Not all bacteria cause illness. In fact, some kinds of bacteria help to defend the body against the bad bacteria that cause infection. These "friendly" bacteria live in the intestinal tract where they help to maintain the health of the mucous layer and help to aid in digestion. These friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics, are believed to play a role in a healthy immune system. Surprisingly, more than 70% of a person's immune system is located in the intestinal tract. This gut "immune system" is called gut-associated lymphatic tissue or GALT. Probiotic bacteria are in contact with this tissue and "prime" it so the tissue recognizes potential infection-causing pathogens so it can kill them quickly. Probiotics keep the gut immune system on "high alert."
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Your stomach is an ecosystem for a whole host of organisms. In a healthy adult, as many as 100 trillion microorganisms are present in the stomach. Some of these bacteria and viruses have the potential to do harm to the body and cause symptoms of illness. Other types, referred to as probiotics, are beneficial to the body. These bacteria play many important roles in a healthy digestive system by assisting with digestion and keeping levels of "bad" microorganisms in check.
When there is equilibrium in the flora of the gut, the digestive system is able to function at its best, but when levels of probiotics become too low or the number of harmful microorganisms becomes too great, problems can arise. Your body's supply of probiotics may be replenished by certain foods, such as yogurt; however, many people struggle to get enough probiotics through diet alone.
Several studies, including one conducted at the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, have found that supplementing the body's supply of probiotics through special foods, tablets or capsules can help to correct imbalances and promote a healthier digestive system. Scientists are also studying whether or not probiotic foods and supplements, like the ones sold here at drugstore.com, can be beneficial for those with certain medical concerns.
One area being investigated with regard to the benefits of probiotic supplements is the alleviation of symptoms of chronic digestive disorders. Many studies are underway to determine whether or not probiotics can help to improve issues due to conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. There is also the potential that probiotics could benefit non-digestive disorders, including eczema, vaginal infections, environmental allergies and oral health problems like dental cavities. Scientific teams are currently investigating these and many other potential uses for probiotic supplements.
Researchers are also interested in how probiotics work when taken during times of acute illness. For example, one study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics examined the effects of probiotic supplements on kids with viral diarrhea. This study showed that taking a supplement when symptoms first begin could shorten the duration of the virus, but the academy cautions that more research is needed to know for sure if probiotics are always beneficial for children with stomach viruses.
Some doctors recommend that patients being treated with antibiotics begin to take probiotic supplements, as sometimes these drugs can kill the "good" bacteria in the stomach along with the bad. This may lead to side effects from drugs such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Harvard University studies show that probiotics supplements can decrease the depletion of "good" bacteria due to antibiotic treatments by as much as 60 percent.
Probiotic supplement foods can play an important role in a healthy lifestyle, but before adding one to your diet, be sure to discuss the matter with your doctor or natural health practitioner. While these products are generally safe, you may be unable to use one if you have certain medical concerns. Once you have the approval of your doctor, search drugstore.com and find the best probiotic foods to complete your diet.
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