Last month I had a wisdom tooth extracted. The process of removing the tooth went quickly and smoothly but days later I had an unpleasant skin and abdominal reaction to the antibiotics. It prompted me to discuss this important topic.
Why do I need bacteria?
We have an important symbiotic relationship with bacteria in our gut. These ‘good’ bacteria help us better digest food and absorb nutrients while keeping the lining of our gut healthy. Since most of our immune system is located in the gut, ‘good’ bacteria help to keep our defense systems strong and working appropriately. Since the lining of the gut and respiratory tract is continuous, ‘good’ bacteria also helps control conditions such as seasonal allergies and hay fever.
Not all bacteria found in our gut are ‘good’. Some strains cause gas and bloating and in sufficient numbers can cause serious gastrointestinal infections. Antibiotics may be appropriate in cases where the ‘bad’ bacterial load (in the gut and other areas of the body) becomes too high causing acute illness. Unfortunately, antibiotics also eradicate ‘good’ bacteria. Unchecked by ‘good’ bacteria, bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics take over the available space in the gut and can cause further acute infections (even though in small numbers these ‘bad’ bacteria are normally safe).
Traditionally we acquired ‘good’ bacteria from fermented foods such as miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha and live beer. Today the frequent use of antibiotics and the decreased prevalence of fermented foods in our diets emphasize the importance of probiotic or ‘good’ bacteria supplementation.
Do I need probiotics?
Conditions and symptoms of weak and/or inappropriate immune function, inflammation of the skin, gut or respiratory system, poor digestion and dysbiosis (imbalance of beneficial vs. harmful organisms) suggest a need for probiotics. These include antibiotic use, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gastrointestinal tract infections, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohns), abdominal distention, yeast infections/candida, high cholesterol, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, difficulty with lactose digestion, leaky gut syndrome, fatigue and traveller’s diarrhea.
Remember to take probiotics with food as these are live organisms. Food protects probiotics from stomach acid so more will reach the intestines intact. Also fiber acts as food for ‘good’ bacteria. Probiotics are usually very well tolerated but consult your physician about the most appropriate strains of probiotics, suitable dosages and if you are immunocompromised.
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