Originally published October 13 2008
Why We Need Probiotics and The Benefits of Kefir
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) Do you cringe when someone mentions probiotics because you really don't want to think about those zillions of bacteria living in your gut? Swallowing down some more to add to the pile may not sound like an appealing thought, but the truth is that taking probiotics is probably one of the best interventions you can do to stay healthy or regain your health. That's because those four pounds of little critters in your gut are to a very large degree your immune system. They hold the keys to your very existence.
The perfect relationship between you and your bacteria is the one where you keep them happy and they keep you happy. They are easier to please that you are. All they want is some light. You can pick that up when you are in the sun or even in artificial lighting, and your chryptochrome cells will take it down to them. A little sugar makes them happy too, and current thought is that they also like reproductive hormones. Give them these three things and will be happy.
What you want from them is to be your unpaid personal bodyguards, to be willing to go to war against unfriendly bacteria, viruses, pathogens and foreign invaders to defend you. When they are up to the task of winning those wars you will stay healthy and able to maintain your positive outlook. You also want your bacteria to help you out with digestion of the food you eat, and to make sure that the nutrients from it are absorbed so you can use them well.
What can go wrong in the relationship between you and your bacteria
Probably the worst thing that can happen to ruin this happy relationship is taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off your bodyguards along with your enemies. When your bodyguards are lying dead you have no defense. Your digestion will suffer and you will experience the digestive blues characterized by rumbling in your digestive tract, gas, belching, and even more things too gross to mention here. If your digestion gets really bad you will become malnourished. Your body will not have the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy and your health will deteriorate. This downward spiral can set you up to be a prime candidate for degenerative disease along with leaving you wide open to be infected by parasites and other unwanted microorganisms.
Even if you aren't a taker of antibiotics, your herd of bacteria can become so depleted that it can no longer do what you want it to do. Pesticides in the food you eat and chlorine in the water you drink will slowly poison bacteria and over time your intestinal tract can become just as devoid of them as if you had taken antibiotics. When this happens, unfriendly microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts and fungi set up shop in your digestive tract. Then you've got a problem because it is very difficult to evict them.
Why probiotics are so important
Probiotics are friendly bacteria similar to those found in people's guts, especially in the guts of breastfed infants who have been provided this natural protection against many diseases by their mothers. Most friendly bacteria come from the Lactobacillus or Bididobacterium groups. There are several different species of bacteria in each group. Some probiotics are also friendly yeasts.
Taking probiotics is a way to keep your friendly bacteria population up to full strength so it is always at the ready to defend you. It is a way to replenish the bacteria that are killed off by the pesticides and chlorine. If you have taken antibiotics, taking probiotics is even more important because you probably have unfriendly microorganisms living in your gut that your reduced levels of friendly bacteria are having difficulty handling. Taking probiotics will increase and strengthen your friendly bacteria population to a level that will allow it to oust the intruders.
Kefir may be the best way to take probiotics
Kefir is a creamy, drinkable yogurt style fermented milk that tastes something like buttermilk. Before you say "yuck" please note that kefir is available at health food stores in natural fruit flavors and sweetened with evaporated cane juice, as well as in a plain, unsweetened variety. If you make it at home, it can be made to taste like whatever appeals to you and out of whatever type of milk you like, such as almond milk or coconut milk. It's full of naturally occurring bacteria and yeast living in symbiosis as the result of the fermentation process. Kefir is loaded with vitamins, minerals and easily digested protein. It can even be consumed by the lactose intolerant because the yeast and bacteria provide the enzyme lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.
Kefir is fermented by kefir grains that contain the bacteria and yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk protein) and complex sugars. The bacteria and yeast mixture can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match. Several of the strains of bacteria in the kefir culture are not found in yogurt. The yeast in kefir is able to deal effectively with pathogenic yeasts in the body. The bacteria/yeast team cleanses and fortifies the intestinal tract making it more efficient at resisting pathogens.
Because kefir is a balanced and nourishing food, it has been used to help patients suffering from AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, and cancer. It has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system and is beneficial for people with sleep disorders, depression and ADHD. Kefir promotes healthy bowel movements when used regularly, and helps reduce flatulence. It also helps reduce food cravings by allowing the body to feel more nourished and balanced.
Recent studies document some of kefir's benefits
Although kefir is as old as ancient time, it has only recently begun to be studied. In the June edition of BMC Immunology Journal, researchers evaluated the effect of probiotic fermented milk on the offspring of nursing mice. They found that the milk consumption either by the mother during nursing or by the offspring after weaning modified the development of bifidobacteria population in the large intestine of the mice. These modifications were accompanied by a decrease of enterobacteria population. The administration of the milk to the mothers improved their own immune system and this also affected their offspring.
Offspring from mice that received the milk increased S-IgA in intestinal fluids which mainly originated from their mother's immune system. A decrease in the number of macrophages, dendritic cells and IgA+ cells during the suckling period in offspring fed with the fermented milk was observed. Researchers thought this could be related to the improvement of the immunity of the mothers, which passively protected their babies. At day 45, the immune systems of the babies reached a maturity that reflected the effects of the milk on the stimulation of their intestinal mucosal immunity. This study suggests that kefir would be of great benefit to both nursing mothers and their babies.
The Journal of Medicine and Food, June edition, reported an investigation to determine probiotic properties of kefir. Researchers used a carbohydrate fraction isolated from kefir to test for anti-inflammatory activity both in vitro and in vivo using rats. Results indicated a significant reduction in rat paw edema and overall trauma after treatments with kefir compared to the control rats.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in kefir and other ruminant products that has been shown to possess anti-cancer activities in in-vivo animal models and in vitro cell culture systems. The BMC Cancer Journal, July edition, reports a study to determine the effects of CLA on apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human breast tissue. Researchers found that CLA induced apoptosis through estrogen receptor alpha in the breast cells. These findings suggest that the affect of estrogen on breast tissue is modulated by CLA.
More about kefir
Kefir has many other nutritive features in addition to bacteria and yeast. It is loaded with minerals and essential amino acids. Its protein is partially digested in the fermentation process making it easily utilized by the body. Kefir contains significant amounts of tryptophan, the amino acid that promotes relaxation and sleep, making it a good choice for a nightcap. It is also rich in vitamin B-12, vitamin K and biotin.
Whole Foods Market has a good selection of ready to drink kefir. Starters for kefir are available online.
About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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