With 80% of your immune system located in your gut, having balanced intestinal flora is a major factor in defending your body against disease. Balanced gastrointestinal (GI) flora is critical to the functioning of the immune system, synthesis of nutrients, and detoxification. Balanced GI flora is also necessary for regular and normal bowel movements.
Flora imbalances can be caused by poor diet, illness, use of antibiotics, and stress. Symptoms can include persistent gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. To maintain or rebalance GI flora, consider adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in your GI tract. The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, although many other types of bacteria are also classified as probiotics. Scientific evidence shows these probiotics
- boost the immune system by enhancing the production of antibodies;
- support the synthesis of vitamins and other nutrients;
- relieve the effects of, and treat, intestinal illness (diarrhea, constipation, IBS);
- prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections; and
- may reduce the risk of colon or bladder cancer.
Two ways to boost healthy GI flora are to take a probiotic supplement or add probiotic-containing foods to your diet. Probiotic-boosting foods include fermented foods and cultured dairy products. Be sure the food labels state “fermented” or, for dairy, “live and active bacterial cultures.” Probiotic supplements come in liquid and capsule forms and many are sold refrigerated. It is important to follow the storage instructions for your supplement—failure to do so could kill off the live, healthy bacteria it contains. Remember to check with your doctor to be sure you select a product that meets your personal health needs.
American Gastroenterological Association. “Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You.” Revised May 2013. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/probiotics
Kiani, L. “Bugs in Our Gut: How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy.” Cambridge Scientific Abstracts: Discovery Guide (October 2006).
Mayo Clinic. “Do I Need to Include Probiotics and Prebiotics in My Diet?” October 15, 2014.