Q: Who has taken antibiotics?
A: Who hasn’t!
Most of us have napalmed our gut bacteria at least once in our lives and we are lucky if we have only done it a half a dozen times! The research is unclear about how much damage antibiotics do, but it is generally agreed that a single dose destroys up to one third of all our beneficial bacteria. In fact, most doctors now recommend taking a probiotic both during and after a course of antibiotics, although it is unclear just how effective probiotics are in restoring our gut bacteria back to its previous state.
One concern is how much probiotic actually reaches the lower intestine where virtually all the gut bacteria reside. Many probiotics advertise a “special coating,” which supposedly enables them to get through the acid environment of the stomach and survive the digestive enzymes in the small intestine, but no one really knows how effective they are.
Some probiotics must be refrigerated to maintain the vitality of the bacteria. This seems like a good idea, although again, no one is certain what actually happens when probiotics are transported or stored.
The problem is that the numbers don’t add up. Our gut is colonized by about a 1000 different types of friendly bacteria, but a typical probiotic contains only about 1-30 different types of bacteria. How can we restore balance and diversity to our gut bacteria with such a small number?
Some experts speculate that our appendix acts a storage area for different kinds of gut bacteria, which are released when needed. Others suggest that bacteria are so pervasive, all we have to do is go outside and work in a garden, play with our cat, or “eat dirt.” Our modern obsession over living in a clean, microorganism-free environment, severely limits our contact with bacteria.
In spite of all reservations, the research is clear, daily probiotics can be beneficial. Most scientists suggest that probiotics play an important role in the reorganization and reseeding of our gut bacteria. So, are probiotics like camp councilors, who are somehow able to organize billions of thriving delinquent teenage bacteria in order that they behave properly and remain in their designated places and groups?
Let’s take a look at the latest findings. A doctor friend just sent me an excellent review article, which states that well-controlled clinical trials have conclusively demonstrated that probiotics help the following conditions:
- Acute infectious diarrhea
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- difficile-associated diarrhea
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Necrotizing enterocolitis
The article included a number of interesting tables. One table shows, for instance, which bacteria are best for which condition, and we have used this data to update DocGut’s Probiotic Rating.
Studies also indicate that the type and dose of bacteria is important. But this is only the beginning of a new wave of research. Hundreds of clinical trials are in progress and six months from now today’s highest-rated probiotic could be the lowest.
Where does Ayurveda fit into the probiotic revolution? Different times require different measures. Ayurveda was created during a period when no antibiotics or environmental toxins existed. Now we face different challenges and it is enormously advantageous for us to integrate the latest probiotic research with the basic principles of Ayurveda. Modern medicine is at last beginning to learn what Ayurveda has known for centuries—all disease begins in the gut.
Gut Crisis and our blogs keep you up-to-date about the newest advances of this ground-breaking journey to an integrated system of health that combines the best of ancient and modern medicine.
Wilkins, T et al., Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of Evidence. American Family Physician Aug 2017; 96:3,170-178