In addition to our skin, bacteria live in various other locations in our body as part of our normal flora. This includes the nose, mouth, stomach, intestines, rectum, and vaginal tract. These internal bacteria play an important role in keeping your body healthy.
The digestive system is one area where the balance between “good bacteria” and harmful microorganisms affects our daily lives. In digestion, food is physically broken down in the stomach before moving into the small and large intestine, where nutrient absorption occurs. The colon, or large intestine, is the final stage of digestion; it also acts as a holding tank for bacteria. These bacteria break down plant material that cannot normally be broken down by the human body. The energy from these materials is used to fuel intestinal mucosal cell. Additionally, intestinal bacteria are needed for the absorption of Vitamin K, a nutrient that is required for blood clotting.
What Happens When There is a Problem?
When normal flora bacteria are eliminated, an overgrowth of candida yeast or other harmful microorganisms may occur. Bacteria and fungi are always competing and, given the opportunity, a fungus could take over an area and overgrow if we didn’t have bacteria constantly fighting it. This commonly results in abdominal pain, diarrhea, excess gas, or leaky bowels.
Antibiotic vs. Probiotic
The word biotic represents living things so you can think of an antibiotic as killing bacteria and a probiotic as introducing good bacteria.
Oral antibiotics, when taken for extended periods, can completely eliminate the bacteria living in your gut. You do not want this. When you remove too much of your good bacteria you can get an overgrowth of yeast in various parts of your body, such as your gut or vaginal tract. Many women are familiar with vaginal yeast infections and find them to be annoying and painful. This is why it is important to support your normal flora with probiotics. If you’re taking a probiotic it will most likely contain one or more of these friendly bacteria:
Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics come in several forms including oral tablets, yogurts, and kombucha. My mom takes these capsules (they have an added bone strengthening component). Another popular brand is PB 8 with acidophilus.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Fermented Veggies, like Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Olives in Brine
Fermented Salted Gherkins
Kombucha is a tasty drink with live cultures to aid in digestion. If you haven’t tried kombucha yet it is easy enough to pick up a bottle at most grocers nowadays. If you enjoy DIY projects or want to save money you can try out this handy kombucha starter kit and make your own at home. Be on the lookout for something called SCOBY which is a perfect balance of yeast and bacteria. It’s unattractive to look at, but essential for a perfect kombucha.
In summary, drinking and eating foods rich in probiotics may:
- Help to maintain a desirable community of microorganisms
- Stabilize the digestive tract’s barriers against undesirable microorganisms or produce substances that inhibit their growth
- Help the community of microorganisms in the digestive tract return to normal after being disturbed (for example, by an antibiotic or a disease)
- Outcompete undesirable microorganisms
- Stimulate the immune response