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Although the hustle and bustle of the holidays has now come and gone, winter months remain — which means our immune systems are still working overtime to fight off the colds and flues that circulate en masse this time of year. As a caregiver to an ill or elderly family member, it can feel overwhelming. With so many negative messages in the media and on popular brand labels — anti-viral tissues, antibiotics, anti-bacterial cleanser, anti- everything — it's hard not to become paranoid about your loved one getting sick (and yourself, toto). Instead of playing into the fear, why not focus on boosting your family's immune system — taking positive steps to strengthen yourself and those you love.
In addition to the three S's — getting enough sleep, reducing stress and limiting sugar — our experts recommend adding probiotics to any diet for an immune system boost. Probiotics are good bacteria that balance the microflora of the intestines, and literally mean “for life.” Did you know that more than 70 percent of our immune system is in our digestive tract? According to Dr. W. Allan Walker, "The largest component of the immune system in the body resides in the gut ... [and] major stimulus for the normal function of immunity is the bacteria that colonize the intestine." And, since " … gut bacteria operate on having a positive balance of good to bad bacteria, the good bacteria will be able to protect against pathogenic bacteria. Taking probiotics helps support the immune system by keeping that bacteria that makes us sick at bay," says Hanh Batt, pharmacist and holistic wellness counselor.
Along with boosting immunity, probiotics have been found to benefit those suffering from diarrhea, peptic ulcers, gastritis, inflammatory diseases and bowel disorders, such as Chron’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and urogenital tract illnesses, cites the
With all of the clear probiotic positives, where should we turn for them? While yogurt is often thought to provide an adequate dose of probiotics, most brands that claim to contain live and active cultures actually contain probiotics that die before we open the package, and definitely by the time they reach the stomach. In order to populate our gut adequately, Dr. Caitlin O'Connor encourages daily probiotic supplementation for everyone.
Not all probiotic strains are created equal — experiment until you find the best strain and most convenient supplement for you and your loved one’s lifestyles. A few products we love include:
, which is a whole food dietary supplement made from a blend of 12 species of probiotics. When mixed into any juice, smoothie, or bowl of morning cereal, one scoop of powder delivers 3 billion live cells.
serves up a healthy dose of probiotics (20 billion or 50 billion live cells guaranteed, depending on the product) in a flavorful juice base. GoodBelly products are juice-based, vegan, and friendly to those who are lactose-intolerant.
It’s important to know what strain you're buying and what clinical tests have been done on that strain to be sure it will have the effect you're looking for. Also look for the guaranteed probiotic count upon consumption (not just sale) to ensure you’re getting the most out of the supplement. For
and which ones may benefit you and your loved ones, visit Enzyme Stuff.
If either you or your loved one are following any medication routines, it’s important to know how probiotics can interact — both negatively and positively. “Since probiotics are neither absorbed into the bloodstream nor metabolized by the usual routes in the liver or kidneys, there usually aren’t any negative reactions [to prescription medications],” pharmacist Jo Appelbaum Ludwig notes. Probiotics are actually considered by the FDA to be food products, therefore the interactions with medications are few.
As far as the positives go, Ludwig recommends using probiotics as a healthy supplement when on antibiotic therapy, especially with extended treatments for chronic kidney or bladder infections, or long-term skin infections. “Probiotics supplement, and help manage and support the body's natural healthy organism and flora balance — while the antibiotic does its job killing the bacteria it was intended to target.”
Of course, it’s important to consult a care provider before beginning any supplement regimens to ensure safety and well-being in individual circumstances. However, probiotics are overwhelmingly praised by health experts — and can be just the thing for strengthening you and your loved one’s health and immune systems as the New Year falls upon us.
— Portions of this article have been contributed with permission from Mindful Mama. —