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Get your daily dose of bacteria

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Healthful probiotics can be found at your nearby grocery dairy case

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: SCOTT KEITH - Great sources of probiotics include kombucha, sauerkraut and Greek yogurt. A cup of yogurt is a great way addition to your daily diet, whether it be as a part of your breakfast or as a way to finish off your lunch.

However, yogurt is also a valuable source of probiotics. In fact, Tobi Page, a Portland-area dietitian, encourages all of her clients to get a dose of this healthful bacteria daily.

"They are a natural part of our system," Page, with Eating is a Lifestyle (eatingisalifestyle.com), said. "They're the healthy bacteria that live in our gut (intestine). They help to fight bad bacteria, so there's a little war going on."

According to Page, in our environment, perhaps with stress, our natural probiotic numbers can lower. This can allow bad bacteria numbers to elevate, creating conditions including irritable bowels and allergies.

Probiotics help to keep the lining of the gut healthy by killing bad bacteria. Page said, "An unhealthy gut is more permeable, allowing viruses, pollens and other large proteins to enter the body. This triggers the immune system, which leads to systemic, chronic inflammation."

Page continued, "Having a healthy gut is essential for reducing your risk of many chronic diseases. From keeping the bad guys out, to allowing for the best absorption of the nutrients in our food, probiotics are the best first step to optimizing your health."

While probiotics naturally occur in our body, there are forces that battle them. "Stress, unhealthy food and antibiotics all work to kill them," Page said. "So we need to keep the numbers up by eating fermented foods and/or taking supplements. Most people don't realize that our digestive tract, like our skin, is really our first line of defense against bacteria and viruses."

Some of your favorite foods contain probiotics.

"Yogurt is the most well-known source in food," she said. "That's a pretty readily available, widely accepted food — yogurts tend to have, maybe, 3 to 5 different strains, and that's pretty good for your average person."

Page said more products are coming out on the market, adding, "Fermented foods would be our next rich source of naturally occurring probiotic foods, as opposed to taking supplements."

The process of fermentation is done through the bacteria. "It requires the bacteria to ferment," Page said, noting fermented food products include sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. When looking for sauerkraut, Page suggests you check the label for "raw" or "live" or "probiotics."

Probiotics may not be known to everyone. "Most people are not aware of what probiotics do for us. They've heard of them before," Page said. "Unless I explain how they can help prevent even colds, flu and allergies, then people are a lot more likely to want to start taking them."

If you want to get on the probiotics bandwagon, you need go no further than the dairy case at your neighborhood grocery store. Yogurt is an excellent source of this good bacteria, but you'll probably be faced with a great many yogurt choices. Page's recommendation: Low-sugar yogurt. Greek yogurt is a great pick. If needed, sweeten with fruit and/or honey.

Also, consider probiotic supplements. "They are an easy way to ensure you're getting enough," Page said. "Just add them to your vitamin D, which just about everybody in Portland should be taking as well. What I typically tell people when they want to find a supplement — if they do not already have inflammation issues or gut issues - you can get away with a lower end supplement, one that has, maybe, three to five different strains in it."

On the other hand, for somebody with issues with gut integrity, Page may recommend a higher-end supplement, which may have 14 or 15 different strains.

"Pick your price point that you're comfortable paying," Page said. "Then look for the one that has the most number of different bacteria at that price point. That's how I recommend choosing a probiotic."

Page takes probiotics as preventive medicine. "I recommend probiotics to every single person out there, whether you have gut issues or not."

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.

It has been suggested that probiotics be used to treat problems in the stomach and intestines. But only certain types of bacteria or yeast (called strains) have been shown to work in the digestive tract. It still needs to be proved which probiotics (alone or in combination) work to treat diseases. At this point, even the strains of probiotics that have been proved to work for a specific disease are not widely available.

What are probiotics used for?

Many people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill "good" (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria. This can help prevent diarrhea.

A decrease in beneficial bacteria may also lead to other infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and symptoms such as diarrhea from intestinal illnesses.

Probiotics may also be used to:

  • Help with other causes of diarrhea.
  • Help prevent infections in the digestive tract.
  • Help control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Probiotics are being studied for benefits in colon cancer, skin infections, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Are probiotics safe?

    Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.

    As with any dietary supplement, be aware that probiotic supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs. Tell your doctor about everything you are taking, including the specific bacteria in your probiotic supplement.

    — WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise


    Scott Keith is a freelance writer with the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.