You’ve probably already heard about probiotics—the "good" bacteria found in a healthy body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract that symbiotically help the body to function its daily function. The diverse little biological machines are essential to good digestive health and new evidence indicates that probiotics may be even more important than previously suspected.
Your ability to eat depends on teeny, tiny microbes.
When we are born, our intestinal tracts are sterile—no problem for unborn babies who get all their nutrition through their mother's placenta. But once that connection is severed, we need bacteria to be able to digest foods on their own.
In nature, the first bacterial and yeast organisms to colonize the gut normally are passed from mother to nursing child alongside essential disease-fighting antibodies. As the baby continues to grow and begins to eat solid foods, additional microbes are picked up.
Once good fauna have established colonies in the gastrointestinal tract, they aid the digestive process by regulating metabolism and extracting nutrients from foods. The microbes take beneficial chemical compounds from food and process them into forms that the body can absorb. In that sense, we often get our nutrition not directly from the foods we eat, but from the microbes' metabolic waste products!
Probiotic organisms also protect sensitive membranes by competing with and crowding out disease pathogens. By building tight, interconnected biofilms called "lattices," they essentially form a fortification against germ invasion.
Body-colonizing microbes may even play a role in the body's chemical signaling system, assisting in the processing of our pheromones, or producing chemicals of their own that the body can sense and use as barometers of internal health.
So what can go wrong?
A lot. If the body's normal chemistry becomes unbalanced, the good organisms can become stressed and begin dying off, making the body more vulnerable to attack by germs and throwing off its ability to glean proper nutrition.
We also artificially alter the balance when we take antibiotic medications, which kill good and bad bacteria alike. Although drugs like penicillin are lifesaving when infections overwhelm the body's natural defenses, they can cause indigestion, stomach aches and other side effects brought on by the death of good fauna.
How can you replenish your good fauna?
After taking antibiotic therapy, it is essential to rebuild the your good fauna load by eating probiotic-rich foods. That's why many doctors will advise that you eat a cup a day of plain yogurt for a few weeks after finishing your course of antibiotics. Yogurt— and other cultured or fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, lassi, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, and certain cheeses — are excellent sources of good bacteria and yeast, and eating them can help you replenish their numbers.
There are commercially-available probiotic capsules, too. Though their efficacy is still debatable, adding a probiotic capsule to your morning medicines may be beneficial for helping keep your good fauna well-stocked.
Probiotics may even play a role in regulating blood pressure.
In addition to their well-understood benefits, some researchers have noted an association between regular probiotic food consumption and improved cardiovascular health. In a study recently published by Australian university scientists, persons who regularly consumed probiotic-rich foods for two months or more experienced improvements in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.
Although the improvements were relatively small (not large enough to replace antihypertensive medications for the regulation of high blood pressure), they underscored the critical relationship between healthy diet and a well-regulated body. Science is more and more learning that the body is a delicately balanced system and consistent nutrition and exercise are essential to its good function.
A rewarding senior life is dependent upon healthy practices.
Adding a few cups of low-fat yogurt or several servings of other probiotic foods to your weekly diet are a tasty way to ensure that your body stays in the right balance, to aid your digestion and get proper nutrition. And now, it seems, your body's other systems— including the critical cardiovascular system— may benefit from this, too.
Talk to your primary care doctor, geriatric specialist, or a senior nutrition specialist to see how you might add more probiotic foods into your diet. Exercise regularly, schedule time for enough sleep and drink plenty of fluids.
And if you are ever treated with antibiotics, remember to be sure to eat plenty of probiotic foods after you finish your prescription in order to rebuild your crucial good fauna load. Your heart will thank you for it!