Instead, they brushed the dirt off the foods they gathered. Or rinsed it in a nearby stream.
Today, factory farms add thousands of tons of pesticides and herbicides to our food. Even if we wash our fruits and vegetables thoroughly, we run the risk of slowly poisoning ourselves.
This modern dilemma means that our ancestors received a benefit from their food that we don’t. I think of that benefit as “living foods” — the good bacteria that inhabit our guts.
Living foods aid digestion. They hold dangerous bacteria in check. And recent research has revealed an amazing variety of other benefits. Here are just a few of the health benefits connected to these living foods:
- They support normal growth in infants1
- They help protect against early childhood infections2
- They improve your body’s defenses against food-borne toxins3
- They may be useful in the treatment of ulcers4
- They can reduce the discomfort of diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome5
- They can reduce the damaging effects of alcoholism6
We have these healthy bacteria growing in our guts, too. But many of us have far fewer than we need.
I’ll show you why you need living foods. How an entire industry has misled consumers about them. And how you can enjoy the healthy benefits living foods offer.
Protection from Disease-Causing Bacteria
There wasn’t much interest in the good bacteria in our guts until the early 20th century. Then a Russian scientist named Metchnikoff had an idea. He believed that replacing the “bad” bacteria in our systems with “good” bacteria could slow aging.
Mechnikoff’s early theories were a little off. But his work led to many discoveries about the bacteria living in our digestive systems. In the 1970s, these living foods were named “probiotics.”
I like that term. It directly counters modern medicine’s dependency on “anti” biotics, which focuses on killing biological organisms rather than on supplying them.
The word “bacteria” makes most people think of germs and infection. But trillions of good bacteria live in our digestive systems. These good bacteria promote better health in several ways.
Your intestinal wall is like a parking lot with billions and billions of individual “parking spaces.” Many disease-causing bacteria can only make you sick if they find an open space on the intestinal lining.
If good bacteria have taken up all the available parking spots, the bad bacteria can’t adhere to the intestinal lining. Instead they pass through the gut. And you don’t get sick.
If bad bacteria take over, the bacteria can migrate throughout your body and cause a host of diseases that you would never associate with your gut.
There’s a good reason bacteria thrive in our intestines. There’s plenty of food. Probiotic bacteria compete against bad bacteria for this food supply.
Your digestion works a lot like natural decomposition. And that’s a perfect environment for bacteria. Bacteria don’t have complex digestive systems. So they take advantage of the free meals available in our intestines.
But probiotics give us plenty in return. Because they’re more efficient feeders than many harmful bacteria, they can crowd bad bacteria out.7 And a UK study found that probiotics lower the toxin levels of a bacteria that causes a form of colitis.8
Add these to the benefits I mentioned earlier, and you can see how probiotics promote good health.
But don’t run out and fill your fridge with cultured yogurt products. That’s because most of the so-called probiotic foods on your grocer’s shelf aren’t that useful. In fact, neither are most of the probiotic supplements I’ve seen.
And a pair of product tests help explain why.
Make Sure Your Probiotic Gets Past These Two Obstacles to be Effective
In 2003, ConsumerLab.com tested 25 probiotic products. Some were supplements. Others were foods with bacteria added. Nine products failed their tests. Almost a third contained “too few live bacteria to be effective.”
ConsumerLab.com’s second round of tests didn’t do much better. In their 2006 study, five of the 13 products they tested flunked.
But there’s still a problem. Even if a product contains “enough” bacteria, those bacteria still have to survive two attacks in your body.
First, they have to survive your stomach acid. Then, they have to face the bile salts in your upper intestine. Up until now, survival rates have been less than exciting.
The food industry has spent a fortune on special coatings to protect probiotics from stomach acid. But a research paper presented at the Israel Institute of Technology found they’re not having great success.
They tested three of the most common coating processes and found the coating process itself killed up to 60% of the bacteria.9 So, even if the bacteria make it through your stomach, most of them could already be dead.
Getting through your stomach is a challenge. But even the latest double-coating process is no match for bile salts. The new process worked well with stomach acid. But researchers found the double-coated capsules didn’t provide any extra protection against bile salts.10
What this all boils down to is that most probiotic products simply don’t deliver on their promises. And even those promises are being called into question.
Yogurt giant, Dannon Corp., recently agreed to settle a $300 million class-action lawsuit out of court. The reason for the suit? Evidence that health claims for Dannon’s probiotic yogurt products may not be true.
Dannon says it stands behind its claims. But the fact they’re settling the suit seems to say something else. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been called out on probiotic claims.
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) asked Danone, Dannon’s parent company, to pull “misleading” ads in both 2006 and 2008. Danone also ran afoul of the ASA in 2003. Then it was for ads for its “Shape” yogurt product.
Danone isn’t alone. The U.S. National Advertising Division claimed General Mills was running misleading ads for its Yoplait “Yo-Plus” product. General Mills pulled the ads in December 2008.
So you’re faced with a dilemma. Probiotics are good for you. But getting enough of them can be a challenge. And you may not be getting what you think you are anyway.
What do you do?
Getting Probiotics’ Benefits
There are several ways to get more of these healthy living foods into your diet.
The first is to grow your own organic fruits and vegetables. Fresh, organic produce from your own garden doesn’t require the scrubbing that factory-farmed veggies do. And you’ll have the bonus of tastier meals.
I’ve been growing my own organic garden for years, and I rarely get sick. In fact, I’ve been known to just pluck a tomato off the vine, dust if off, slice it up and eat it. No washing required.
If you don’t have room or time for your own organic garden, buy organic when you shop. Your local farmer’s market is a great place to find organic fruits and veggies. You should still wash this produce. But, like homegrown, it doesn’t need the kind of thorough cleaning commercial produce does.
Plus you can give the healthy bacteria in your gut a better chance of surviving. Simply cut out the foods that bad bacteria thrive on.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are bad bacteria’s favorite meal. These “foods” aren’t natural to your body anyway. So giving them up — or even cutting down — offers a whole range of health benefits, including weight loss.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
[Ed. Note: Dr. Sears is Chairman of the Board of Total Health Breakthroughs. He has written over 500 articles and 7 books in the fields of alternative medicine, anti-aging, and nutritional supplementation.]
- Scalabrin DM, et. al. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2009 Mar 4.
- Rautava S, et. al. Br J Nutr. 2008 Nov 6:1-5. [Epub ahead of print].
- Gratz S, et. al. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Jun;73(12):3958-64.
- Lam EK, et. al. Probiotic Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Jun 22;565(1-3):171-9.
- Gawronska A, et. al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jan 15;25(2):177-84.
- Forsyth CB, et. al. Alcohol. 2009 Mar;43(2):163-72.
- Wilson KH, Perini F. Infect Immun. 1988 Oct;56(10):2610-4.
- Plummer S, et. al. Int Microbiol. 2004 Mar;7(1):59-62.
- Semyonov D. Dry Microencapsulation and Enteric Coating of Probiotic Bacteria. M.Sc Thesis, Department of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, Israel Institute of Technology.
- Ding WK, Shah NP. J Food Sci. 2009 Mar;74(2):M53-61.
This article appears courtesy of Early to Rise’s Total Health Breakthroughs which offers alternative health solutions for mind, body and soul.