House CallDec/Jan 2011 Issue


Yogurt and beyond


The benefits of probiotics are widely known. Billions of these friendly bacteria—two to three pounds worth—live in the gut, helping us digest food and keep the body healthy. With over 50 percent of the immune system in the intestines, a healthy digestive system is critical to wellness.

Now a study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that probiotics can be a simple yet potentially effective strategy for relieving the severity of celiac and wheat-intolerance symptoms. Researchers contend that the presence of enough of these beneficial bacteria in our intestines can lessen reactivity to wheat, decrease the severity of the reaction to gluten/gliadin and modulate the immune system to lower overall harmful inflammation in the body. Thus, supplementing your diet with certain probiotics on an ongoing basis can have a profound effect on your immune system without harmful side effects.

In the study, researchers discovered that Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium bifidum, beneficial bacteria commonly found in the human digestive tract and commercially available in supplements and in some dairy products, decreased the amount of inflammatory compounds expressed by white blood cells. The findings are important because inflammation is a main component of celiac disease. Lactobacillus acidophilus, another widely available probiotic, was not used in this study but could provide similar benefits.

Live Cultures

Active live cultures found in most commercial yogurts, kefir and cultured sour creams offer helpful bacteria that increase intestinal flora and aid in addressing gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea. But unless a product is supplemented, most won’t contain the specific bacteria (Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) used to mediate the immune response seen in celiac disease. (A new lactose-free kefir sold by Green Valley contains 10 live, active cultures, including Bifidobacterium bifidum.)

For many people, particularly those who cannot tolerate dairy, supplementation is an easy, inexpensive way to get the proper bacteria in a clinically effective dose. Probiotic supplements come in powder, capsule and gel cap. Bacterial cultures are sensitive to heat and have a short shelf life unless they’re refrigerated. The exception is fermented encapsulated probiotics, sold in pearl-size gel caps.

What dosage is best? The usual dose for adults and children alike is 6 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per day. The number sounds high but it pales in comparison to the amount of bacteria already in your gut.

There are precautions in supplementing with these beneficial bacteria. Immune-compromised people should not take supplemental probiotics without consulting a doctor. The reason is that bacteria of any kind must be properly managed in immune-compromised patients. Those with celiac disease or wheat sensitivity should read labels carefully to determine that products don't contain wheat-derived fructooligosaccharides or FOS. If you’re on an antibiotic regimen, probiotic supplements should be taken after antibiotic therapy is completed, not during. This is because the antibiotic will kill the gut flora, as well as the targeted bacteria. LW

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