Can eating yogurt or taking a probiotic help prevent the common cold? At first, it does not make sense. How could a pill or a fermented milk product help increase your immunity? Well it is true and there is science that confirms my wild claims. Let us look deep into the bacteria that inhabit our intestines.
What do we mean when we say probiotic? You might also know them by their generic name, acidophilus. In this context we are referring to the good bacteria and yeast that live in your digestive tract. It is thought that there are over a trillion bacteria and yeast cells in your digestive tract. In fact, they outnumber your own cells by tenfold. If you think about it, there are more of them than there are of you. These numerous microbial friends perform many functions deep in your bowels. They keep out foreign bacteria, help you stay regular and synthesize certain vitamins. We get these helpful bacteria from our diet. Most, non-alcoholic, fermented foods contain helpful bacteria. Foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and kefir are sources of probiotic. Or you can get them in a supplement pill form. I take my probiotics everyday.
The next question is how does something in your gut improve your immune system? Well let me tell you. These gut bacteria love to eat non digestible carbohydrates (sugars) and dietary fiber and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). It is these SCFA that have unique health benefits. They have a positive effect on maintaining gut integrity, appetite regulation and stimulating the immune system. This is all good in theory, but does it actually work in the real world? It does. One small study of nursing home residents received a 3 billion strength probiotic supplement daily for two weeks. Those that got the probiotic, responded better to the influenza vaccine and experienced fewer respiratory infections during the following five month flu season.
Many of the questions I am asked about probiotic supplements involve what kind to take. Should one get a single strain or multi-strain version? Should it be kept in the fridge and how many billions do I take? My answer is simple. If you want the absolute best, get the probiotics that are kept in the fridge. I personally don’t take these kinds as they are more costly. If you are treating something specific or acute, like antibiotic induced diarrhea, look for a single strain product. Our Heart Pharmacists should be able to find a suitable supplement for you. For general health, a multi-strain formulation is fine. It is thought that over 2000 unique strains of bacteria could be found in the human digestive tract. So to say that one strain is the best to maintain a healthy gut is hard to argue. In terms of numbers, if the need is more acute take a higher amount. For general health, I recommend around 6 billion cells a day.
But don’t forget to have fermented food whenever you can. It might contain unique and helpful probiotics. Also these foods will provide different, as possibly, delicious flavours. Variety is the “fermented” spice of life!