A Woman’s Best Friend
Probiotic is a compound of Latin and Greek words meaning ‘favourable to life’. Here, Sherrill Sellman, ND, explains why.
One of the secrets to optimal health is cultivating a great relationship with bacteria. Although many people reach for their antibacterial soap at the mere mention of bacteria, there are certain types of bacteria that we literally cannot live without.
Our digestive tract is home to a thriving population of life promoting gut bacteria that take up residence within us from the moment of birth. These micro flora are so critical to our survival that without their presence every aspect of our health would suffer.
Welcome to our inner world
Our digestive tract is more than nine metres in length (30 feet) and is one of the most complex and immensely important organs of the body. The healthy functioning of our digestive system is profoundly dependent on the 100 trillion micro-organisms that dwell there, outnumbering the 10 trillion cells that make up our body by 10 to one! While it is commonly believed that intestinal functions are relegated to the absorption and assimilation of food, a healthy digestive tract is intimately connected to our overall wellbeing. Medical science has only recently discovered that it plays a fundamental role in our immunity, emotional health, and our hormonal balance.
Our digestive system also has another name. It is called the “enteric nervous system”. It is also referred to as our “second brain”. Endowed with its own local nervous system, it contains as many neurons as is found in the spinal cord.
How the gut’s ‘second brain’ affects mood and wellbeing
The gut has a mind of its own and – like our larger brain in our head – it is capable of sending and receiving impulses. It also records experiences and responds to emotions. Its nerve cells are bathed and influenced by the same neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that are found in our brain. Our gut and brain are continuously influencing and affecting each other.
In order to have a healthy functioning digestive tract, we must have a healthy and robust gut flora population.
More than 99 per cent of the microbes living in our intestinal tract are a very diverse group of bacteria, numbering between 500 to 1000 different species. Collectively, they add about 1.3 kilograms (three pounds) to our overall weight. The rest are yeast or parasites.
A healthy gut population needs to be composed of about 85 per cent beneficial microflora.
The vast majority of our gut bacteria reside in our small and large intestines. The bacterial population of the large intestines, which is more hospitable to microbes, outnumbers that of the small intestines by about 100,000 to 1.
We might liken our gut flora to a large, thriving, and diverse community of microbe species, living harmoniously in their particular neighbourhood. Each colony contributes their unique functions to the benefit of the whole.
Microbes are a natural part of the human nutrition system. Our microflora are little factories that convert plant and animal products into usable nutrition.
Humans require many nutrients that can only be manufactured by these industrious micro-organisms. For instance, trillions of cells of bacteria manufacture the following vital nutrients: B vitamins, (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, cobalamin), Folic Acid, and vitamin K.
Friendly bacteria are also hard at work allowing for the efficient absorption of essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Beneficial bacteria play another major role; they are responsible for ensuring a strong immune system. An impressive 70 per cent of our immune cells line the intestinal wall.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that compete with harmful ones. However, this equilibrium between beneficial and harmful is a delicate balance.
How we disrupt friendly bacteria
Many of our 21st century habits are disrupting influences wreaking havoc on our friendly bacteria. A junk food diet, pharmaceutical drugs (such as antibiotics, steroids, and birth control pills), environmental chemicals, and psychological or mental stress all impact our gut flora.
Specific beneficial strains can be killed or crowded out, allowing their neighbourhoods to be overtaken by harmful bacteria or yeast, such as Candida albicans.
Friendly microbes help prevent disease in several ways. They deprive invaders of nutrients and secrete acids that less friendly microbes can’t tolerate. They also reinforce the mucosal barrier of the intestines, which blocks dangerous pathogens, toxins, and allergens.
Some bacteria stimulate the immune system by increasing T-cell counts, while others produce natural antibiotic and antifungal substances.
Probiotics – a gift to women’s health
It is now coming to light that the trillions of probiotics that populate our inner ecology are our best friends: they provide beneficial, nutritional, and therapeutic functions necessary for overall human health and vitality.
When it comes to ensuring woman’s health, probiotics are indispensable allies for wellbeing. Beneficial microbes metabolise and recycle hormones, including oestrogen, thyroid hormones, and phyto oestrogens. This facilitates proper hormonal balance, which can help offset symptoms of menopause and peri menopause, and may protect bone and breast health as well. In addition, they detoxify drugs and harmful compounds, and have anti-tumour and anti-cancer effects.
Pregnancy and birth – getting the gut right
It is only when an infant takes a trip down the birth canal can it be properly colonised with the various species of gut flora found in the mother’s vaginal tract.
Breastfeeding is the next stop for the delivery of gut flora. The baby’s intestines colonise with bacteria soon after birth, through contact with the environment and from breast milk.
As a child grows, the bacterial population can diversify to contain many hundreds of different species. This is how an infant’s digestive and immune systems are established.
Caesarean-delivered babies have their initial exposure of bacteria from environmental microbes in the air, other infants, and the nursing staff. As a result, the gut flora in infants born by caesarean delivery can be disturbed for up to six months after the birth.
Breastfeeding helps to colonise the intestinal tract, along with additional supplementation with strains of baby bifido bacteria, in order to protect against pathogens.
It’s been observed that infants who develop allergies have intestinal bacteria that are distinctly different from those of non-allergic infants, suggesting that the type of intestinal microflora is an important factor in forming allergic conditions.
Therefore, it is critical to replenish the beneficial flora through mother’s milk, fermented foods and probiotic supplements.
Hormone balance vs oestrogen dominance
Probiotics play a major role in helping to maintain hormonal balance in women of all ages, from the menstruating years all the way through to the post-menopausal years.
The greatest challenge to hormonal health is maintaining an optimal balance between oestrogen and progesterone. Hormone havoc ensues if that balance is thrown out of kilter from an excess of oestrogen.
Oestrogen dominance symptoms include: weight gain, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, hot flashes, migraines, autoimmune diseases, and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Intestinal bacteria react with chemical compounds, such as hormones, in the intestines. One of the functions of healthy gut flora is to make sure that the breakdown products of oestrogen metabolism are tightly bound so that they can be safely excreted from the body.
One of the ways in which the body eliminates excess oestrogen, as well as fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides and solvents, is by binding the toxin to a molecule called glucuronic acid. This complex is then excreted in the bile. However, the bond between the toxin and its escort can be broken by the enzyme glucuronidase, which is produced by certain bacteria.
Excess glucuronidase activity means more of the toxins are liberated and reabsorbed. High glucuronidase activity in the gut is associated with an increased cancer risk, particularly the risk of oestrogen dependent breast cancer.
Taking probiotic supplements increases the proportion of the beneficial gut flora, lactobacillus and bifido bacteria to the beta-glucuronidase producing bacteria.
For overall hormonal balance, and in order to reduce the level of re-absorbed, unbound (free) oestrogen, it is critical to supplement the diet with the friendly bacteria. Therefore, supplementing with probiotics becomes an essential strategy for reducing oestrogen excess and reducing the amount of dangerous chemicals in the body.
Many women are unaware that their vaginal health depends directly on a flourishing probiotic population, which exists in the vaginal tract.
Female health: Candida albicans, urinary tract infections and vaginitis
Candida albicans (also known as a yeast infection), urogenital tract infections (UTIs), bacterial vaginosis and vaginitis, all indicate that there has been a major disturbance of the gut flora. This results in an over-production of more toxic pathogens and a weakened immune system.
For instance, few women realise that the bacteria that cause bladder infections can travel from the gut to the vagina and then into the bladder. Beneficial bacteria take the same route. The use of probiotic supplements has been proven to reduce bladder infections.
It is estimated that at any given time, nearly 80 per cent of women have unhealthy vaginal flora, although they may not exhibit any overt symptoms. Probiotics have been proven to reduce infections by increasing the good flora and restoring the requisite balance.
Normally, Candida albicans is harmless yeast that lives in the gastrointestinal tract, which is well populated by healthy gut flora and a healthy immune system.
Unfortunately, when this internal ecology is disrupted, Candida can quickly multiply out of control, especially in the colon. Antibiotics, birth control pills and environmental chemicals are major causes for disrupting this inner world.
Probiotic treatment restores the balance of vaginal microflora. It plays a major role to help heal vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, bladder infections, and urinary tract infections.
It is also interesting to note that women who do not have adequate vaginal probiotics double their risk of getting HIV and herpes simplex infection. Moreover, they quadruple their risk of getting gonococcal infections and Chlamydia.
Support for women’s health
Probiotics play a key role in the prevention of osteoporosis. Bone loss is one unfortunate result of a lack of friendly micro-organisms in the gastrointestinal tract.
Vitamin K, a vital building block to healthy bones, is a by-product of Lactobacilli, a friendly gut flora.
Probiotics are responsible for producing lactic acid, which greatly increases the body’s ability to absorb minerals such as calcium. Studies with rats whose ovaries are removed (in order to stop oestrogen and induce osteoporosis) have shown that the rats fed with probiotics maintain their bone mass better.
Recent studies indicate that healthy bacteria have a direct impact on mood and behaviour by influencing the production of brain chemicals, including Serotonin and GABA.
Friendly bacteria, specifically Bifido bacteria, help prevent bad bacteria from altering the inner ecology the intestines.
People suffering with mood disorders may be affected by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, which is often a cause of anxiety and depression.
The presence of abundant Lactobacilli bacteria can help contribute to a more relaxed state of mind. During fermentation, Lactobacilli release Tryptophan, which produces the calming neurotransmitter Serotonin.
An imbalanced digestive tract may contribute to weight gain and obesity. Taking friendly flora is an important step to improving digestion, thus promoting the normal metabolism of calories and fat.
Aging does not only affect the way we look, it also affects the microflora living in our gut. Since our body is a host to both good and bad bacteria, the process of aging tilts that balance towards a decline of beneficial bacteria. As a result, the immune system is compromised, digestion and absorption are impaired, and so on. It is therefore essential to replenish the friendly intestinal bacteria to support healthy aging.
Guide to choosing an effective probiotic
An effective probiotic ought to be an essential part of any health program. However, the information about probiotic supplements is confusing, to say the least.
So, what are the most reliable guidelines for choosing a proven probiotic? First, it should guarantee the highest number of live microbes.
In the world of probiotics, the microbial contents are described as “Colony Forming units” (CFU’s), meaning the number of microbes – bacteria or yeasts – that are capable of dividing and forming colonies. CFU’s should be in the billions; the more severe the health problem, the greater the CFU’s required. Ideally we want at least 10 billion CFU per dose.
Our probiotic supplement should also be composed of multiple strains of Lactobacillus and Bifido bacteria in a formulation that assures live delivery into the intestinal tract.
In addition, a good probiotic includes a prebiotic in order to help the flora survive the acidic environment of the upper GI tract.
One important component to keep in mind is that a probiotic touting a large mixture of probiotic strains that are consumed simultaneously may be self-defeating, since these strains may actually compete with each other.
In the US, Theralac® is an outstanding probiotic supplement that achieves all the important criteria. Theralac® is a multi-strain probiotic supplement containing a minimum 30 billion CFU of five well researched compatible probiotic strains.
Theralac® has a patented acid-proof formulation that protects sensitive probiotic bacteria as they pass through the acidic stomach; this allows them to enter the intestinal tract unharmed at full strength. The patented formulation, utilising sodium alginate and grape skin extract, forms a buffered gel in the stomach, which protects the probiotic micro-organisms. This is a significant improvement over enteric-coated probiotics.
Once in the intestinal tract, Theralac’s® five probiotics are stimulated into action by its two prebiotics, (LactoStim and Lactoferrin), to give the maximum probiotic benefit.
Aside from being a proven powerhouse, the probiotic formula, Theralac®, is also affordable.
A woman’s friend for life
Incorporating an effective probiotic supplement into one’s daily program is really an essential part of every woman’s health strategy. Probiotics help maintain hormonal balance while helping to ensure a strong immune system, efficient digestion, mood balance, vibrant energy, and strong bones.
There is no doubt that the regular use of effective probiotic supplementation is, indeed, favourable to every aspect of a woman’s health throughout her entire life.
Sherrill Sellman, ND, (Naturopathic Doctor, Board Certified in Integrative Medicine) is a best-selling author. To learn more about her work and effective probiotics for women’s
health, visit www.whatowmenmustknow.com