Probiotics are the darling of the supplement industry, with sales well over $36.6 billion annually. While the quality and the strains of certain probiotic supplements can be confusing, research is very promising that these tiny organisms can help multiple areas of our health.
To understand why they have health benefits, we need to understand a little bit of the biology behind them. We actually have more bacteria in and on our bodies than we do human cells. These bacteria form colonies and biofilms, essentially like microscopic cities, complete with roads, highways, methods of communication, and waste management systems. They are responsible for incredibly important functions in our bodies: They produce enzymes that can break down certain foods and drugs, they protect us from certain toxins from the outside world (like harmful bacterial infections, and viruses), and they help mediate our immune systems. They even produce certain vitamins in our intestines.
But these bacterial ecosystems require balance. What you eat can feed certain strains of bacteria, causing them to proliferate to the point that other strains die out. Antibiotics can wipe out a broad spectrum of bacterial species, killing good along with bad. Then we leave it to chance which strains survive to repopulate.
And while most of us associate these bacterial populations with our digestive tract, it goes far beyond our large intestine. Our skin and our eyes each have their own bacterial inhabitants. Infants are inoculated with bacteria from their mother as they exit the birth canal. So that babies who are born via c-section have a very different gut biome than those born vaginally.
Bacterial colonies inhabit our entire digestive tract, top to bottom, starting in our mouth. And the colonies and biofilm in our mouths are wide and varied, depending on the environment. The bacteria on the inner surface of the cheek will be different than those deep between the gums and the teeth, and those will be different than the bacteria living in the deep grooves of the molar teeth, and those will be different than those around the papillae on the back half of the tongue, and they all will be different depending on the health of the host, and the nutrients available to both the host and the bacteria.
So here’s where probiotics can come in. If you have a high quality probiotic, perfectly encapsulated to survive the acidic environment in the stomach, you can slowly repopulate the small and large intestine with those bacterial strains. This has been shown to be helpful in bowel irritation caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s. Probiotics can help people prevent colds and other illnesses, and can help treat H. pylori infections that cause stomach ulcers, and C. difficile infections so rampant in hospitals and nursing homes. Probiotics have been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and even eczema in children.
In the oral cavity, we use a combination of three bacterial strains that are typically present in healthy mouths, Streptococcus oralis, S. uberis, and S. rattus. But instead of being encapsulated to survive the harsh environment of the stomach, these come in tablet form. So the freeze-dried bacteria become activated as soon as they touch saliva. These bacteria adhere to the teeth and gums, leaving far less room for the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. As a side effect, they also weed out many of the bacteria that produce sulfur, thereby improving your breath. And for two of these probiotic strains, their by-product is hydrogen peroxide. So the low-level release of hydrogen peroxide over time will actually whiten your teeth as well.
Contact us or your natural healthcare provider for guidance on the most beneficial probiotics for you. But most importantly, get more of these bugs in your system to improve your health overall.