The Good, the Bad and the Ugly---Bacteria
What do we mean by “good” and “bad” bacteria and why would we die without it?

Having “bad” bacteria isn’t life-threatening. In fact, there are many types of “bad” bacteria living happily inside you most of the time including E.coli and salmonella. Actually, you carry around three pounds of bacteria in your intestines every day of your life. It’s having a healthy balance between the two that matters the most.

The balance between the "good" and "bad" bacteria in your body greatly affects your personal well-being. It plays a role in the nutritional absorption of your food, the effectiveness of medications and vitamins you take, how well the body functions, your autoimmune responses and the rate at which you age. Several factors can deplete good (probiotic) bacteria and upset intestinal balance. Some of these factors include: antibiotics, other drugs, bacterial, viral and fungal infections, highly processed, low fibre foods and chronic diarrhea. Gains from beneficial bacteria include the production of vitamins (especially vitamins B and K) and increased absorption of minerals like calcium. Probiotics produce antibiotic substances to control pathogenic bacteria, candida and fungi, and to help regulate bowel function.

Probiotics are natural, friendly bacteria that are an integral part of everyone's digestive system. When consumed in either food or as supplements they enhance your health in several ways. They can stimulate the immune system, stave off bacteria and viruses and help with food and nutrient assimilation. There are about 300 to 400 different species of bacteria residing in your digestive tract. Each probiotic bacteria has individual characteristics and a specific area of action in the intestine. All probiotic bacteria differ in terms of which intestinal pathogens they can restrain and in their ability to affect different parts of the immune system. When intestinal flora is balanced, the good bacteria can prevent detrimental organisms from invading the gut and leaving the gastrointestinal tract susceptible to illness. Supplementing with probiotics maintains an optimal intestinal environment when something disrupts the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria.

What does an antibiotic do, and why should you always take “probiotics” along with it?

Taking antibiotics for an infection indiscriminately kills all bacteria, even the good kind, which actually can result in depleting your immune system’s defences. They also often enable the stronger strains of “bad” (pathogenic) bacteria to multiply and thrive in your system. Taking probiotics helps restore the balance so they once again live in harmony.

Why Take Probiotics?

The public is becoming increasingly aware that probiotics are essential for good health. Yet if asked what the specific health benefits are, some people are still confused. Probiotics have been found to be useful in treating stress, thrush or yeast infections (candidasis), depression, rheumatism, arthritis, fatigue, low immunity, irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities, digestive problems, rotavirus, colon cancer, skin problems, diarrhea, flatulence and high cholesterol. New studies are showing the benefits of taking probiotics post-surgery or after hospital visits to reduce risk of contracting airborne bacteria.

How do Probiotics work?

Natural, living probiotics colonize the exterior surface of cells in the gastrointestinal tract and prevent potentially detrimental pathogenic organisms from multiplying. Probiotics also produce components shown to hinder the growth of certain types of harmful bacteria as well as to lower the risk for altered metabolic activity. In order for probiotics to reproduce and colonize, they must first survive the stomach acid and intestinal bile.

Typically, the ratio of good bacteria to bad in the gastrointestinal tract is 85 percent versus 15 percent, respectively. Yet when factors affect healthy, balanced intestinal microflora like diet, prescription drugs (especially antibiotics), stress, pH and illnesses, the ratio is offset. Since most consumers are susceptible to some or all of the contributing factors of a compromised balance of intestinal bacteria, probiotics offer a well-researched and proven way to counter the ill effects of these factors and to bolster health. You can find supplemental probiotics that achieve this balance safely and effectively, at all health food stores and most pharmacies.

How do I choose the right strains?

Since the intestinal tract is colonized by hundreds of strains and many strains produce antimicrobial compounds against other bacteria, it is very unlikely that any single strain of probiotic bacteria will survive and multiply in the gastrointestinal tract of every person. Therefore supplements don’t usually just offer one type of good bacteria. There is now a scientific consensus that multi-strain probiotics have a much broader range and are more likely to show increased health benefits in a larger percentage of users.

When you take probiotics, you may want to consider “enteric coating”. It allows the capsule to stay intact in the stomach and thus more bacteria are said to remain alive until they arrive in the intestines where they deliver their beneficial results. Compared to conventional capsules, tablets or food sources, enteric coated capsules may deliver up to 100 times the benefits.

The information in this article has been sourced from Roselle Lalemand and the Journals of the American Medical Association.