Although the word has been plastered on food labels and bandied about in magazines across the nation, most people still don a confused look when the topic of probiotics comes up. In fact, when you type it in Microsoft Word, the program still highlights it as an unknown word. So, what is it about this mystery topic that has people so enamored and confused?
What are probiotics?
Simply put, probiotics are natural, healthy bacteria that help produce strong levels of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system.
“Many people do not realize that the gastrointestinal tract does so much more than digest food,” adds Shannon Miles, an American Association of Drugless Practitioners certified holistic health counselor at Miles Holistic Health. “It’s also a major contributor to immune health. Everyone has good bacteria and bad bacteria in their digestive tract and a probiotic is an edible product that contains the ‘friendly’ bacteria. These beneficial and helpful microbes help complete the digestive process and can assist in the production of vitamins.”
Generally, most people use probiotics to increase the number of “friendly” bacteria in the stomach, which can help keep digestive systems functioning and also helps everything remain in balance. In a sense, they discourage the growth of disease-causing bacteria, providing a boost to the immune system and helping to prevent or treat a variety of ailments. But, probiotics aren’t only used as a supplement. They can be readily found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, sour cream, butter milk and more.
What do they do?
It’s called healthy bacteria for a reason: it creates a healthy environment in your belly. The outcomes of that healthy environment could be anything from fewer colds or flu viruses, reduced seasonal allergies; as well as treatment for diarrhea, lactose intolerance, candida, irritable bowel syndrome, diaper yeast rash, oral thrush, ulcerative colitis, eczema and more. A 2009 study recorded in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics tested 326 healthy children, ages 3 to 5, by putting them in three test groups. One group received acidophilus, one received a product containing both acidophilus and bifidobacteria and a third group received a placebo pill.
The study found that children receiving acidophilus showed a 53 percent reduction in the occurrence of fever and the children taking both acidophilus and bifidobacteria showed a 72.7 percent reduction in fevers compared to the children who took the placebo. Scientists are now even starting to correlate the use of probiotics as a natural way to help fight off ear infections (otitis media)—an infection that accounts for more than 10 million office visits per year for children.
“Probiotics can be a mom’s best friend and definitely a secret weapon,” Miles adds. “Strains of healthy bacteria have been shown to reduce colic in infants as well as help to prevent eczema and allergies when given to pregnant women and infants immediately after birth.
“My family uses a probiotic on a regular basis. We are a family of five with kids ranging from 8 months to 8 years. My first reaction to any symptoms of diarrhea or yeast rash in one of my children is a dose of probiotics, either in powdered form hidden in formula or apple sauce.”
How do you get them?
These healthy bacteria come packed in foods like yogurt and naturally fermented pickles, but to get the full power of the probiotic, it helps to supplement, especially around cold and flu season!
But, as with any supplement or medication, it’s best to consult with your pediatrician first.
“My main suggestion is to do your research, read labels and know what you are feeding your children,” suggest Miles. “You just can’t pick up any probiotic supplement and expect it to work. There are many different types and strains of probiotics and they come in many dosages, so be sure to do your homework on how they should be taken. There is definite value in incorporating the products in the daily meals for your family!”