One of the best ways to improve your digestion and general health is to take some good quality probiotics. But how can you be sure that those little pills you take, each containing billions of good bacteria, actually make it through to your intestines? After all, they have to get through the acidic environment in your stomach first, right?
Luckily, theres no reason to be concerned. Probiotic bacteria, whether in a commercial form or in probiotic yogurt, are perfectly capable of making it all the way through your digestive system. The evidence shows that oral probiotics can colonize your intestines and even pass all the way through your digestive system without any problem at all.
If you read my post on the acid/alkaline balance in your gut, you already know that your intestines need to be slightly acidic for optimal digestion and a strong immune system. The good bacteria in your intestines play a large part in this.
Lactic acid bacteria, for example Lactobacillus acidophilus, are a good example. As part of their metabolism they secrete small amounts of lactic acid and acetic acid, lowering the pH of their immediate environment and making it more acidic. In fact, the word acidophilus literally means acid-loving in Latin, and they are well-suited to surviving an acidic environment.
Another factor to remember is that these bacteria usually spend very little time in your stomach. If you take your probiotics after eating, they will mix together with the liquids and saliva in your stomach. And around 50% of this liquid will pass through to your intestines within 30 minutes of your meal, taking many of the probiotics with it.
Lastly, your stomach may also be less acidic than you think. For example, immediately after eating your stomach pH typically rises to a level of around 6.0. This is only mildly acidic, and should be reasonably easy to survive for most of the bacteria in your capsule. In fact, something like 75% of probiotic bacteria will survive a short exposure to this kind of mild acidity.
This is not all theory. There is actually lots of research demonstrating that probiotic bacteria can make it safely though your stomach. Here are a few of the research papers, along with a relevant quotation from each one.
Recovery of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG from human colonic biopsies (Alander, 2003)The colonization of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (L.GG) in five human colonoscopy patients was studied In all patients L.GG was the dominant faecal lactic acid bacterium as a result of the administration.
Analysis of the Fecal Microflora of Human Subjects Consuming a Probiotic Product Containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus DR20 (Tannock, 2000)The composition of the fecal microflora of 10 healthy subjects was monitored before (6-month control period), during (6-month test period), and after (3-month posttest period) the administration of a milk product containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus DR20 DR20 was detected in the feces of all of the subjects during the test period, but at different frequencies.
Intestinal transit of an orally administered streptomycinrifampicin-resistant variant of Bifidobacterium longum (Fujiwara, 2001)It is clarified that BL2928SR [a strain of Bifidobacterium longum] has the ability for long-term survival in the human gastrointestinal tract, and alters the composition and metabolism of the intestinal microflora.
Colonization and Immunomodulation by Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC 55730 in the Human Gastrointestinal Tract (Valeur, 2004)Dietary supplementation with the probiotic L. reuteri ATCC 55730 induces significant colonization of the stomach, duodenum, and ileum of healthy humans, and this is associated with significant alterations of the immune response in the gastrointestinal mucosa.
Commercial probiotics can be expensive supplements, so you should make sure that you absolutely get the most value from them that you can! There are two simple tips that you should follow to achieve this.
First, take your probiotics immediately before or during your meal. Eating a meal temporarily reduces the acidity of your stomach and makes it easier for the probiotics to pass through. This means that more will survive the journey through to your intestines.
Second, take a brand of probiotics that contains lots and lots of bacteria. You should be aiming for at least 10 million CFUs per capsule to start with, and then increase your dose even further when you feel ready. Some of these bacteria are bound to die during transit to your intestines, so the more that you ingest, the greater the chance of an effective colonization.
If you need more advice on how to choose a good probiotic, check out our Ultimate Candida Diet program. It tells you everything you need to know about the low-sugar diet, probiotics, and antifungals that you need to beat Candida, as well as giving lots of tips on how to choose an effective probiotic.
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