Human health depends on the presence of some bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, in the digestive tract and the vaginal mucous membranes. There are at least 400 kinds of microorganisms found in the gastrointestinal tract. This amounts to about three pounds of bacteria in the healthy human intestine. These bacteria are essential in the functioning of the intestinal tract. They are integral ingredients to improving nutrition and protecting against disease. In fact, the word “probiotic” which is used to refer to these friendly bacteria, comes from two Greek words meaning “for life.”
Maintaining and promoting the growth of helpful bacteria, while destroying the harmful strains, is vital to health. If harmful bacteria grow in too great a proportion, serious consequences can arise. A number of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (rheumatoid arthritis of the spine), colitis, diabetes, meningitis, myasthenia gravis (a neuromuscular defect which causes muscular weakness and debility, thyroid disease and bowel cancer are thought to result from significantly altered bowel flora.
The antibiotics administered to kill harmful bacteria affect the helpful strains as well, creating severe side effects and repercussions for digestion and immunity.
Because animals are given large doses of antibiotics, eating meat is often detrimental to friendly flora. Poor diets, emotional upsets and psychological pressures also play a role in reducing the number of friendly bacteria in our bodies.
Helpful bacteria, on the other hand, such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum, have the ability to kill off other bacteria by secreting small quantities of antibiotic-like substances, including lactic acid, acetic acid, benzoic acid, hydrogen peroxide, acidolin, lactocidin and acidophilin. These substances have a wide spectrum of activity against harmful, food-borne bacteria, such as escherichia (particularly E.coli), salmonella, klebsiella, enterobacter, pseudomonas, serratia and bacteroides. Research has shown that the benefits of these friendly bacteria are achieved without the undesirable side effects of antibiotic therapy, including diarrhea, digestive problems and vaginal yeast infections.
It is true to say that our very lives depend upon these friendly bacteria. The level of health and well being we enjoy is affected by how well we maintain a wholesome environment, in which these organisms can live and flourish. The regular inclusion of supplemental flora in the diet ensures that healthy growth of needed bacterium is maintained. However, different species vary considerably in the benefits they offer.