Probiotics: A Lifelong Partnership with Your Health

It’s no wonder probiotics make up one of the fastest-growing categories in the natural health industry today. Though microscopic in size, these valuable bacteria provide a veritable grocery list of health benefits for the whole body—from birth to adulthood and well into our senior years. So when physicians and other professionals from The American College of Nutrition met recently for their annual meeting, it stands to reason that the topic was none other than those nifty little microflorae whose name literally means “for life”.

The symposium focused specifically on the benefits of probiotics in children and seniors, illustrating how certain strains can help boost immunity during those periods of life when immune function may be weakened. Doctors also discussed the mounting evidence that consuming probiotics on a regular basis can promote healthy digestive function and help prevent conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Bacteria to Grow On

Nearly 75 percent of our immune defenses are located in the digestive tract, so maintaining a favorable bacterial balance in the intestines (ideally 80% good or neutral bacteria to 20% harmful bacteria) is crucial to achieving and maintaining optimum health.

Harvard Medical School Professor of Nutrition and Pediatrics Dr. Allan Walker pointed out that this was particularly important for children, who—although first exposed to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal—do not develop a complete supply until they reach approximately two years of age.

One study, said probiotic specialist Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders, showed that regular supplementation with probiotic bacteria “decreased incidence of common infectious diseases among kids in day care”. This will no doubt come as welcome news to parents with school-age children, whose little ones are routinely exposed to the latest round of colds, flu and other ailments throughout the year. Sanders also stressed that different strains of bacteria perform different functions in the intestinal tract, which supports research that advocates using a multi-strain supplement for maximum benefit.

Because of their unique ability to crowd out harmful pathogens in the intestines, probiotics also assist with healthy digestion and bowel elimination. In fact, research shows that daily probiotic use helps relieve occasional diarrhea and constipation. One strain in particular, called Streptococcus thermophilus, has been clinically proven to help alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance and promote overall gastrointestinal health in infants and children.

Big Benefits for Seniors

Science has proven that as we age, the number of healthy bacteria in our digestive tract begins to decline. As a result, older adults have a greater risk of suffering from digestive conditions such as constipation, diarrhea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), as well as a decrease in overall immune function. But experts from The American College of Nutrition believe that regular probiotic use can help. Bifidobacteria in particular begin to decline considerably around age 50, so choosing a daily maintenance probiotic with a high Bifidobacteria count is recommended for older adults. The most prevalent good bacteria in a healthy large intestine, Bifidobacteria play a vital role in maintaining overall digestive and immune health.

The Right Choice at Any Age

Nowadays a wide range of probiotic supplements is available to provide daily and critical care support for all ages, and leading health experts recommend between 6 billion and 200 billion active cultures daily, depending upon your individual needs. There are a few important things to consider, however, when choosing the ideal formula. For seniors, look for an effective multi-strain formula with high levels of Bifidobacteria for maximum support. Enteric-coated capsules are also important, as they help protect the beneficial bacteria from the acidic environment of the stomach and deliver them directly to the intestines where they’re needed most.

Infants and children may benefit from either a powdered supplement (which is easy to mix with baby formula, juice or other liquids) or one that comes in the form of a chewable tablet for kids who are not yet old enough to swallow a capsule or caplet. Make sure it contains adequate numbers of good bacteria chosen for their prevalence in the digestive tract of healthy infants, toddlers or adolescents. Finally, added fructooligosaccharide (FOS) is important because it helps provide nourishment for and stimulate the growth of the active probiotic cultures. FOS is a natural prebiotic (a food source for beneficial bacteria) that has been shown to exponentially increase the numbers of healthy intestinal bacteria in the gut.