In this health video you will learn the role of probiotics.
Read the full transcript »
Tom Audette: Can you tell us a little bit, Michael, about the probiotics themselves and their role in the gastrointestinal tract? Michael Shahani: Sure. You know, we have three kinds of bacteria in our intestinal tract. We have bacterial that are sort of a neutral function. In other words, they’re there and they don’t seem to have a positive or negative effect. And then we have bacteria that definitely have a negative effect. As I may have mentioned, less than 1% of all the bacteria—fortunately less than 1%—are pathogenic, we call that, or bacteria that would give us a negative effect if they grew too much. And then we have bacteria that are, definitely, have a positive effect—give us benefit of some kind. There are about a trillion— several trillion—bacteria in our gut. In fact, more bacteria in our intestines than there are cells in the rest of our body. So, they’re very, very important, obviously. So, what happens is we have a balance of these good and bad bacteria in our gut and if the bad bacteria are allowed to grow too much, then we’re going to get sick. We’re going to get intestinal problems, skin problems, all kinds of problems by these bacteria that are allowed to proliferate and sort of take over and balance in our system is upset. So, what we have is the balance of the good and the bad bacteria. And the good bacteria are primarily bacteria that we call lactic acid bacteria. LAB sometimes it’s referred to in the scientific literature. But lactic acid bacteria, meaning they produce lactic acid when they grow. And these are lactobacilli and bifido bacteria. Those are the two main kinds of good bacteria in our system. So, we want to make sure that we have enough of those good bacteria in our bodies. Unfortunately, the stress and the diet that we have today—most of us—is going to upset that balance. You know, we don’t eat the kinds of foods that keep putting these bacteria back in our bodies. You know, like many other kinds of things like vitamins, we need to take them in with our food. And if we don’t get them, then the balance of bacteria is going to be upset in our bodies. Tom Audette: So, what are the things in the bacteria—I mean, you mentioned that they do a lot of things for the body, that they’re beneficial. Are they helping with digestion? Are they helping with—? Michael Shahani: They’re helping with a number of things, that’s right. They help with digestion. They attach to the intestinal wall and that attaching to the intestinal wall keeps the bad bacteria from attaching to intestinal wall. So they actually help digest the food. In other words, they eat that food, but they don’t take all the nutrients out of it. They just break down the nutrients to more of a level that our bodies can absorb them faster and easier. So, they certainly help us take in our food. They also help the body to produce other kinds of beneficial effects. They help the body to produce what are called NK-cells or T-cells, sometimes we’ve heard those terms. And these are cells that our body makes to fight bad bacteria, to fight cancerous cells—other cancerous cells—and so it’s been shown that these lactic acid bacteria can also boost the level of NK-cells or what are called natural killer cells—and T-cells. So, people with depressed immune function often have low levels of these T-cells and NK-cells. These lactic acid bacteria—Lactobacillus acidophilus, for instance—can help boost that.