A healthy human’s gastrointestinal tract is rife with billions of friendly bacteria vital to our health and well-being. There are between ten to twenty times more bacteria than cells in our body. Rather than causing disease, they prevent it, fighting viral infection and other ailments. The term probiotics was coined in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which defines them as “live microbes which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. The concept behind using probiotics is simple: helping our population of friendly bacteria do their job.

Over the last decade, numerous studies have demonstrated the power of probiotics. For example, research conducted at the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University recently concluded that yogurt consumption can have a beneficial impact on many gastrointestinal conditions, including constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. It can also help promote the body’s natural defenses against infection. Other studies have shown that probiotics boost the immune system, support urogenital health, lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel, and improve the body’s ability to absorb minerals. In November 2005, a conference funded in part by the NCCAM and convened by the American Society for Microbiology presented evidence that probiotics could also treat urinary tract infections, reduce the recurrence of bladder cancer, and prevent eczema in children.

If you want to take advantage of probiotics, your first task is to change any habits that are destroying your naturally occurring healthy bacteria. These include poor food choices like refined carbohydrates and junk food, stress, excessive alcohol consumption and antibiotics overuse. In fact your diet should include fiber, which are prebiotics (food for the good bacteria). Next, you want to replenish your friendly bacteria by consuming it in your diet. Probiotic- rich food choices include soybean pastes such as miso and tempeh, yogurt and yogurt drinks like kefir (avoid the sweetened variety), sauerkraut and many pickles, probiotic soy milk and other fortified foods. Just remember that probiotics are living organisms, and like any other living thing, will die if they sit around too long uncared for. Therefore, avoid buying products that are not fresh, and you must follow the directions on their labels to make sure you are keeping your microscopic allies alive.

You can also take probiotic supplements from a reputable company. I suggest the supplement if possible should contain a local strain of bacteria as this will work better for us. I believe that Probiotics should be part of our regime for good health. Remember however they are not a substitute for good lifestyle habits.

(Adapted from the book, the secrets of people who never get sick by Gene Stone)

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