Cultured Tastes

By Diane Schlindwein

June 6, 2008 4 min read


Yogurt's good bacteria could mean better health

By Diane Schlindwein

Copley News Service

It's not normally something people talk about in polite conversation, but all of us have bacteria living in our colon. Some can make us sick; however some bacteria are actually good for us.

"There are 400 to 500 strains of bacteria living in the colon at one time," says Kim Bourne, a registered dietitian and director of food and nutrition services for Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill.

Bourne explains that "good" bacteria help keep "bad" bacteria and yeast from growing in the intestinal tract. Moreover, bacteria can also make vitamin K and keeps the immune system functioning properly.

"Good bacteria help thicken the intestinal lining," she says. "Good bacteria also help build up mucous layers so it is harder for the bad ones to get into the circulation."

According to the Web site, poor dietary choices may cause a condition called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis has been linked to yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome and even rheumatoid arthritis.

Another common cause of dysbiosis is antibiotic therapy. Antibiotics that kill an infection will also kill healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, can help restore that balance. Some foods will have probiotics as nutritional ingredients listed on the product label.

"Probiotics, which are actually live cells that are added to food, can restore the balance of your digestive tract," Bourne says. "They can also reduce constipation.

"They are live organisms added to food because of the additional health benefit to food beyond the basic nutrition of that food." A good example of a food with added probiotics is Activia yogurt by Dannon.

"Probiotics have to be able to live in yogurt and be viable for the entire shelf life of the food," Bourne says. "Probiotics are pretty impervious. They have to survive passage through the digestive tract and have to be defined as having a health benefit for the person eating it."

Although the public has only been hearing about the benefits of probiotics for a relatively short time, they are nothing new. "There have been cultures added to foods for thousands of years. Think about buttermilk and yogurt," Bourne says. "It was early in the 20th century that they first started to propose the health benefit to lactobacilli. And they've only been marketing this to the consumer for the last couple of years."

Bourne says her fellow dietitians often have a DanActive yogurt drink at lunch. "My co-workers regularly bring in food with added probiotics, so they must believe in it," she says. "I think that there has been enough research done on it. I haven't read anything dangerous about it.

"Certainly people who suffer from IBS or inflammatory bowel disease or have been treated by antibiotics should give it a try," Bourne concludes. "I'd say they should try it for two or three weeks and see if it makes a difference."

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