Q: Do probiotic really work?
A: Yes, studies have verified that probiotics can help patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, but it is also clear that each person is different. Specific probiotics work better on different individuals, depending on the state of their gut and their physiological constitution.
I recently met someone who had seen DocGut’s Probiotic Rating and had suggestions. He told me that he had had IBS, and through changes in diet and probiotics he had been able to heal himself. He said that he had good results from a very simple probiotic, Equate – Probiotic, Digestive System Support, which was not included in my chart. Although Equate has a low potency of 5 billion CFU and only 4 strains of one bacteria, Bifidobacterium infantitis, good studies show that this and related bacteria relieve the symptoms of IBS. I quickly added Equate to my rating system, but because it is so simple and has only a few Amazon reviews, my rating system may not do it justice.
I did a blog several weeks ago on IBS and there is also a chapter on it in our book Gut Crisis, but the research changes every day (of all gut problems, IBS is one of the most commonly studied). In the prestigious journal Gastroenterology, a recent study showed that the bacteria Bifidobacterium NCC3001 longum can help to treat symptoms of depression in IBS patients. There was a time when doctors thought that IBS was caused solely by a state of mind, in other words, that it was a psychosomatic disease. Now, however, there is a scientific basis for understanding the intimate connection between the gut and brain and how each can affect the other.
“Food is medicine” is an age-old dictum in Ayurveda and many different traditional systems of medicine. To restore the gut, two of the simplest and most effective steps in Ayurveda are the elimination of toxins or ama, and the increase of digestive power or agni. Ama, as we explain in Gut Crisis, includes undigested food or any foreign substance or toxin that enters the body.
Agni, in this context, is our digestive power and includes the metabolic processes that take place in every tissue of the body. If agni is powerful in our tissues, then our metabolism and immune system are also strong. If our agni is weak, our digestion is weak, and ama or toxic substances can leak through the gut wall and into the bloodstream where they accumulate in various tissues in the body, causing inflammation and disease.
The ancient Vedic texts, including those of Ayurveda, refer to two interesting substances, ojas and soma, which were considered to be natural mediators of ideal health and longevity. Ayurveda describes ojas as the finest product of digestion, while soma is said to be a special plant with unique and remarkable properties for increasing awareness.
My experience of Ayurveda came from being with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, as he re-enlivened this ancient science of health. Maharishi worked closely with modern medical doctors and scientists and spent hundreds of hours with Dr. Brihaspati Dev Triguna, a master of pulse diagnosis; Dr. Balraj Maharishi, an expert in Dravyaguna, the knowledge of plants and their medical uses; and Dr. V.M. Dwivedi, who possessed the ancient knowledge of rasayanas, herbal and mineral preparations to prolong life. It is in Maharishi’s honor that this body of restored knowledge is referred to as Maharishi Ayurveda.
Maharishi has explained that the words ojas and soma refer to a biochemical substance that is produced by a physiology, which is free from stress. He described this natural substance as the biochemical basis of the brain’s ability to support higher and more comprehensive states of awareness. Soma is a product of our body’s natural pharmacy, and is created by the interaction of a perfectly functioning nervous system with a perfectly functioning digestive system. If we are stressed or if our digestion is not working properly, our body is not able to produce this precious substance.
I have always been excited by the prospect of identifying soma, and with the latest understanding of gut bacteria and the gut-brain axis, science is in a position to carry out such an investigation. It is extremely fulfilling to me that these remarkable ancient concepts are beginning to be expressed in modern scientific terms.
There are many parallels between Ayurveda and the theories of modern gut experts. Ayurveda has been using probiotic for centuries in the form of foods like yogurt and lassi. And probiotic enemas, while not the most pleasant subject, is a highly effective treatment, which Ayurveda uses in the form of nutritive bastis. We mention probiotic enemas in Gut Crisis and I will include more information in future blogs.
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Wishing you great good health.
No Guts, No Glory!
- Pinto-Sanchez MI, Hall GB, Ghajar K, et al. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: a Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2017. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.003.
- Kennedy, PJ et al., Irritable bowel syndrome: A microbiome-gut-brain axis disorder? World J Gastroenterol Oct 2014; 20(39): 14105–14125
- Maharishi Ayurveda and Vedic Technology: Creating Ideal Health for the Individual and World, Adapted and Updated from The Physiology of Consciousness: Part 2 by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Dharma Publications, 2016