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Probiotics - The role of friendly bacteria to our health

The term “Probiotic” is generally accepted to mean “good for life.” Probiotics are naturally occurring “good” or “healthy” bacteria that work within the immune system and especially in the digestive system (where 70% of the immune system is located) to keep the body in a balanced state. Probiotics are generally food products containing the healthy bacteria that can both replace bacteria that has been lost through the use of antibiotics (which by nature destroy all bacteria in the body), and also act as a preventative measure in strengthening the immune system to resist illness.

For example, commonly reported side effects of antibiotics such as diarrhea, upset stomach, and yeast infections are due to the bodies loss of healthy bacteria along with the infectious bacteria. Taking yogurt, probably the most popular and identifiable source of probiotics (containing the “ Lactobacillus Acidophilus ” strain), reintroduces that healthy bacteria back to the body enabling it to become balanced again. As an example of a preventative measure, consuming yogurt at least one week before a trip, and continuing on through the week after a trip, will help to ward off the common malady of “traveler’s diarrhea.”

Although most popular in dairy products, probiotics are also found in pills, capsules and powders for those who may be lactose intolerant or would just prefer another option. Because probiotics are most commonly found in some sort of food related product, there is no safety concern associated with their use. Different clinical trials have been performed in conjunction with the use of probiotics that give credence to it’s role as a “healthy” bacteria for the body. In 1992, a study was performed in Japan using probiotics as a preventative measure in the recurrence of bladder tumors. After nearly a year, the group using probiotics was reporting a 50% decrease in the recurrence of bladder tumors, verses the control group which began reporting a recurrence after 195 days. The study was repeated in 1995, with the probiotic group reporting 45% recurrence rates, and the occurrences were happening 30% later than normal.

In December 2004, the Third International Convention on Probiotics (Paris, France) presented even more research. Dr. Yuichiro Yamashiro, professor of pediatrics, at Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan, presented his findings from a four-year study done involving the role of probiotics on the immune system of newborns. Using the parameters of low-birth weight, premature infants, the study followed the effects of the probiotic, Bifidobacterium breve (B. breve), on the infection called necrotizing enterocolitis, a deadly complication among low-birth weight/premature infants. Only 23.1% of the B. breve group contracted the infection, compared to 37 % of the control group. In addition, there were no deaths reported among the B.breve group of infants with the complication, compared to 12.1% of those in the control group. As an added “bonus” improved eating and faster weight gain were seen among the infants who were taking the probiotic.

Dr. Allan Walker, director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School in Boston reported on a finding done in day care centers, a virtual breeding ground for infectious digestive illnesses, such as the Rotavirus. In a time frame of 4 to 6 months, healthy children received milk fortified with probiotics, while another group of healthy children received yogurt with no probiotics. A significant difference in the occurrence of diarrhea was reported within the two groups (5.9% for the probiotic group vs. 22% for the control group). Other promising studies have been done on the effect of probiotics in conjunction with stomach ulcers, gastritis, post-surgery infections, yeast infections, and other gastrointestinal disorders. It is important to note