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Updated on May 20, 2007
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Probiotic research in Japan
Probiotic research in Japan

What are Probiotics?

When we think of bacteria, most people have a negative image. But there are many strains of good bacteria residing in your gut right now. Not only do they aide in digestion by helping to break down food, but they also aide your immune system. Yes, some strains of healthy bacteria are even know to attack and destroy other dangerous bacteria lurking in your intestines. Some recent research suggests that certain live microorganisms may also have anticarcinogenic effects, as well as other health benefits.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, including the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria and yeasts, that can help with improving the balance of the intestinal microflora in your gut. The use of live microorganisms in the diet has quite a long history dating back even before biblical times. Soured milks and cultured dairy products, were often used therapeutically before the existence of microorganisms were even known. The use of these friendly microorganisms in food fermentation is one of the oldest methods for producing and preserving food, and cultures from around the world each have their own culinary traditions surrounding these very techniques.

Recently, the health benefits of probiotics have become a point of interest in medical science, and much research is currently being done on them. In Japan, their benefits been well known for many years, and one of the most popular probiotic drinks there, Yakult, was founded by a doctor back in the 1930's. Anyone who thinks that probiotics are just the latest health trend is sadly mistaken!

How probiotics helped me...

First of all, do not take anything I write here to be medical advice. Anyone having any health issues should always consult the advice of a competent doctor first. But I would like to share my story with you in the hope that it may help others suffering from the same problems.

A few years back, I suddenly became struck with the worst abdominal cramping and bloating of my life. Now before any of you start thinking they were menstrual cramps, let me just tell you right now that I am a man! Anyway, at first I thought it could be food poisoning, but I was not nauseous at all, and there was no diarrhea or vomiting. Just intense abdominal pain so severe that I practically wanted to die.

It went on all day, getting worse and worse until finally, late at night, I had no choice but to go to the emergency room. They took blood and noticed my white blood cell count was quite high. This is a classic sign of appendicitis, and they told me I might have to get surgery. After two hours of sweating in fear of going under the knife, the surgeons came to give their opinion.

After doing a very thorough review, they decided it was not appendicitis, and most likely severe gas caused by some kind of "bug" (The bug being some kind of bad bacteria hanging out in my gut). They realeased me with a prescription for ibuprofen, and that was that...

The abdominal pain and bloating gradually got better over the next week, but was still lingering. Something did not feel right, and about one month later, it struck me again. I went to the doctor, and he didn't help me at all...just told me to take some Gas X. I tried that and it did nothing to ease my condition. The problem with some doctors is, they don't bother to discover the cause of a problem, instead focusing on simply alleviating its symptoms.

I decided to matters into my own hands, and found stories of other people on the internet who had suffered from various intestinal problems such as colitis, IBS (irratible bowel syndrome), and other terrible intestinal problems. I learned about how probiotics had helped these people, and that for many, these healthy little bacteria had truly changed their lives.

There are many ways we lose the good microorganisms in the gut. One of the biggest culprits are antibiotics. Yes they kill the bad bacteria causing your infection, but they kill all bacteria indesriminately...including the good ones. I also read about how certain food and drinks such as alcohol and coffee can kill the good bacteria in our intestines.

Since the doctors didn't help me, I decided to give probiotics a shot. First, I stopped drinking coffee, and switched to Green Tea instead. Then I picked up some probiotic supplements, and began taking them as directed. Within weeks I noticed an improvement.

The supplements were a little expensive though, so I looked into other natural ways of getting probiotics in my diet. Every morning, I ate yogurt with healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in it. Other probiotic foods I made sure to eat were kim chee (spicy fermented cabbage popular in Korean food) and miso.

The result...the terrible pain in my stomach vanished, and has not returned once in the last three years.

Interesting video on therapeutic use of probiotics

Where can I get probiotics?

As mentioned in the video above, probiotics can sometimes be quite expensive. However, it's also possible to get your probiotics through various natural foods. You should also make sure to eat plenty of greens, fruits, and oats that will help to feed the growth of the healthy bacterial army you're cultivating in your gut.

Some probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Miso
  • Kim Chi
  • Tempeh
  • Saurkraut (raw cultured)
  • other fermented foods

It's a good idea to eat probiotic foods at least once a day to keep the healthy bacteria in your gut replenished.

As you may know, there are many different probiotic supplements on the market which can be helpful for you as well. Just be sure to consult with a medical professional first before trying them.

It's also a good idea to test that they are delivering the bacteria which they promise. An easy technique to test your probiotic supplements is to drop one or two tablets in a glass of milk and leave it in the refrigerator. After about one day, if the milk has started to thicken to a yogurt-like consistency, it's a good sign. It means you've got live bacteria in those supplements, and they are breeding in the milk...turning it into yogurt!

Yakult fermented milk drink
Yakult fermented milk drink

Probiotic Drinks

There are also many probiotic drinks on the market today. One of the originals is the Yakult fermented milk drink containing the bacteria Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain. It was invented by Kyoto University doctor Minoru Shirota in 1930.

Yakult is a very popular drink in Japan, but can also be found in other countries around the world. It is also very inexpensive, as a package of 8 only costs around 100yen (under $1). I try to drink one or two of these small bottles every morning. They are pretty tasty too!

But remember, this probiotic drink only contains one strain of healthy bacteria. There are hundreds of other strains which we need to maintain a healthy gut, so be sure to get a nice variety in your diet by eating plenty of healthy foods.

A little Yakult humor to lighten up the mood!


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