Monday, November 8, 2010

Probiotics and the Immune System

Probiotics are yeast or bacterial organisms that exist in our intestines and have many health benefits. Health professionals continue to learn more about the immune-supporting aspects of these "beneficial bacteria."

What can probiotics do for me?

Scientists have only recently begun to scratch the surface of what probiotics can do, such as unmasking some of the mechanisms that help with the immune system. One way probiotics do this is by competing with pathogenic microorganisms on binding sites of mucosal surfaces. Examples of these surfaces are our mouth, nose, throat and gastrointestinal tract.

Probiotics have been shown to produce small amounts of vitamin K and B vitamins. Additionally, they are able to produce chemicals that inactivate or even kill some pathogens. There's also evidence that simply ingesting probiotics stimulates the body's immune system as it reacts to the yeast or bacteria.

How can I obtain probiotics in my diet?

All fermented foods contain probiotics. These include kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso. Many of these foods also contain "pre-biotics" or flora, substances that help beneficial bacteria grow.

What are the different forms and how many do I need?

Aside from food, you can obtain probiotics in powder, tablet, liquid or capsule form. There are also many different strains.

The Dispensary at Bastyr Center for Natural Health sells high-quality probiotics that are free of contaminants, additives and pathogenic microorganisms, and contain the number of viable microorganisms stated on the label.

Do I really need to keep probiotics in the fridge?

Yes and no. Any high-quality probiotic supplement should be shelf-stable for at least two weeks outside of the refrigerator. Keeping them in the fridge will keep the microorganisms alive longer.

Caveats

People on immunosuppressant drugs and/or with autoimmune disease should consult with their physician before taking a probiotic supplement.

— Todd A. Born, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University. Visit BastyrCenter.org for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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