Probiotics and Gut Bugs – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ever had a bad gut bug? These are commonly called intestinal viruses, gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Bad gut bugs come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and your susceptibility to these organisms always depends on one thing… the terrain. In naturopathic medicine, the foundation of the human terrain is the gut, and we pay a lot of attention to it. In fact, most of our therapies are focused on optimal functioning of that organ system. The human gut is a hollow muscular tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum, and every inch of the tube is lined with specialized cells that have very specific jobs to do. This is where the expression “you are what you eat,” is quite literally true. Everything you swallow goes to make up every cell in your body. It all gets broken apart into tiny molecules of proteins, amino acids and sugars, which eventually cross the mucus lining of the tube into the blood and travel to every cell to provide nourishment and allow new cells to be made.

The first part of the tube is the muscular esophagus, then the stomach, which has lots of acid that is important for breaking down proteins. The duodenum has bicarbonate and enzymes for breaking down fats, while the small intestine is where most absorption occurs, and finally the colon. These last two sections of the tube are where we find the good gut bugs, which are the normal bacteria that live in the mucus lining and assist in nutrient assimilation and maintenance of the mucosa. Most of these bugs are bacteria, in fact about half of human feces consists of bacteria. One of these types of bacteria manages absorption of excess residue in the colon. Too much residue in the colon can happen from overeating or consuming foods that one is sensitive to, resulting in a condition called dysbiosis. This means that the balance of bacterial flora has been disturbed. Dysbiosis can also be caused by some ugly foreign bacteria, viruses and antibiotics. In severe or chronic dysbiosis, the mucosal lining of the gut tube can be damaged, leading to a lot of discomfort and often, outright illness.

Dysbiosis is so common today that probiotics are heavily marketed to counteract the ill effects. Probiotics are intended to increase or replace the amount of good bugs in the gut. The right pro-biotic organisms can indeed normalize the bacterial flora of the gut and allow the damaged mucosal layer to heal, so the person can again begin to assimilate nutrients properly. While these products are often sold over the counter, let the buyer beware, as all pro-biotics are not created equal. Making the choice for the right probiotic organisms to help with your particular problem can be quite challenging unless you have the guidance of a knowledgeable doctor. Different strains of similar sounding organisms thrive in different locations in the gut (and other areas, such as the vaginal mucosa), and it can be hard to tell which ones are appropriate. If you would like more information about how to use probiotics to the best advantage and how to find a good quality brand, give me a call, and I’ll be happy to provide you with resources.

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