Probiotics: The Bugs That Are Our Friends (Part 2)

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Bug Benefits, Continued…
Last week we started to look at probiotics, those friendly and helpful bacteria that reside in the digestive tract. Hopefully you didn’t feel too squeamish about this — and you really shouldn’t, because we owe a lot to these microscopic beings! Did you search your refrigerator or cupboard for foods that contain probiotics? What did you find?

I wanted to pick up where I left off last week regarding all the good that probiotics do:

They may help prevent urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, for short, are more common in people with diabetes than in those without diabetes. Part of this is due to the fact that the immune system in a person with diabetes isn’t working quite up to speed, making him more susceptible to any type of infection. And some people with diabetes who have neuropathy may have difficulty fully emptying their bladder, which means urine stays around longer than it should, increasing the risk of harmful bacteria growing and causing infection. A couple of strains of probiotics may help fight UTIs from occurring in the first place.

They may prevent yeast infections. Most women (with and without diabetes) have had a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lives. Not surprisingly, women with diabetes are more likely to suffer from yeast infections, particularly if blood glucose levels are high. Yeast infections can also occur in the mouth and under folds of skin. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a strain of probiotics that may help prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Note: if you’ve been prescribed a medicine to treat a UTI, a yeast infection or any other type of infection, don’t stop taking the medicine in favor of probiotics. Always consult with your physician before stopping or changing any medicine.

Other benefits. When you’ve been hit with a stomach “bug” (which is usually a virus), probiotics can help reduce accompanying diarrhea. The power of probiotics is still being explored and studied. There’s some evidence that probiotics may protect against colon cancer, certain types of intestinal diseases, eczema, lung infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even obesity. However, we don’t know enough about probiotics yet to know for sure if they’ll help with these conditions or not, so stay tuned.

Food Sources of Probiotics
Chances are, you’re consuming probiotics now and don’t even know it! Probiotics are naturally found in a handful of foods, including:

• Yogurt (look for the words “live and active cultures” on the container)
• Kefir (a tangy, cultured yogurt-like drink)
• Buttermilk
• Acidophilus milk (milk containing the probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus)
• Miso (a paste made from fermented soybeans, used to make miso soup)
• Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage): heating and pasteurization will kill the probiotics, however
• Kimchi (similar to sauerkraut but with spices and other vegetables added)
• Tempeh (a food made from fermented soybeans)
• Aged cheeses (Gouda, Cheddar, Emmental, blue cheese)
• Sourdough bread (tangy bread made with the Lactobacillus strain of probiotics)

In addition to these foods, some brands of sour cream and cottage cheese may contain probiotics. And food manufacturers have jumped on the probiotic bandwagon by adding probiotics to cereal, juice, frozen yogurt, and even cookies and candy (not surprisingly).

Again, if you’re specifically looking for probiotic-fortified food, always look for the phrase and/or seal that says “live and active cultures.” Many foods are processed with heat and the heat kills off probiotics. When choosing a yogurt, look for the seal (created by the National Yogurt Association), which signifies that at least 100 million organisms per gram are in the yogurt at the time of manufacture; you can also look at the container to make sure the yogurt contains the live Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus strains.

More next week!

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