Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that, over thousands of years, have coevolved with us and adapted to our intestinal tract as well as other areas, such as our skin. In general, probiotics help maintain a healthy digestive tract, but new research is demonstrating that the friendly bacteria that inhabit our body may also be influencing what we eat, our weight, insulin resistance, and the hardening of our arteries, even communicating from our gut to our brain and influencing neurotransmitters that affect stress levels.

Supplementing our diet with probiotics helps to restore balance between various immune and inflammatory factors in the gut. The gastrointestinal tract provides a protective interface between the internal environment of the body and the constant challenge from food antigens and microorganisms from the external environment. Probiotics both stimulate the body’s own innate immune response and exert direct antimicrobial effects on pathogenic microorganisms. They have been shown to stimulate nonspecific host resistance to microbial pathogens, promote gut-barrier functions, increase mucin secretion, out-compete pathogenic bacteria for nutrients, give maturational signals for the gut-associated lymphoid tissues (GALT), and balance the generation of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

When the gut microecology is disturbed, due to traveler’s diarrhea or antibiotic use, opportunistic infections from pathogenic microorganisms can occur. Double-blind placebo-controlled studies have shown that probiotics, especially lactobacilli, are able to protect against these conditions and many others. Studies have shown that lactobacilli can help protect against urinary tract infections by colonizing the mucous membrane lining, producing antimicrobial substances, and producing surfactants that have antiadhesive properties so pathogenic bacteria have a more difficult time taking root. Studies have also shown that probiotics help restore vaginal microflora. Streptococcus, Lactobacillus and Bifi dobacterium probiotics have shown a remarkable cholesterol-lowering effect. L. acidophilus breaks up bile acids into free acids that are rapidly excreted from the intestinal tract. After this excretion, the synthesis of new bile acids from cholesterol lowers its concentration in the body. To a large extent, our health depends on the types of bacteria that make up our intestinal flora and the foods we feed them.

Probiotics are flooding the market with all sorts of promises, but unfortunately, researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that out of fourteen commercial probiotics tested, only one contained the actual species listed on the label. Many manufacturers don’t tell consumers what specific probiotics they are using and in what amount. Avoid products that list a group of ingredients in a paragraph with a single total amount in grams. Look for products that list the specific species of probiotics, followed by two letters and numbers. This means the manufacturer is using a specific strain of a probiotic species, and you can rely on consistent results.

Robert Dadd, master herbalist, and Alberto Trujillo, national educator, are part of Flora’s team of health experts. Its Udo’s Choice Probiotic Blends use only medicinal strains of friendly probiotic bacteria.


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