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Probiotics: Good Bacteria to Prevent Disease

More than 100 years ago, Nobel Prize winner Ilya Metchnikoff proposed his autointoxication theory to explain why people age and die. Most food that you eat is absorbed in the upper intestinal tract. He said that food which is not absorbed there goes to the colon where bad bacteria ferment it to produce toxic chemicals that are absorbed into the bloodstream to cause disease and shorten life. Therefore you should eat foods containing good bacteria that displace the bad bacteria and prevent them from making these toxic products. Scientists laughed at Metchnikoff, but research may turn him from a quack into a prophet.

When you eat, enzymes from your intestines, stomach, liver and pancreas break down the carbohydrates into their building blocks called sugars; proteins into amino acids; and fats into glycerol, fatty acids and monoglycerides, that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. However, many plant foods contain undigestible starches that cannot be broken down, so they cannot be absorbed in the upper intestinal tract. Therefore they pass to your lower intestinal tract where bacteria ferment these undigestible starches to form other chemicals, including short chain fatty acids that protect your intestinal lining from irritation and cancer, and are absorbed into your bloodstream to lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks.

Humans have used these good bacteria, such as lactobacillus, to ferment and preserve milk and plant products. Recent research shows that normal intestinal bacteria make up approximatly 95 percent of the total number of cells in the human body. The good bacteria help to prevent bad bacteria from infecting you, and may help to prevent intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and cancer.

Researchers have shown that two nondigestible carbohydrates, fructooligosaccharides and inulin, can help heal intestines swollen and damaged by diarrhea-causing bacteria. Several studies show that normal intestinal bacteria prevent cancers that would have been caused by such chemicals as the rat colon carcinogen, 1,2-dimethylhydrazine.

Other studies show that these nondigestible carbohydrates increase absorption of the minerals, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron; and prevent and treat osteoporosis in animals. So even though Metchnikoff had the wrong explanation, he was right about good bacteria. Eat whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, vegetables and fruits for their nonabsorbable carbohydrates, to establish a healthy colony of good bacteria in your intestines.

1) Probiotics in foods not containing milk or milk constituents, with special reference to Lactobacillus plantarum 299v. G Molin. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 380S-385SAddress: Molin G, Univ Lund, Div Food Technol, Lab Food Hyg, SE-22100 Lund, SWEDEN.

2) In vitro selection criteria for probiotic bacteria of human origin: correlation with in vivo findings. C Dunne, L OMahony, L Murphy, G Thornton, D Morrissey, S OHalloran, M Feeney, S Flynn, G Fitzgerald, C Daly, B Kiely, GC OSullivan, F Shanahan, JK Collins. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 386S-392S.Address: Collins JK, Natl Univ Ireland Univ Coll Cork, Dept Microbiol, Cork, IRELAND.

3) Prebiotic digestion and fermentation. JH Cummings, GT Macfarlane, HN Englyst. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 415S-420S. Cummings JH, Univ Dundee, Ninewells Hosp & Med Sch, Dept Mol & Cellular Pathol, Dundee DD1 9SY, SCOTLAND.

4) Probiotics - compensation for lactase insufficiency. M deVrese, A Stegelmann, B Richter, S Fenselau, C Laue, J Schrezenmeir. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 421S-429SAddress: de Vrese M, Fed Dairy Res Ctr, Inst Physiol & Biochem Nutr, Hermann Weigmann Str 1, D-24103 Kiel, GERMANY.

5) Probiotic agents to protect the urogenital tract against infection. G Reid. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 437S-443S.Address: Reid G, Univ Western Ontario, Lawson Hlth Res Inst, H414, 268 Grosvenor Rd, London, ON N6A 4V2, CANADA.

6) Protective role of probiotics and prebiotics in colon cancer. I Wollowski, G Rechkemmer, BL PoolZobel. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 451S-455S Pool-Zobel BL, Univ Jena, Inst Nutr & Environm, Dept Mol Toxicol & Pharmacogenet, Jena Dornburgerstr 25, D-07743 Jena, GERMANY.

7) Effects of prebiotics on mineral metabolism. KE ScholzAhrens, G Schaafsma, EGHM vandenHeuvel, J Schrezenmeir. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 459S-464SAddress Scholz-Ahrens KE, Fed Dairy Res Ctr, Inst Physiol & Biochem Nutr, Hermann Weigmann Str 1, D-24103 Kiel, GERMANY.

8) Discussion on probiotics and prebiotics. KA Schroeter, G Mogensen, J Schrezenmeir, K Collins, H Przyrembel, J HuisintVeld, T Kutzemeier, G Reid, C Stanton, KJ Heller, G Denariaz, F Driessen, Beltoft, EJ Schiffrin, KV Bhaskarabhatla. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001, Vol 73, Iss 2, Suppl. S, pp 484S-486S. Schroeter KA, Verband Deutsch Milchwirtschaft, Bonn, GERMANY

Checked 3/3/17

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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