Probiotics are important for more than just “belly” health. In fact, there are probiotics that can help treat and prevent female urogenital conditions like urinary tract infections, vulvovaginal candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis and the related issues of all three.
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The amount of research conducted on gastrointestinal probiotics is growing every year. And although the alimentary canal is not internally connected to the vaginal tract the two are intimately related. Bacteria that pass through the digestive system can ascend via the perineum to the vagina. So it’s quite logical to expect what promotes gastrointestinal health to have relevance for urogenital health. It’s important to note that the two are not identical. Even though the intestinal microbiota has similarities to the vaginal microbiota, simply taking care of the intestinal microbiota may not be enough to ensure urogenital health. This guide to probiotics will give to a detailed view of probiotics and how they can help you keep you body healthy and happy.
What are Probiotics Anyway?
When you hear words like, probiotics versus antibiotics, it may sound as if there is some kind of war going on with the biotics that require us to take sides for or against. In essence, that’s somewhat correct Though, this battle takes places not exactly where you’d expect.
The definitions of biotics, anti-biotics & pro-biotics, are as follows:
- The term, “biotic” simply means something that is pertaining to life.
- Anti – Antibiotics are a prescribed medicine that is used as a way to treat illnesses caused by bacteria. But, what are probiotics?
- Pro – Probiotics are organisms such as bacteria or yeast that improve overall health. Get them in foods and supplements. However, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.
To understand the need for probiotics, it’s important to first understand some other technically hefty terms like “biotic”, “enteric nervous system”, “micro biome”, “Lactobacillus” or “Bifidobacterium”.
Your body is made up of many parts and several different systems, but they all work together to help to keep you functioning at peak health. If one of these systems is out of balance, it interferes with the flow of another. Believe it or not, it’s not just the brain that controls the body’s nervous system and other functions that occur in the human body. There is another part of the body that is barking out commands, and is so important in communicating with the brain and the body’s immune system. Inside of you is an army of 100 Trillion tiny “soldiers” going to battle for you, fighting to keep you healthy. Though, it may come as a surprise when you discover where this battle is taking place. This important communicating commander of a huge army of tiny microbes resides in your intestines – The “belly” or “gut” in plain english.
It’s a Gut Feeling
The enteric nervous system acts as a secondary brain. It helps to control inflammation, balance mood and cravings, and helps metabolism. And this enteric nervous system is located in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The terms, “gut instinct” or “follow your gut” or “gut level” are really referring to the enteric nervous system. It is becoming clearer to researchers just how important a part the gut plays in communicating with the brain to help support the immune and hormonal systems while maintaining weight, mental health and even supporting memory functions.
A micro biome unique to you
When you think of a biome, a flash back to science class where you learned about a forest or systems in our earth’s ecology, may be the first thing that comes to mind. However, there is a biome inside of each of us. It is called a micro biome, and it is a complex ecosystem consisting of more than 100 trillion tiny microbes. A biome is: a complex biotic community that is characterized by distinctive plant or animal species maintained under the climatic conditions of the region. A micro biome is the network of microorganisms within a particular environment. Specifically, the micro biome in the human gut is a vast army of microbes that humans depend upon to stay alive. The micro biome breaks down food to release energy and produces vitamins as well as protects us against germs. The human micro biome contains more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live within microbial communities inside the gut, mouth, skin and other parts of the human body. It is a system of bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa that live in the gut, on the skin, in the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs.
These microorganisms are used in:
- digesting food
- preventing disease-causing bacteria
- assisting essential nutrients and vitamins to be of use to the rest of the body.
Your micro biome is like an army launching a war on harmful attacks to your body, but it has some weaknesses of its own.
Your body’s ecosystem is constantly running into potential dangers:
- Refined sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Genetically Engineered or Modified foods
- Processed foods
- Conventionally raised meats
- Over-the-counter and prescription drugs, especially those that block acids in the digestion system or NSAIDS pain killers.
These invaders are a threat to the micro biome because they create irritation, introduce allergens, carcinogens and produce inflammation. When this system becomes out of balance, some form of sickness results. A micro biome that is out of balance can keep your immune system at risk and even harbor diseases like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Psychiatric ailments like anxiety and depression
- Skin allergies
- Infant immune deficits
- Sinus diseases
- Urinary issues
- Kidney problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Heart disease
- Some forms of cancer such as colorectal cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
- Necrotizing enter colitis
- Inflammation following intestinal surgery
- IBS irritable bowel syndrome
- C. difficile bacterial diarrhea
- Chron’s disease
- Childhood ear infections
- Strep throat
- The common cold
The micro biome system communicates well with the body’s immune system to properly direct the T-cells to kill true dangers that invade the body. Taking care of your micro biome to make sure it is healthy is extremely important for every area of health. The Brain’s Helper – Tour Guide to Direct Bacteria Whether you realize it or not, your body is hosting a social party every day. It is home to more than 100 Trillion microorganisms. The digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria. This large army of tiny microbes are excellent communicators between the cells and the brain, they support the immune system, protects us from disease, cleanses us of toxins, has an influence on our body’s weight, and their favorite hangout place is to reside in our gut. Unfortunately, your gut is not just made up of microbes working for your good. The reason this army of good guys exists is because there is also a host of not-so-welcome bacteria that also like to hang out in the gut. These unwelcome guests like to wreak havoc with the entire body, starting in the gut to produce inflammation, and make it tough for you to lose weight, even making you obese and causing other chronic diseases. The 100 Trillion microbes in your gut out number your other cells by approximately a ten to one ratio, so when they are healthy, they unleash a powerful defense. They are there to defend you and uphold your health in far more regards than just digestion. It is the body’s frontline army for the immune system and is responsible for keeping all of your body’s systems in balance. Every food you eat and everything that goes into your body goes through a sorting bin distribution center in the gut. While some of these microorganisms that enter the body are unwanted guests, many are quite helpful. Don’t play the part of a bouncer at the bar and throw out the good just because it is lumped together under the name, bacteria. They’re not all bad guys. Tiny Gut microbes, called “gut flora” or “micro flora”, Influence the whole body.
Research has shown that when micro flora in the gut is destroyed, it creates inflammation which increases our risk for diseases like diabetes, and even some cancers. Research has also uncovered the idea that some digestive disorders happen when the balance of good bacteria become disrupted, usually after an infection that required the use of antibiotics, or when the lining of the intestines is damaged. The gut also has the influence to change our state of mind and brain function, because when some foods are detected, such as foods containing fatty acids, the gut will send nerve signals to make the brain feel happy emotions. This is why comfort foods make you feel so good, but also has opened up many studies on how the gut impacts major disorders, like Alzheimer’s, autism, and even more severe psychoses.
Great Communicators – Traveling along Nervous Highway The Vagus nerve is how the brain and gut communicate. This brain to gut connection helps to assist cell-to-cell communication along the nerve highway inside the body. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is part of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which is a bundle of nerves, and works with the brain, and on its own, to respond to threats that come from the environment. When healthy, the ENS is an excellent communicator and is often commonly referred to as your “gut instinct” or a “gut reaction”.
Sometimes you are quite aware of these gut instincts as part of the body’s fight or flight response. Other times, the more than 500 million neurons do their job unaware. When you eat, drink or take anything into your stomach, your ENS in your gut is responsible for protecting you from possible viruses, bad bacteria, and other dangers that may be contained in the food or drink you just took in. If your gut senses danger, it begins to surround it with an inflammatory substance and histamines to rid the body of the foreign harm. It is microorganisms in the gut that tell the body to produce cytokines, which help to regulate the body’s immune system’s response to inflammation and infection. It’s Time to Start Re-Educating Your Gut There is a scientific term for the imbalance that takes place with not enough probiotics in the gut. It’s called dysbiosis. Getting this under control and into proper balance takes more than just another diet plan.
How Do We Get Probiotics?
The best way to get started building a healthy gut is through your diet. Begin by making healthy food choices and eliminating junk. Start substituting your processed and sweetened foods with whole foods and with those that are not overly processed or laden with high fructose corn syrup or other sugars, which promote yeast, candida growth. Also, add some naturally fermented foods to your diet.
If you’re a mommy of an infant, breast milk is a great start.
Lay the foundation for the next generation. It begins during pregnancy and at birth. Breast-fed infants receive much needed microbes from their mother’s milk. These microbes allow their gut to set up a solid foundation of microbial colonization that builds their natural immunity.
Eat a diet high in fiber.
It also helps to eat more fiber because too little fiber in our bodies actually starves the good bacteria. When the good bacteria get hungry and begin to starve, it begins to eat the mucus lining of the intestines in an effort to stay alive, it is literally the answer to the question, “What’s eating you?” On the other hand, when we feed our good bacteria, it becomes healthy and active to give off nutrients that nourish our cells that line the gut.
Don’t be afraid of eating garlic.
Garlic is another great food to feed on to promote a healthy micro biome and allow the good bacteria to do their job. Garlic has an antimicrobial effect that kills off the bad bacteria, but strengthens the good guys. It also contains inulin which is a type of fiber that is a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in the gut.
We crave pickled foods for a reason.
One of the best ways to create a healthy environment for your micro biome and enriching the flora is by eating naturally fermented foods, like sauerkraut, naturally fermented pickles, miso, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, Kim chi, kombucha, or fermented vegetables. Naturally fermented foods include the good bacteria probiotics of Lactobacillus and Bifid bacteria. Begin eating fermented foods in small doses and build up to about ¼ cup per meal.
Explore the GAPS diet.
The Gut And Psychology Syndrome GAPS protocol diet addresses the idea that all this micro biome activity in the intestinal tract plays a very important role in overall health and healing digestive tract disorders. This diet is quite extensive and approaches a dietary change combined with lifestyle change and the addition of a probiotic supplement.
Eat more greens.
When you eat a diet rich in veggies, you are actually not just feeding yourself. Your tiny little army of microbes loves to feed on healthy greens. Provide your micro biome with plenty of healthy greens, and you will be keeping alive your 100 trillion army of good guys. Artichokes, garlic, beans, oats, onions, and asparagus are some great pre-biotic choices which will help the greens gain an even greater success. If you just cannot stomach the thought of eating so many fresh greens every day, begin supplementing with a powdered organic greens drink mix.
Embrace gardening and the earth.
Another way to help build good flora in your gut is to get friendly with nature. Don’t be afraid of a little bit of dirt. The microbes in the soil are actually good to expose yourself to from time to time.
Try to limit your intake of antibiotics and antibiotic-fed meats. If you have to take an antibiotic, try to combat the bad effects by supplementing with a probiotic and eating yogurt.
Foods rich in probiotics include:
- Yogurt with live cultures
- A spicy fermented cabbage known as Kimchi
- Dark chocolate
- Pickles that are not pasteurized
- A fermented soybean called Natto
- Gouda and other soft cheeses
- Some sourdough breads
- Green beans
- Whole grain breads
- Honey Supplements are also a good source.
Choose a good supplement
Choose a probiotic supplement that is high in Colony-Forming Units, abbreviated as CFUs which is how probiotics are measured. Find a supplement hat has CFUs in the 1 to 10 billion range. Many experts suggest that you look for at least 8 billion or even to look for a probiotic supplement that delivers between 20 to 50 billion live organisms per dose. Make sure that your probiotic supplement contains a combination of a variety of strains of probiotic bacteria. The names of specific bacteria inside probiotics are named, with the first word identifying their genus, followed by their species and then their strain. Some of the best probiotic bacteria to look for include:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus salivarious
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Streptococcus thermophiles
These are sometimes abbreviated to start with an L., B., or S. Some supplements are referred to as synbiotic, which means they contain both probiotics and pre-biotics to help maximize the benefits. Take as directed, usually once or twice a day with a meal. Probiotics are generally considered safe; though check with your doctor before using a supplement especially if you suffer from a weakened immune system or serious illness such as severe pancreatitis.
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