Probiotic Bacteria to the Rescue

All of us are fighting a microbial battle, whether we realize it or not. The human intestinal lining is made up of trillions of these microorganisms, and either the balance is stable and healthy or the balance is tipped, allowing the proliferation of pathogenic microbes.

Antibiotics, environment, and diet all contribute in one way or another. Consuming probiotics in the form of supplements or food can play a critical role in restoring or maintaining health. These microorganisms are true superheroes—ready to step in when needed.

Drawing by Ryan Fabry

In her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride lists six families of probiotic microbes. The following summary is excerpted from p. 247-249. (I heartily recommend reading her book for a more complete look at health and the gut lining.)
  1. Lactobacilli. This is a large family of bacteria which produce lactic acid, hence their name . . . By producing lactic acid they maintain acidic environment (pH 5.5-5.6) on mucous membranes, which suppresses the growth of pathogenic microbes. Apart from lactic acid they produce a plethora of active substances: hydrogen peroxide, a powerful antiseptic; anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agents, which do not allow pathogens to take hold in the gut.
  2. Bifidobacteria. This is a large family of probiotic bacteria . . . In an adult gut they are about seven times more numerous than Lactobacilli and fulfill many useful functions . . . Bifidobacteria actively synthesize amino acids, proteins, organic acids, vitamin K, vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (cobalamin); assist absorption of Ca, iron and vitamin D.
  3. Saccharomyces boulardii. This is a yeast first discovered by a French scientist, H. Boulard, in 1920. He observed that people in China treated diarrhea with an extract from the lychee fruit . . . Recently, there has been a lot of interest in using S. boulardii as an antagonist to a pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans.
  4. Escherichia coli or E. coli. E.coli is a large family of bacteria. Pathogenic members of this family can cause serious infections. However, physiological strains of E. coli are normal and numerous inhabitants of the healthy human gut . . . Physiological strains of E. coli fulfill a number of beneficial functions in the body: they digest lactose, produce vitamins (vitamin K and group B) and amino acids, produce antibiotic-like substances called colicins, and have a powerful stimulating influence on local and systemic immunity.
  5. Enterococcus faecium or Streptococcus faecalis. They normally live in the bowel where they control pathogens by producing hydrogen peroxide and reducing pH to 5.5. They break down proteins and ferment carbohydrates. There are a number of clinical studies showing that they are effective in treating various forms of diarrhea. These bacteria are quite common in probiotic formulas on the market.
  6. Bacillus subtilis or soil bacteria. B. subtilis is a spore-forming microbe and is resistant to stomach acid, most antibiotics, temperature changes and other influences. It has strong immune-stimulating properties and is considered particularly effective with allergies and autoimmune disorders. It produces a whole host of digestive enzymes, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and other active substances. Soil bacteria are not indigenous to humans; they are transitional microbes, which do not colonize the gut but go through it doing a lot of work on the way. (According to Campbell-McBride, "probiotics which contain soil bacteria are the most effective probiotics on the market.")
Campbell-McBride recommends Bio-Kult, a probiotic with 14 strains of bacteria, including B. subtilis. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome website also suggests GUTPro. Organic 3 offers the strain S. boulardii in its product Yeastbiotic.

One important note regarding probiotics in supplement or food form: It is best to start small. Introducing probiotic bacteria can result in a die-off response as the pathogens die and release toxins. This can manifest in a skin rash, extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat, or a variety of other symptoms.

Fermented foods offer a wonderful source of natural probiotics. In upcoming posts I will detail the benefits of Efficient Microorganisms, or EMs. EMs offer a combination of beneficial bacteria, yeasts, and soil bacteria. (Pictured here in my kitchen.)

Water and dairy kefir offer a combination of beneficial yeasts and bacteria. Yogurt provides lactic acid bacteria in abundance, as do sauerkraut and kimchi. See the momsAWARE Natural Year Challenge: Food Edition to learn more about making your own fermented foods.