In the early 20th century, Russian immunologist Dr Elie Metchnikoff recognized the value of beneficial strains of bacteria in fermented milk products, convinced that the longevity of the Bulgarians was mainly due to their high consumption of yogurt. We now know that over four hundred species of intestinal bacteria co-exist with each other in the gut, and have a vital role to play in the digestion and absorption of food and the stimulation of the body’s immune system.
These beneficial bacteria produce key vitamins and make short-chain fatty acids which nourish the delicate gut lining and prevent it from becoming permeable. They also manufacture enzymes, organic acids, immune modulators and anti-microbials which protect against viruses, fungi and parasites. Acquiring normal gut flora at birth and during the first two years of life helps to prime our immune system and provide greater resistance to infections and disease in later life. Increasingly, the delicate microbial ecology is threatened by poor eating habits, diet, stress, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, chlorinated water and environmental pollutants. It is therefore fundamentally important for mums-to-be to consider replenishing their stores of beneficial bacteria before their baby is born or better still, before it is even conceived.
Modern, commercially produced “live” yogurt or liquid yogurt-type drinks may not be potent enough to restore gut ecology that has been significantly disturbed. To repopulate the digestive tract more efficiently, high-potency probiotics (meaning “for life”) are generally required. It took several years of using ineffectual brands before I hit upon a few that actually worked. One of the difficulties is that probiotics need to be resistant to stomach and bile acids. Each capsule should contain billions of beneficial organisms native to the human digestive tract and capable of attaching to the gut lining so they can colonize and thrive.
In practice, I use a handful of probiotics from different companies, depending on complaint and circumstance. It has to be said that practitioner loyalty must be to the client rather than a supplement company, and I am always on the look-out for new innovations. One of the key products I regularly recommend is a broad spectrum probiotic called Bio-Kult, containing fourteen probiotic strains with a minimum microbial count of 10 billion per gram. The capsules are small and easy to swallow, but can also be opened and the powder mixed with food and drink. Bio-Kult is independently analysed and certified and does not require refrigeration.
The dosing sets this product apart from others. Instead of a simple one-a-day regime, clients are encouraged to gradually increase the dosage from one capsule to eight capsules (twice daily) over a period of a month and then remain on this level for 3 months (the dosage differs for children).
Thereafter, the probiotic is gradually reduced to a maintenance dose of 1 or 2 capsules twice a day. The effect is a profound digestive spring-clean without the need for more invasive or abrasive treatments. Clients are generally happy to comply if the regime is carefully explained and affordable.
Constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints Nutritional Therapists treat – usually rectified by drinking more water, consuming more vegetables and reducing wheat and dairy products. However, the dietary habits of small children are difficult to change overnight and probiotics can be employed to ease their discomfort.
As I recently found out in the case of a toddler, the medical alternative (after laxatives have failed), is an anal stretch performed at the local hospital. Luckily, this horror can be prevented by administering a course of probiotics to the child.
Adults suffer, too, and some may sit in silence for a lifetime. Norman, a 43 year-old building contractor had been suffering from irritable bowel syndrome for 38 years. His main problems were bloating and constipation, and unusually, a very high temperature whenever his symptoms were severe. Medical investigations and interventions had no effect. His water intake appeared adequate and he was aware of the importance of eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. I asked him to reduce his intake of wheat, sugar, caffeine and we introduced the Bio-Kult programme. At our next follow-up meeting eight weeks later, he delighted in telling me that his bowel problem had improved so much that he now has the confidence to go out on day trips with his family without worrying about toilet facilities. He no longer has unexplained bouts of high temperature and sweats.
Matthew, a 47 year-old bricklayer, had the opposite problem. He explained that he was suffering from diarrhea, with around 5 bowel movements daily. He also had a history of hay fever and colds. Cutting down on cups of sugary tea, pork (bacon, ham, sausages) and bread alleviated many of his symptoms. After implementing the Bio-Kult programme, the consistency and frequency of his stools also returned to normal.
Food intolerance and allergies are notoriously difficult to treat. Food intolerance testing can be expensive or unreliable, and cannot deal with underlying causes such as a “leaky” gut. Jason’s parents told me their son, aged 9, had been suffering from severe reactions to nuts, sesame, eggs, fish and dairy since weaning. His immunity was also poor and he suffered from eczema. His diet, although restricted in what he was able to eat, was good.
Jason had no trouble taking the small Bio-Kult capsules and his mother ensured he followed the programme, working up to 6 capsules daily (in divided doses after breakfast and dinner) for 2 months. Thereafter, the dose as reduced to 4 capsules every day. There was no sudden, noticeable improvement in his general symptoms.
However, over the course of two years, Jason’s parents noticed that his skin slowly improved and that he suffered from fewer colds and smelly wind. It came as a complete surprise to his parents that after eating scrambled eggs at a friend’s house, he had not experienced the usual swelling of lips and face or severe stomach pains. Jason no longer appears to react to food as before and can safely eat his favorite meal – sardines on toast.
In my experience, probiotic supplementation on its own may be insufficient in some very entrenched cases of yeast infestation.
Kate, a 38 year-old IT manager, listed chronic cystitis, urticaria and weight gain as her main health problems. She tested positive for antibodies against Candida albicans. A yeast and sugar free diet was recommended, alongside anti-fungal supplementation. After 6 weeks, Kate started a digestive spring-clean with Bio-Kult. After completing her programme, she remains on a maintenance dose of 4 capsules per day. The combined strategy worked well, as all her symptoms have disappeared and she has lost 2 stones in weight.
If taking a course of probiotics, consider that these beneficial bacteria need to be nurtured in order to survive and prosper. Avoid highly refined, sugary foods, alcohol and eat plenty of fruit and vegetable fiber. Apart from just taking probiotics, we also have to do our bit to sustain them. Louis Pasteur, the 19th century Frenchman who is covered that bacteria cause disease, realized that “the germ is nothing, the terrain is everything”. In other words, it is more effective long-term to rehabilitate the ‘good guys’ and provide them with a healthy food source, rather than employing antibiotics of mass destruction to wipe out friend and foe alike.
This article is written by Martina Watts who has been in practice as a Nutritional Therapist for 8 years. The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Nothing on this site is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.