New Year’s Tune-Up, Part 1: Getting Cultured with Probiotics

As you gear up for flu and cold season, and start arming yourself for the onslaughts of the New Year, you might want to add probiotics to your To-Do list. These favorable bacteria that live inside us are showing up in medical research for their role in treatments for a wide range of conditions, from colic to high cholesterol.

What are they?

Put simply, a probiotic is a bacterium that delivers a health benefit. One of the most clinically studied areas in the field is the role of probiotics in addressing gastrointestinal problems: These friendly bugs keep the bowel walls healthy, block out unhealthy bacteria, and process indigestible fibers. They keep your lower intestines toned and healthy, which keeps your bowels moving regularly. Probiotics also play a role in the production of vitamins B6, B12, and K, all of which help the body to absorb important minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesium. Overall, probiotics boost immunity and fend off disease-causing bacteria in the gut.

In the news

Here’s just a smattering of the research findings out there that are shedding light on the benefits of probiotics.

  • A research report presented at the American Heart Association meeting in October showed that 2 daily doses of a probiotic named Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242 lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by almost 12 percent, and reduced the number of oxidized cholesterol molecules (contributors to the hardening of one’s arteries) in the bloodstream.
  • The November 2012 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition contained an article by researchers at the University School of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey that revealed that a combination of 2 probiotics, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp lactis (BB-12), reduces the severity and duration of the common cold.
  • In a Swedish study, workers who routinely took probiotics were 42 percent less likely to take sick leave for upper-respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases.

In a future entry, I’ll talk more about these wonder bugs—how you can make sure your gut is providing a good home for enough of them; where to get the prebiotics that probiotics need to flourish; and how to choose a probiotic capsule that can supplement their numbers.

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