Friendly Little Critters: Probiotics are all pro and no con

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good bacteriaProbiotics, as opposed to antibiotics, are a group of friendly bacteria which include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidum bacterium. These bacteria help in fighting against evil yeast/candida overgrowth in our digestive tracts. Since they are human microflora, they are more compatible with our intestines than other nonhuman microflora (i.e. friendly bacteria found in yogurt).

Lactobacillus acidophilus breaks down sugar into lactic acid, and which kills yeast. Other friendly organisms include Saccharomyces boulardii (yeah, strange names…), which is a type of yeast that repopulate the intestines with good bacteria while pushing away the bad bacteria. You might find that Lactobacillus has several “surnames” depending on its varieties: casei, rhamnosus, plantarum, bulgaricus, etc.

Research indicates that probiotics improve absorption of nutrients, increase the body’s natural defenses, enhance digestion, and inhibit disease-producing microorganisms.

An old news item demonstrates one of the many benefits of probiotics:

Probiotics for Autism: Medical study proved ‘too effective’

Autism Nutrition

A medical study on probiotics for autism has proven so successful that the study ‘failed’, according to a New Scientist report on September 9, 2006.

The study, by Prof Glenn Gibson at Reading University, UK, found that autistic children vastly improved their concentration and behavior when given probiotics, or ‘friendly bacteria’.

It involved 40 autistic children, aged 4 to 8, half of whom were given the probioctic bacteria L. Plantanum while the other half received a dummy ‘probiotic’.

It was supposed to have been a blind study, where the participants were not told who were taking the actual probiotics and who were taking placebos or dummy medicine. As part of this probiotics for autism study, parents were asked to record their children’s mood and behaviour in a diary.

The results were too obvious. Parents whose autistic children were taking the actual probiotics saw such great improvements in their children’s behaviour that they knew their children were taking the real thing.

Thus, problems arose during the ‘crossover’ point of this probiotics for autism study, where the two groups were supposed to switch medicines. Many of the parents whose children were taking the actual probiotics refused to make the switch as they wanted their autistic children to continue their improvement.

One parent said it was “heartbreaking” to have to stop their child taking it.

”It was really challenging for us and the parents,” said Prof Gibson. “The trial ultimately failed because of the large number of drop-outs.”

Due to the high drop-out rate, Prof Gibson was not able to draw any firm, ‘scientific’ conclusion from his probiotics for autism study. Prof Gibson noted, however, that autistic children often suffer bowel conditions and a previous study had found high levels of a “bad” bacteria called clostridia in their gut.

The probiotics for autism study was designed to reduce the levels of clostridia and promote “friendly” bacteria instead, to see what effect this would have. Prof Gibson said the children appeared to show fewer signs of autistic behaviour when taking the probiotics supplement, which was given in a powder once a day.

“Very subjectively, we asked the parents to fill in diaries about the mood of the children. We got very positive feedback generally,” he said.

Prof Gibson said that certain kinds of clostridia produced neuro-toxins, which potentially could be the cause of autism or a contributory factor.

However, he said this was speculation. The apparent improvement which the parents observed could also simply be because the children had felt better.

“If your gut is not behaving yourself, you feel rough,” Prof Gibson said.

The first bacteria in the gut is received from the mother during birth. Later, more bacteria comes from the outside environment, especially from the diet.

By the time a person reaches adulthood, he or she would have about 100 trillion, or 100,000,000,000,000 bacteria in the intestines – which is more than 10 times the number of human cells in the body.

Most of the bacteria in the guts are probiotics or “friendly” bacteria but when a person develops an infection, the proportion of harmful bacteria increases.

The use of antibiotics destroys both friendly and harmful bacteria. It often causes more harm than good by creating an ‘empty’ environment whereby harmful bacteria, as well as yeast, can multiply more quickly and easily.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the use of probiotics as a natural way to restore the balance of friendly bacteria in the guts.

This has many benefits including enhanced immunity, but also positive effects on mood and behaviour.

Many parents of autistic children have reported vast improvements in their children’s behavior with the use of probiotic supplements. The Autism Clinic recommends a special, ultra-high potency probiotics supplement specially formulated for children with autism.

Ideally the probiotic product should survive the passage through the stomach, or it should be enteric-coated. It should also have at least 1 billion bacteria per serving. Refrigerated products are generally better and they should be taken on an empty stomach. A convenient time to take a dose is first thing in the morning, and then wait at least 15 minutes before eating breakfast. Make probiotics your new friend!

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