There’s a trend in medicinal eating that grows stronger each year. Veterinarians are using it to help fight cancer in pets. Even Chuck Norris is doing it.
They’re not the only ones. There’s been a massive increase in interest in probiotics, both among practicing physicians and the general public. All kinds of people are consuming healthy bacteria, including people who turn up their nose at most alternative medicine. No wonder, considering breakthrough discoveries like these. . .
Hidden Constipation Syndrome –
To review just a few of the findings, solid published data shows that probiotics help in the treatment of infectious diarrhea in young children. Even more remarkable, some people report seeing progress in children with autism after they begin an intense probiotic program (autistic children have serious gastro-intestinal problems). And most people know probiotics can restore a healthy intestinal balance following a course of antibiotics.
So there are plenty of good reasons that the study of both probiotics and the makeup of human gut bacteria is surging. Your gut flora – the ecosystem of different bacteria in your colon — influence your health on levels scientists are only beginning to understand.
But it’s the effect probiotics have on cancer that has me most excited.
Your immune system on
(natural) life support
Last year, I wrote you about the importance of probiotics for maintaining a healthy immune system. After all, the immune system is your first line of defense against cancer – not to mention the most effective way to thwart existing cancers.
Because close to 70 percent of your immune system is found in your gut, keeping the area healthy is one of the smartest ways you can fight off toxins from the outside world. Beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract also help metabolize nutrients and package waste for disposal from your gut.
Here’s an example. The nitrites found in a lot of processed foods (such as bacon, cured ham, hot dogs, corned beef, pastrami, and pepperoni) get converted by certain enzymes to carcinogens once they hit your intestines. But probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus destroy these nitrites and reduce the supply of enzymes that convert the nitrites to carcinogens. That lowers your risk for certain cancers – colon cancer, in particular.
So how exactly do probiotics work? Think of them as a birthing center for your own personal disease-fighting army. They build up the good bacteria – the “good guys” that help fight off the bad bacteria – “bad guys” – in your gut.
Probiotics also help you digest your food and soak up more of the nutrients it contains than you’d get otherwise. The term itself – probiotics – means “supporting life.”
New advances in gut-health research
This is all stuff we know. But in the last year, probiotics have come to the fore as cancer fighters. New evidence suggests the microorganisms in your gut not only help determine whether you develop cancer in the first place, but they can also influence the outcome of cancer treatments.
Proof is in the booming market
Right now, probiotics are one of the fastest-growing product categories in the food industry, with annual global sales of probiotic-laden products expected to hit $42 billion by 2016. But remember, not all probiotic-heavy foods are created equal.
ConsumerLab.com found that 30 percent of probiotic products don’t measure up to the claim of viable bacteria on their labels. It’s tough to pinpoint what exactly decreases the levels, but exposure to heat is probably a major culprit. Most probiotics need to be refrigerated if they’re to have any decent shelf life. Those exposed even to room temperature rapidly decline in potency: The bacteria die.
The measure of the number of live organisms in a probiotic product is taken at the site of manufacture, prior to shipping and storage where heat or humidity have adverse effects. In those conditions, the number of good bacteria could be cut in half by the time the product reaches consumers.
If your probiotic was shipped in July, unrefrigerated, and maybe sat for hours on an airport tarmac or in a hot warehouse, it’s hardly worth a nickel much less the hefty sums you pay in the store or online.
Then there’s the fact that some probiotic products say they have a single strain of healthy bacteria, while others claim ten to twenty strains. My reading on this matter suggests it’s better to take a variety of strains than just one or two.
And how about the dose? The research suggests, “The more the merrier.” A label that claims a billion live cultures sounds impressive, but actually that’s a low dose of probiotics. For treatment of diarrhea in clinical studies, doses have exceeded a trillion live cultures per day.
I take a product called VSL #3 that contains 100 billion live cultures per capsule (at the time it leaves the factory). It’s refrigerated at all times. A well-known drugstore chain, CVS, carries it but I have to ask at the pharmacy counter. It’s expensive.
How to restore your gut flora
A daily serving of home-made yogurt is a good option, if you can tolerate dairy. You can buy live yogurt cultures, some milk, and do it yourself. It practically guarantees a healthy regular dose of probiotics. I’m told store-bought kefir and Greek yogurt are also good options.
If you can’t have milk products, it’s not a problem. Your local health food store likely carries several brands of soy, almond, and coconut yogurts with probiotics. Always look for the phrase “contains active cultures” on the label, and steer clear of any product that makes specific health claims.
Here are some other natural ways to add probiotics to your diet:
A study published in the International Journal of Cancer went as far as to suggest the use of certain microbes and probiotics could generate a large-scale positive effect on public health if enough people start consuming them. Probiotics have the potential to counteract some of the carcinogenic foods and chemicals that come standard-issue in a Western lifestyle.
Lee Euler, Publisher