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Probiotics Get You Moving

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If being regular just isn't your thing, adding some "good bugs" to your gut could do the trick
If being regular just isn't your thing, adding some "good bugs" to your gut could do the trick. A study in the Nutrition Journal found that seniors suffering from constipation got some relief by supplementing with probiotics. These friendly bugs also helped shift the balance to a healthier intestinal environment, a factor that might help prevent colon cancer.

Bug your digestive tract

We've probably all experienced it at some point in our lives: that awful feeling of needing to have a bowel movement, but being too blocked. The problem usually becomes more frequent with age, and more than 80% of people living in nursing homes suffer from chronic constipation.

Probiotic supplements containing one or more strains of beneficial bacteria help maintain the normal balance of bacteria in the intestines by reducing the number of harmful bacteria and by modulating inflammatory and immune responses. They are frequently used to help prevent and treat different types of diarrhea (from antibiotics and intestinal infections), and they may help control Crohn's disease, as well as boost overall immunity and help prevent colon cancer.

The new study investigated the use of a probiotic combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Pediococcus pentosaceus, and Bifidobacterium longum in 19 nursing home residents with chronic constipation. The people were instructed to take the supplement (containing 300 billion colony-forming units) two times per day for two weeks.

Before and after the study, the people filled out questionnaires indicating how often they had bowel movements and the amount of stool that they passed. Stool samples were tested before and after the study for the presence of probiotic bacteria and for levels of harmful enzymes, and probiotic levels were found to increase significantly after treatment. People reported improvements in the frequency of bowel movements and the amount of stool passed.

Of the four harmful enzymes tested, the levels of two decreased significantly over the study period. "Probiotics may be beneficial in preventing colon cancer because of their inhibitory effects on harmful enzymes in the intestines," the authors commented. No side effects were reported during the study.

Get cultured

Probiotic supplements come in many different forms, though not all are equally potent, so you should talk to your doctor or retailer about what brands may be the best for you. An easy, cost-effective way to boost your intestinal flora is by eating unsweetened yogurt or kefir. Look for products with a mix of several probiotic strains, and skip the ones with extra ingredients. All you need is milk and culture--the bugs themselves.

(Nutr J 2010;doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-5)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children's health through better nutrition.