the Digestive System
Processed foods and modern food preparation methods remove beneficial bacteria we might normally ingest from fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk products. The consumption of probiotics provides the body with a large quantity of the beneficial bacteria already found in the digestive system and facilitating, among other things, the digestion of food and absorption of its nutrients1.
The body’s digestive enzymes, which certain probiotics can produce, break up food into essential nutrients: the building-block elements a living organism needs to maintain and carry out its life. Nutrients are grouped into fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. By improving digestion, we obtain more nutritional value from the foods we eat. The bacteria of the intestinal flora help to recover energy stored in carbohydrates that cannot be absorbed by the intestine’s absorption cells (enterocytes). They also contribute to the metabolism of bile acids, accelerating their elimination from the body. As well, the microflora has a role in metabolizing lipids, and breaking down cholesterol. Some specific strains of probiotic bacteria are also able to produce Vitamin K, an important component in the process of blood coagulation2. Some bacteria become opportunistic pathogens when they are able to proliferate in an unchecked manner. Internal lesions caused by diet or, in some instances, medications can allow bacteria to spread and multiply inordinately. As such, certain “good” bacteria become harmful and disrupt the proper functioning of the digestive system. In contrast, probiotics are defined as friendly bacteria, which when taken in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit. Probiotic bacteria such as L. acidophilus and L. casei are among those that comprise the intestinal flora and are favorable to the body’s functions in conditions of normal growth. By supporting the intestinal flora, food digestion is improved, augmenting the body's capacity for nutrient absorption.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body lacks or has a deficiency in the lactase enzyme essential to lactose absorption. Lactase converts lactose into glucose and galactose, but without this enzyme lactose remains undigested and cannot be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. Bacteria in the colon then metabolize the lactose, causing it to ferment and leading to the unpleasant abdominal symptoms associated with the condition.
Soya and rice-based probiotic formulations are excellent diary-free alternatives for those with lactose intolerance,
Celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine whose cause is yet unknown, presents itself as an allergy to gluten. Currently, a lifelong gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for celiac disease. Gluten-free probiotic formulations are available for those with gluten intolerance.
The effectiveness of each probiotic is specific to the bacterial strain or strains chosen and the manner in which they are prepared for consumption. In choosing a probiotic, carefully consider product information for, among other factors, the documented quality of the strain(s), the synergy of the bacteria when they are used in combination, the quantity of live bacteria, the manner in which the bacteria are protected from stomach acids and bile salts, and the clinical research that has been carried out on the finished product.
- 1. Rabot et al. Guidance for substantiating the evidence for beneficial effects of probiotics: impact of probiotics on digestive system metabolism. J Nutr. 2010. 140:677S-689S.
- 2. Resta SC. Effects of probiotics and commensals on intestinal epithelial physiology: implications for nutrient handling. J Physiol. 2009. 587:4169-4174.