Dear Dr. Jen,
Do probiotics and prebiotics help to rid the body of bad bacteria? I'm trying to avoid the need for antibiotics!
The key to preventing "bad" or infectious
bacteria from taking over the
gastrointestinal (GI) system is to simply
crowd them out with healthy bacteria.
Probiotics create a healthy bacterial
environment in the GI system and can
help restore the microflora if it has been
damaged by antibiotics, medications,
toxins, or other harmful factors. Because
there are so many opportunities to damage
the delicate flora of the GI system, many
of us lack optimal quantities and quality of
these beneficial bacteria. Consequently,
we become vulnerable to infection and
Prevention is key; we should focus on
maintaining a healthy GI system in order
to optimize our ability to defend against
damaging factors and pathogenic bacteria.
It's a lot easier to ward off an infection
than it is to fix a GI system that has been
compromised or damaged. Once a GI
infection takes hold, secondary problems
can occur. Inflammation ensues, leading
to a compromised intestinal barrier. This
opens the floodgate to leaky gut syndrome.
Because problems can arise, it's better to
avoid that slippery slope if at all possible.
If you are past the point of prevention,
probiotics can be effective in managing an
infection and help to halt the progression of
problems. Probiotics have two main modes
1- Once established, these "good"
bacteria will crowd out infectious bacteria.
By taking over the space, they simply don't
give bad bacteria space to thrive.
2- They have important anti-inflammatory
actions. They can reduce the secretion
of the inflammatory chemicals that are
present with infections, thereby protecting
the intestinal barrier. This sets up an
environment which is more friendly for the
probiotics to survive in and do their job.
Hundreds of different probiotic strains
naturally occur in the gut, and scientists
still have a lot to learn about each one.
Every strain has its own special action,
flourishes in a particular part of the GI tract,
and has a preferred environment. Because
of the diversity of these bacteria, it's
recommended to shake up your probiotic
regimen from time to time. Manufacturers
make different combinations with different
strains, so it's good to expose your GI to
the smorgasbord of beneficial bacteria that
Prebiotics are the "food" for probiotics.
Some probiotic formulas contain prebiotics
as well. If you have an infection, you
should avoid prebiotics because in some
instances they also feed the bad bacteria.
If you're just trying to maintain a healthy
GI, you can take 10-30 billion CFU of
probiotics on a daily basis. If you're
currently taking antibiotics, you are at risk
for depleting your healthy bacteria, so
take at least 50 billion CFU or more daily.
Although the antibiotics may also damage
some of the supplemental probiotics, I feel
that they still help minimize the harm done
by the antibiotics and ultimately make it
easier to restore GI balance.
One last note about probiotics: make sure
you are buying a good quality product!
Certain manufacturers have a reputation
for specializing in probiotic manufacturing
and are very trustworthy. This ensures that
you are getting a product that is active,
alive, and efficacious. It's definitely worth
spending a little bit of extra money for this
category of supplements. The NEEDS
Wellness Educators are happy to provide
advice about which products will suit you
best to help you save time and money.
Gut 2002;50(Suppl III):iii54–iii59