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Re-Discovering Probiotics and Their Critical Role in Health
by Bruce D. Curtis, MA

Probiotics have been around since the dawn of time, yet have only recently made their debut in mainstream health circles. The word probiotic means "for life" and refers to the good bacteria so necessary for proper intestinal balance, immune function, digestion, vitamin manufacture, and a host of other functions. Over 400 species of bacteria common to the human GI tract co-exist with viruses, yeasts, and parasites. It is the balance of these populations that makes such a tremendous difference in our health.

Unfortunately, we are finding our immune systems are compromised by the absence of beneficial bacteria, or "friendly flora," to the extent that very little remains to fight off harmful bacteria.


When purchasing a probiotic formula, a lot of emphasis is placed upon bacterial count. While a significant aspect, it is clear that the viability of bacteria, especially their strength to survive to the intestines, is more important.

Lab tests in Australia revealed that out of all the major probiotic products only the FloraFerm family of probiotics could actually be re-cultured into a viable strain, ensuring gut survival. This mother culture, from a natural, certified organic fermentation technique using probiotic flora with over 20 years of development, is proving to be the example to follow.

On the question of bacterial counts, let the buyer beware. There are many techniques for boosting counts, but these only weaken the cultures. The process of centrifuging breaks up colonies, making for a count of individuals rather than colonies. The term CFU, or colonyforming unit, is ambiguous since it can refer to either a colony or an individual. According to Australian's government laboratory, the FALA, it is best to count colonies, each of which will contain from 1,000 to one million individuals. Colony counts per gram of probiotics should be in the range of at least 10 million. Seen in this light, bacterial counts of one billion organisms per gram are rather low counts.

Adjusting pH is another technique that can cause rapid growth and boost the count, only to have weaker individuals to die off rapidly. The best solution is to rely on probiotics that have been counted by reputable labs that do not apply tricks to increase counts.

Fermentation time is another key consideration. Fermentation of several weeks is really the minimum time necessary to build hearty colonies of bacteria, as well as to break down complex proteins into their amino acid components and to release other key nutrients.

Another essential element is whether the probiotics contain a broad array of species. Since gut integrity is based on a symbiotic system of support, it is necessary to have a spectrum of species in the proper ratio found in the GI tract; this includes having the proper foods for each species to feed upon, and not simply one type, like soy, or FOS (fructooligosaccharides). This would be much like a human trying to live on only soy or sugar. Additionally, a single feeding source promotes competition between species, each one vying for the same food. A rich breadth of whole foods for the bacteria means more for all. Competition can also crowd out the bacteria you want in your intestines. Acidophilus is an important and necessary part of the diet, but to the exclusion of others, it will only crowd out other valuable species.

Other key species to look for because of their biological functions include Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Plantarum, Caseii, Helveticus, Bifidus, Delbrueckii, Brevis, and, especially, the recently discovered L. Sporogenes. In addition to the bacteria, two yeasts have been shown helpful in limiting Candida growth, as well as producing important nutrients: Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. At least 10 to 15 different microorganisms are needed to support the broader flourishing of the over 400 friendly species that contribute to our health and vitality.

It is also beneficial to choose a probiotic that contains the presence of pre-biotics—foods vital to the survival and thriving rates of probiotic organisms in the human gut. Foods rich in pre-biotic carbohydrates include whole grains, greens, and legumes, with bananas, berries, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Probiotic foods harvested together with their pre-biotic counterparts not only thrive better, but improve their chances of colonizing.

Living Foods USA offers a line of one of the purest probiotics available. Using the FloraFerm technique, NuFerm Gluten Free and Prime Directive Organic are fermented whole-food probiotics which provide a broad spectrum of different Lactobacilli and Saccharomyces yeasts, resulting in a rich pre-digested blend of amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. This living food matrix provides a strong medium of support for the hardy colonies that can thrive in it and have proved their viability through on-fermentation tests. Australian government labs have shown these probiotics are unique in their ability to thrive and create new cultures, demonstrating their viability and promise for re-colonizing the human GI tract.