Not all bacteria are bad.
Probiotics, which live in the digestive tract, are health-promoting bacteria. In addition to aiding digestion, they benefit the immune system.
Dr. Donald Brown, N.D., an expert on probiotic clinical research, will present "Probiotics: Good for What's Bugging You," a free lecture sponsored by Brighter Day Natural Foods Market. It is set for Oct. 15 at the Coastal Georgia Center.
"I'm going to be talking about use of probiotics and primarily educating the public on the importance that they play in intestinal health," Brown says. "I'm also going to talk about some new research that is looking at effects on weight and the immune system."
Brown also will discuss the supportive uses of probiotics in different age ranges.
"I'll start with use of probiotics along with antibiotics, and the role of probiotics in women's health, as well," he says. "It's really intended to be an overview of where the science seems to be the strongest on wellness purposes and support therapies."
The benefits of probiotics include the prevention of eczema, colds and flu in children; keeping healthy flora intact, during and after use of antibiotics; prevention of urinary infections and bacterial vaginosis in women; and boosting immune system health in the elderly.
The public's knowledge about probiotics has grown substantially in recent years.
"A decade ago, people didn't understand," Brown says.
"We've had an interesting convergence over the last five years with companies advertising yogurt. People are starting to realize bacteria can be something good.
"The word 'probiotic' has become more of a household name," he says. "People in the press are writing more about it."
New discoveries are being made about the benefit of probiotics, which may have other substantial benefits, Brown says.
"There's been a lot of money invested in research," he says.
"We're hearing a lot of new findings, not just about supplemental probiotics, but the effect that healthy gut bacteria has in affecting different persons' health. One of the really interesting things that is new is that we're starting to see how the type and diversity of bacteria in gastrointestinal tract can influence weight.
"Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are looking at taking gut bacteria from twins, one being fat, one thin, and giving it to mice," Brown says. "What they're finding is the bacteria from the obese twin make the mouse become fat while the other stays thin."
When the diet of an obese mouse is changed, though, its intestinal tract starts to change and it becomes thinner, Brown says.
"We're starting to understand the importance of probiotics in weight loss," he says.
"A very interesting study out of Denmark involved about 150 people in two groups, one being obese and the other being a healthy weight. Researchers are finding the richness of intestinal bacteria is very different between the groups.
"The group with the least diversity had high cholesterol and problems with obesity," he says. "They had problems with metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic syndrome."
Some of the most interesting research involves children with allergic conditions and the way healthy bacteria develop in the gastrointestinal tract after birth, Brown says. Children who are not breastfed have more allergic diseases, as do babies born by Caesarian section, he says.
Fortunately, healthy bacteria can be introduced to the gastrointestinal system.
"If you look at all the organs that are part of the immune system, 70 percent of the immune system is the intestinal tract," Brown says.
"Diet is critical. People who consume a lot of animal fat and eggs on a daily basis, their bacteria behave differently and they develop cardiovascular disease."
A good diet is fundamental to maintain probiotic health, Brown says.
"It's not just yogurt, but also whole grains, some fruits," he says.
"Diet is to me first and foremost where it starts, but people who are under stress or have used antibiotics over time may need to replenish healthy bacteria. That can be done through high quality probiotic supplements."
Some supplements are better than others, Brown says.
"I always talk to retailers about my experience," he says.
"First and foremost, one really simple thing a consumer can do is look at the label. Probiotics are unique because they are measured in CFUs (colony forming units). One way you can separate quality from non-quality is to see how potency is declared at the time of expiration."
Potency is important because probiotics involve living organisms.
"When you go into a store and buy supplements, the expectation is that it contains healthy bacteria that are actually alive," Brown says. "When you consume them, they go where they need to be and set up house."