This column is only for billionaires, which… is all of you. You are rolling in veritable vault-loads of bacteria. You’re a bacterial billionaire. Some of your teenagers are extremely wealthy, as are their hockey bags. In fact, for every single cell in your body you have ten bacteria; on your skin, in your mouth, genital tract, your jockstraps and helmets.
Your colon, you’ll be thrilled to know, is the happy hellish home to most of these billions. But don’t be in a hurry to try and get rid of them courtesy of some primitive cultish practice like voodoo or colon cleansing, the latter which not only does no good whatsoever but may in fact be harmful. (For those gullible colon cleansing folks…you’ve been hosed…so to speak.) Stick to voodoo like my patients do, which may be the reason Dr. Dave bobbleheads are being snapped off the shelves and I have a constant pain in my prostate.
Your bowels are teeming with lovely, yet sensitive, bacteria with names like E.coli and Petunia. However, your bowels also contain a bowlful of nastier, tougher, bacteria with names like Clostridia and Kevin. All of these bowel beauties, good and bad, compete for your pop tarts. Millions of them eagerly waiting in the bowels of your bowels with saliva dripping from their wee bacterial beaks. Sleep well now, Billy.
Normally, the Petunias and those of similar ilk outnumber the nasty fellas significantly, a good thing for keeping your bowel flora and fauna in balance, albeit an uneasy one. The good flora, as mentioned, are a sensitive lot and should they be insulted by say an antibiotic or a foreign invader, they get nervous, can’t eat and often faint. The hardier, evil bugs don’t care and so they take over the pop tart smorgasbord, and in so doing can cause some rather unacceptable symptoms like bloody diarrhea, pain, cramps and death and stuff.
So in this ongoing battle of the gut it makes sense to send in reinforcements from time to time. Welcome probiotics. Yes, you can deliberately add more of these sweet germy gems to that twisting cauldron of poop. That, in fact, is what a probiotic is.
The most famous probiotic is, of course, lactobacillus, found in yogurt. When I first learned of the enormous bacterial count in yogurt I was quite viscerally affected, which may explain the reflexive gagging sounds I make when I spot a roving Yoplait in aisle 6 at the Piggly Wiggly. It also explains why I reach for the soothing Snickers bars to make me feel better as no bacteria could ever survive in my Snickers bars thank you very much. But knowing what I do now about how great probiotics can be, I can almost tolerate a yogurt in the same room, as long as the lid is on and it doesn’t look me directly in the eye.
A live probiotic, taken at the same time that you might have to go on antibiotics, can restore the strength of the good bacteria, preventing the diarrhea often seen in those on antibiotics. Probiotics can also be useful in actually treating good old fashioned infectious diarrhea and possibly even irritable bowel syndrome. In addition to GI problems, probiotics are also considered in the treatment of vaginal, skin and respiratory infections and might even prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those naturally found in people’s guts, especially in those of breast fed infants (who have natural protection against many diseases.) Probiotics are available as supplements but are also found in foods like fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices and soy beverages. The bacteria may exist in these foods naturally or be added during preparation. Isn’t that a lovely thought? “Bill, add a pinch more salt to that miso and, ummm, do we have any more baby poop left?”
What is important is that not all probiotics are created equal and the correct probiotic, be it bacteria, yeast or Edmonton Oiler, must be chosen for the proper problem or it is a waste of time and bowel, and don’t we all hate bowel waste. If you took the wrong probiotic for a gut problem you might be disappointed to learn that it was the probiotic used for vaginal yeast infections, particularly if your drivers license contains words like Charles or Gordon. So for most of you guys of the male species, it may be better to just inhale deeply… from a hockey bag.