Probiotics: Do We Need Them or Not?

Digestion is one of my favorite topics. Many of my clients suffer from a variety of digestive issues: from gas, bloating, and occasional heart burn; to constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux; and then on to IBS, Crohn’s, colitis, Celiac, and diverticulitis. In my late teens, through college, and into my mid-thirties I too suffered with digestive issues. I was diagnosed with IBS and the “solution” was to eat more fiber. That didn’t really work. As I began to learn more about healthy eating it turned out to be a relatively simple fix – stop eating bagels and cereals for breakfast – and soon my digestion was vastly improved and my seasonal asthma was gone!

To say we are only as good as our digestion may be an understatement. You can eat the healthiest of foods, but if you are not digesting them, you are not getting the nutrients that your body requires for long term health.

It is likely you are familiar with the three classes of foods that need to be digested – protein, carbohydrates, and fats. However, it is less likely you are familiar with the “triad of digestion” or the three essential substances produced in your body necessary for strong digestion – hydrochloric acid, lactic acid, and bile. Hydrochloric acid and lactic acid are as their names indicate – acids, while bile is an alkaline substance.

Hydrochloric acid is produced in the stomach and primarily responsible for protein digestion. Bile is produced in the liver, concentrated and stored in the gall bladder, and released into the duodenum (small intestine) to enable fat digestion. Lactic acid is made in the colon (large intestine) and finishes up carbohydrate digestion.

The digestion process starts in the stomach as hydrochloric acid sterilizes and breaks food down into liquid. It kills potential pathogens such as bacteria and parasites; prepares calcium, zinc, and Vitamin B12 to be properly utilized; and begins the digestion of proteins. Digestive issues will start when the body does not make or does not have adequate levels of hydrochloric acid. For more information you can reference my articles The Importance of Hydrochloric Acid by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=124 and The Stomach by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=127. The supplements Betaine Hydrochloride and Zypan from Standard Process can increase acidity in the stomach when the body does not make sufficient hydrochloric acid.

While the environment in the stomach needs to be acidic, for the small intestines to do their job, the environment must be slightly alkaline. The gall bladder sends bile into the small intestines where it will help to alkalize the environment by neutralizing the hydrochloric acid coming in from the stomach and it will emulsify fats and oils so they can be properly digested. If the body is not providing sufficient bile there are obvious consequences. For more information you can reference my articles The Liver, Gall Bladder, and Pancreas – Behind the Scenes Helpers of Digestion by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=121 and The Small Intestines by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=123. There are a variety of supplements from Standard Process that support liver and gall bladder functionality including A-F Betafood, Betafood, and Cholacol.

The last stop on the digestion train is the colon. The natural state of the colon is acidic and lactic acid is the key. The “good” in “good bacteria” is their ability to convert carbohydrates into lactic acid. Lactic acid protects the body from pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungus and lines the colon, vaginal tract, and skin to protect against overgrowth. When our gut bacteria are mostly of the “bad” bacteria, this does not occur, resulting in gas and bloating, vaginal yeast infections, and skin problems. For more information you can reference my articles The Large Intestine and the Importance of Probiotics by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=120 and It’s All About the Gut by clicking here http://brwellness.com/nutrition-news/?p=53.

This is where the discussion of probiotics comes into play. As I state in the latter article, “Our microbiome is a large, diverse and dynamic population of micro-organisms. During birth and the first two years of life we acquire our “native bacteria.” This comes primarily from our mother from our birth and (hopefully) subsequent breast feeding. Thus, mom’s health and her microbiome are of extreme importance to baby and instrumental in shaping the future health of the child. After this “transient bacteria” is constantly ingested into our body from food, water, air, and if we choose probiotics.”

This means that any Probiotic you are taking is essentially “transient.” This means for it to be effective you need to keep taking it. It is not populating your gut. If you stop, it is likely that the “bad” bacteria, yeast, and fungus will then take over the environment. Perhaps there is another way to address the issue.

There are three main yeasts that we come across in our diet. Baker’s yeast converts carbohydrates into carbon dioxide (gas); Brewer’s yeast converts carbohydrates into alcohol (fermentation); and Mycelium yeast converts carbohydrates into lactic acid. Mycelium yeast is found in a supplement from Standard Process called Lactic Acid Yeast. By increasing our consumption of this type of yeast we can increase the lactic acid in our colon which helps prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria, reduces the risk of colon cancer, and crowds out other yeast and fungus while protecting the lining of our colon.

Therefore, we can conclude, that taking a supplement such as Lactic Acid Yeast may actually be more beneficial as it will reduce the “bad” bacteria, yeast, and fungus while creating the natural environment for your own “good” native bacteria to rule the environment.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.