The Mystery of Good Bugs: Understanding Probiotics

The Mystery of Good Bugs: Understanding Probiotics

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Antibiotics. Anti-bacterial soap. Alcohol hand sanitizers. Antimicrobial tissues. Bugs are the enemy. Right?

Well, not really. Not all microbes are bad. Many microbes are good for us and without some of our symbiotic flora (the hundreds of types of bacteria that live in our digestive systems) we wouldn’t be as healthy. That’s why in my practice and for my family, I strive to harness the beneficial effects of good flora using probiotics.

When I first broach the topic with patients, I’m often asked, "What are probiotics? How do I know which probiotics to take? I eat yogurt, do I still need to take a probiotic? Should my children be taking them?"


What are probiotics?

There is evidence that the gut microflora can impact the development of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. Maintaining a healthy gut is essential to lifelong wellness. Probiotics are live organisms that can help balance the microflora in the gastrointestinal tract by preventing harmful bacteria from growing, aiding in digestion and boosting the immune system. For this reason, I especially recommend using probiotics after episodes of diarrhea, antibiotics and gastrointestinal illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome to help restore and balance gut flora.


How do I know which probiotics to take?

A good quality, high potency probiotic should contain a combination of live bugs such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and/or Bifidobacterium infantis with the Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) in the billions, 5-100 Billion. After antibiotics and during acute episodes of diarrhea, I typically recommend 100+ billion CFU, whereas a maintenance dose for adults and for children would be closer to 5-12 Billion.


Is yogurt enough?

Probably not. Yogurt does not provide enough probiotics for most people. Most yogurts from the grocery store do not contain as many CFU’s as probiotic supplements, and some yogurts do not contain any.  Yogurt also has a lot of sugar, which may weaken the immune system and feed other pathologic microbes like candida.


Should my children be taking them?

I’ve been giving my children probiotics since they were newborns and continue to give them probiotics on and off through the years as needed.  In my practice, I recommend a probiotic to many if not all the children I see to improve their health.  As a naturopathic doctor, I believe that gastrointestinal health begins in utero and continues to develop in the first 2 years of life.  Probiotics can help prevent and treat a number of common childhood illnesses and complaints like allergies, constipation, colic and eczema.


Despite the recent growth in antibacterial consumer products, we now know that some microbes are good for us. In fact, balancing gut microbes can be essential to maintaining health. I hope this clarifies the mystery behind probiotics.


Take care and be in good health!


Dr. Jill Kenney is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in Connecticut. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Kenney also received a Certificate in Homeopathic Medicine from National College of Natural Medicine, which is the oldest accredited naturopathic medical school in the country. She aims to utilize the healing power of nature to address the underlying causes of illness. Like all well-trained naturopaths, Dr. Kenney hopes to prevent disease by helping clients achieve a fundamentally healthy lifestyle through nutrition, exercise, and a balanced work, personal and spiritual life. Dr. Kenney resides in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters.  

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