Written by John Immel,
About gut floraThe average, normal, healthy bowel contains an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms from over 500 different species. Normally, this ecosystem deters and displaces growth of harmful bacteria. When your gut ecosystem is imbalanced, harmful (and even beneficial) bacteria proliferate causing health problems. Indigestion, including gas, is the most common sign of intestinal imbalance and fermentation in the gut. Gut imbalance, called "intestinal-intoxication" has been implicated in emotional changes, allergies, IBS, diarrhea, and other disorders.
The most common cause of gut imbalance is transient weakness in digestion. Anything that weakens digestion can alter the balance of gut flora, including stress, dehydration, inflammation of the gut, eating difficult to digest foods, and constipation, etc. Other causes include antibiotics, which kill both the good organisms and the bad. The sterility left behind by antibiotics can lead to unchecked growth by harmful bacteria that otherwise would not be able to compete with normal gut flora.
Since micro-organisms of the gut change according to locale, travelling 100 miles from home can disrupt gut flora. Food poisoning, ingestion of parasites and other infections are other causes of an imbalanced gut.
About probioticsProbiotics are a method for restoring the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The word comes from the latin prefix 'Pro' meaning 'for' and the Greek word 'bios' meaning 'life'. The term was coined in 1953 as a contrast to antibiotics, which translates to 'against life'. The most common definition of probiotic was given in 1989: "A live microbial food supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance."
The idea behind probiotic is to eat good bacteria. Ingesting bacteria may seem counter-intuitive to some, considering all the bad press infectious bacteria receive. But there are a myriad benefits to eating 'good bacteria.' They displace the bad bacteria, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.
Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of probiotic therapy in several illnesses of the GI tract, such as infectious diarrhea. They have been shown to delay the development of allergies in children, and prevent vaginal and urinary infections. There is currently no consensus among the medical community as to the effectiveness of probiotics, and individual results may vary.
Selecting a probioticProbiotics can be food or a dietary supplement. Some common foods that may contain live cultures include:
Note on probiotics and Ayurveda I find probiotics work best for Kapha clients and those with strong digestion. If digestion is chronically weak, as in many Vata constitutions, the bacteria in the probiotic proliferate out of control, causing gas, bloating and more indigestion.
Pre-bioticsPrebiotics are foods or supplements meant to feed the bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics can also be taken alongside probiotics. Inulins are common prebiotics, oligosaccharides occur naturally in most plants. They are subtly sweet, and can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. They are often used to improve the flow and mixing qualities of powdered nutritional supplements. Foods that are high in inulin include:
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
Questions, Comments & Impressions of 'probiotics'?Is there something you'd like to know about 'probiotics'?
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What is a good way for the pitta dosha to obtain probiotics, since most fermented foods and yogurt seem to aggravate them?
Great question! Generally speaking pittas are advised to steer clear of ferments due to their heating nature. They can focus on strengthening the gut and digestion with proper hydration, reducing stress, lessening inflammation with a pitta-pacifying diet and good food combining. They can also work with prebiotics like dandelion or burdock!