Did you know there are over one hundred trillion microorganisms living inside your gastrointestinal tract? That is right, you have 10 times as many microbes cohabitating with you as you have cells in your body.
Also known as “probiotics” these bacteria provide nutrients, facilitate digestion,and form the baseline of our immune system. Scientists have identified over 500 different strains of bacteria and it is the balance of this internal environment that is so important for optimal health.
Some important nutrients made by our gut flora include B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and short-chain fatty acids such as butyric acid. Butyric acid is especially important as it helps to maintain a healthy intestinal lining and has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Vitamin B-12 is naturally produced in the colon and is absorbed in the small intestine. However, if the friendly bacteria are not present, our bodies cannot make or absorb this essential nutrient leading to fatigue, neurological abnormalities and anemia.
Since 90% of our immune system exists in the gut, having the correct balance of flora is also crucial for staving off illness. When probiotics are abundant in your body, it’s harder for bacteria that cause illness to get a foothold and thus you stay healthier. Without the adequate amount or the correct proportions of the individual species your digestion and subsequently your immunity can become compromised. This can lead to problems such as IBS, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, weight gain, susceptibility to infection and chronic disease.
In essence, it is extremely important to our health to maintain the correct balance of intestinal gut. So how can you maintain this balance when antibiotics, stress, lack of sleep and poor diet can all cause disturbances to our GI tract and their friendly environment? Eating things like yogurt, kefir, kim chee, natto and other fermented foods are a wonderful way to naturally ingest healthy flora and can be a good preventative or maintenance measure. But, for most of us this may not be enough - especially if you have just finished a course of antibiotics. In this case taking a probiotic supplement is extremely important.
Since not all probiotic supplements are created equal, this is where it becomes a numbers game. The CFU, also known as colony-forming units is a microbiological term that describes the density or amount of viable bacteria in a product. In other words, the CFU tells you how rich in probiotics a supplement is and how much will be available to your body.
In order to repopulate the gut with the appropriate amount of bacteria and keep the correct ratio of species, it is crucial to take a high quality supplement with a CFU in the billions. It is also important to find a product with the right mix of organisms because that can also be a factor in how it influences the environment of the gastrointestinal tract.