Maintaining Digestive Health

jay tarnow Jay D Tarnow, MD

There are millions of bacteria on our skin, in our nose and mouth, and inside all of us. Our digestive system alone is home to over 500 different types of bacteria. These bacteria hover inside of our gastrointestinal system and need to remain in homeostasis—the perfect equilibrium. The balance between healthy cells and bacteria keep our bodies functioning properly. Although often feared, bacteria are an essential part of our immune system and help the body fight against intruding cells. The bacteria in the gut help reduce inflammation, fight infections, enhance nutrient absorption and promote optimal bowel health. Recent findings have suggested that some autoimmune disorders are caused by disequilibrium of the bacteria inside of our bodies. Advances in treatment are trying to study bacteria homeostasis and use this to heal infections.

There is a recent digestive disease epidemic, including increasing cases of GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivities, Diverticular Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disorders, GI cancers, Gallstones, and Liver Disease. Our diets are deviating from our ancestors leading to significant nutrient deficiencies. Americans are eating food with an increased glycemic load, which causes insulin surges and blood sugar swings, promoting growth of unfriendly yeast in our bodies. Our diet no longer contains as many micronutrients—essential vitamins and minerals—that perform necessary functions including immune defense.

Increased stress puts a strain on our bodies, impacting digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals. However, the GI system functions beyond digestion. It helps regulate the trafficking of molecules between the different areas of the body through a barrier mechanism. When this barrier system is disrupted, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders may occur. There are several factors affecting the mucosal GI system that lead to barrier dysfunctions, food allergies, and autoimmune disorders. Those factors include dietary proteins, antibodies, pharmaceutical drugs, stress, infections, enzymes and neurotransmitters. An imbalance between any of these factors can lead to immune system abnormalities or autoimmune disorders.

The digestive tract is a major source of toxicity in the body. Digestive disorders, inflammation, allergies, eczema, asthma, and irregular eating habits are often interlinked. Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder usually have abnormalities in their digestive system. In fact, gastrointestinal disorders are among the most common medical conditions associated with autism. Digestive issues can range from chronic constipation or diarrhea to irritable or inflammatory bowel conditions and stomachaches.

Recently, scientists have been researching the benefits of adding probiotics into the diet as a way to balance out the bacteria in our bodies. Probiotics are mixtures of bacteria that keep our digestive system functioning properly. Probiotic supplements are essential to maintaining the homeostasis between the good bacteria in our bodies. Good bacteria are found naturally in lacto-fermented foods, which are not eaten as frequently as they should be. Adding in a probiotic supplement will add to the intake of good bacteria that we are not getting through diet alone. Probiotics work to help improve intestinal function by fortifying the strength of the intestinal lining. The lining of the gut acts as a barrier that filters out bacteria entering into the digestive tract. A damaged or porous digestive wall may allow abnormal substances to pass through. Some experts have proposed that toxins produced by abnormal gut bacteria may trigger or worsen autistic symptoms in some children. There is also some evidence that probiotics help maintain a strong immune system. With societies’ focus on cleanliness and good hygiene, there has also been a rise in autoimmune diseases, intestinal disorders, and allergies. When our immune system isn’t exposed to enough bacteria, it doesn’t get to practice fighting off these pathogens. Adding friendly bacteria in the form of a probiotic supplement is believed to challenge the immune system in healthy ways, preparing it to fight off unhealthy bacteria when it is encountered.

There are several different types of probiotics available and their health benefits depend on what function they perform in the body. The type of probiotic and dosage depend on age, weight, and symptoms.

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