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 Integrative Medicine: Probiotics: The Friendly Bacteria 
 
Inside each of us live vast numbers of bacteria without which we could not stay alive in good health.

Before looking at the amazing things they do for us we should reflect on just how many of them we house.

There are several thousand billion in each of us (more than all the cells in your body!) divided into over 400 species, most of them living in your digestive tract.

If they were all placed together the total weight of the of friendly bacteria would come to nearly four pounds weight and in fact about a third of the faecal matter (water removed) which you pass consists of dead or viable bacteria.1

What Do They Do?
These bacteria are not parasites. They do not just take up residence and do nothing in return...indeed they pay their way handsomely. We live in true symbiosis with them.

As long as you are providing them with a reasonable diet (and the foods that are good for you are the ones that are good for them) and as long as they remain in good health they provide excellent service in return.

However not all of the friendly bacteria do the same things, some being far more useful and plentiful than others and it is on these that we will concentrate.

Among the most important of their proven roles are some functions which help maintain our good health while others have a definite value in helping us regain health once this has been upset.

These dual roles (protective and therapeutic) help explain why the word ‘probiotics’ was coined since it means ‘for life’.

  1. They manufacture some of the B-vitamins including niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid and biotin.2

  2. They manufacture the milk-digesting enzyme lactase which helps you digest calcium-rich dairy products.3

  3. They actively produce anti-bacterial substances which kill or deactivate hostile disease-causing bacteria. They do this by changing the local levels of acidity or by depriving pathogenic bacteria of their nutrients or by actually producing their own antibiotic substances which can kill invading bacteria, viruses and yeasts.4,5
    Naturally enough they are doing this to preserve ‘their’ territory, not because they love you!

  4. Some (such as the bifidobacteria and acidophilus) have been shown to have powerful anti-carcinogenic features which are active against certain tumours.6

  5. They improve the efficiency of the digestive tract and when they are weakened bowel function is poor.7

  6. They effectively help to reduce cholesterol levels when this is high.8

  7. They play an important part of the development of a baby’s digestive function and immune system. Bifidobacteria infantis is acquired from breast-milk and when it is in poor supply allergies and malabsorption problems are more common.9

  8. They help protect against radiation damage as well as deactivating many toxic pollutants.10

  9. They help to recycle oestrogen (one of the female hormones) which reduces the likelihood of menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.11

  10. Therapeutically they have been shown to be useful in treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema, allergies, migraine, gout (by reducing uric acid levels), rheumatic and arthritic conditions, cystitis, candidiasis, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome and some forms of cancer!12
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 About The Author
Leon Chaitow ND, DO, MROA practicing naturopath, osteopath, and acupuncturist in the United Kingdom, with over forty years clinical experience, Chaitow is Editor-in-Chief, of the ...more
 
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