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Probiotics, Fiber and Enzymes: the Basics of Digestion

Dear LM,

You have touched on two very broad subjects and it is difficult to generalize, but I think there may be a connection between the two problems. Aside from major health issues, fatigue and digestion are indeed common problems. We see a great deal of people in the pharmacy looking for help with both. As always, I suggest that both conditions may require the consultation of a physician.

Barring any major illnesses attached to these two issues, I would suggest that there could be a single cause for both digestive maladies and general fatigue. That problem could be the lack of essential elements within your digestive system. These elements are Probiotics, enzymes and digestive fiber.

Probiotics: Our Beneficial Bacterial Allies

We know that the planet hosts many life forms. Our bodies' intestines could be considered a planet, housing literally billions of living microorganisms, most happily co-existing, but some wreaking havoc on our health and well being.

Our intestinal tract has a dramatic impact on our health, including our physical and mental health, our energy and metabolism and, indeed, our aging process as well. Over 400 species of microorganisms live in our digestive system. Under normal conditions, these organisms account for four pounds of weight. We don't consider the importance of these little critters, but they provide several functions that are crucial for our health, including defending our systems against harmful organisms and helping us to absorb and manufacture nutrients that are essential to our energy function.

Both "good" and "bad" organisms inhabit the digestive tract at the same time. Both do have specific functions and the balance of these organisms is quite important.

There are several reasons why this balance may be disrupted. Antibiotic medications, while serving an important purpose, also damage the balance. Stress can also cause problems with the balance. Excessive sugar intake, including alcohol, can alter the balance in a negative manner. And eating a poor mixture of acid-based and alkaline-based foods can destroy the balance.

So, how does the digestion create problems for our energy? When the balance of organism exists, our metabolism runs at its peak. When the balance is destroyed, "bad" organisms can disrupt our ability to absorb nutrients and may compromise the way we feel and threaten our health.

How can we help to maintain the balance and enjoy more energy? There are several things that may help. First, try to add foods to the diet that will help to promote the colonies of "good" organism, such as cultured yogurt, cottage cheese or buttermilk, or whey protein. Second, add more foods to the diet that provide fiber, such as grains, vegetables, and some fruits (unless excessive sugar is your problem!)

Thirdly, add a probiotic supplement to your regimen that will help to re-colonize your system with "good" bacteria. These products as known collectively as probiotics, or beneficial bacteria. There are many strains of bacteria that are beneficial, most derived from Lacto species. Lactobacillus acidophilus is perhaps the most common form and is found in cultured yogurt.
Another important form of bacteria is bifidum. This species, bifidobacteria, resides mainly in the lower bowel of the digestive tract and is important for producing B vitamins and protecting the bowel from negative enzyme action that could result in tumor growth. Studies have just been published that show that babies that are breast-fed are healthier and get fewer infections than those that feed with formula. One reason is the content of bacteria in the mother's milk, both lacto species and bifidum.

As we age and are susceptible to the problems that can cause our organism balance to alter, it has been shown that probiotics do help to rebalance the system and provide us with added energy. It is a good idea to re-colonize your intestinal flora during and after a course of antibiotics. The medication may deplete some of the beneficial bacteria and supplementing with a probiotic may help with the side effects of the drug, such as constipation and diarrhea.

Probiotics have also been shown to aid in bone and joint health, reducing pain and eliminating constipation and gas. The bacteria also aid the immune system and may help with allergic problems, candida infections and also reducing sensitivities to dairy products. Finally, these strains of bacteria can also help reduce that terrible scourge of modern health, bad breath!

LM, if you have had any of the problems I mentioned that may have contributed to an intestinal imbalance, consider a probiotic supplement. We suggest them to everyone prescribed an antibiotic. We also suggest them as a good place to start, for digestive and fatigue problems. These little "bugs" that live with us, in and on our body, are important allies in our health. Add a few billion to your diet today! For more information about digestion and energy, stop by our pharmacy today!

Enzymes: Every Action in the Body Requires Them

Our enzymes help run the body. They are chemical catalysts for every action the body takes, including our immune system protection, our nervous system stimulation and our digestive function or breaking down foods for absorption by the body.

Digestive Enzymes work in a balancing situation with acid and bile to break down foods. There are several types of enzymes, including protease (to break down protein), amylase (to break down sugars) and lipase (to break down fats.) Within these categories are other types of enzymes, each with a specific type of food to break down, such as lactase (which break down diary foods containing lactose). If someone is lactose intolerant, it means they cannot break down these foods, which causes problems like mucus build-up or indigestion in general.

Collectively, our enzymes and acids contribute to the balancing of our pH. We have a pH balance in our body's ions, as well as our body's digestion. Digestive pH is a measurement of the acidity and/or alkalinity within our digestive system. Many critical elements, including minerals such as calcium and magnesium, acids derived from foods and enzymes derived from foods, contribute to the balance of our pH. (See article below.)

As we age, we tend to have a lower pH, meaning we have more acidity in our digestion. This is a major source of problems that often require medications, such as antacids or acid blockers. While these medications do help with the symptoms of a disrupted pH, they do not help restore the balance. That will depend on both the foods consumed and the availability of either acid or enzymes.

Enzymes are normally produced once foods are consumed, from several organs within the system. If there is a deficiency of enzymes, we do not get the optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients. For this reason, it may be a healthful consideration to supplement digestive enzymes prior to each meal. They will not only help with the digestive process of breaking down nutrients, they will also help us get better usage of our nutrients, by stimulating energy metabolism. And…as we age, this is of course quite important. Click here for related products.

pH and Your Health

The body is composed of elements requiring a balance between acidity and alkalinity - known collectively as pH. pH balance is essential for the proper utilization of nutrients, water, and oxygen.

When the body's pH is out of balance, the potential for disease is greater. While the body has a remarkable ability to adjust its pH, it often becomes unbalanced with diet, lifestyle and aging. For this reason, it is good to know how to check for pH balance and what to do to help the body balance its pH.

How is pH measured?

pH is measured in the body on a scale from 1 to 14. The number 1 represents extreme acidity while 14 represents extreme alkalinity. Perfect balance of pH is 7, which is considered neutral. Optimal health requires a pH of 6.4 to 7.4.

To measure your pH, ask your pharmacist for pH strips. They will instruct in the use of the paper strips. You will collect a sample of your day's first urine and gauge the color the urine turns the pH strip. Each shade of color on the color chart has a corresponding number, which represents a pH value.

Ideally, the first morning urine pH would be in the 6.4-7.0 range as the urine is characteristically slightly acidic. Several days of testing, with the pH below 6.4 might suggest that the body might be limited in its ability to absorb and utilize nutrients.

A consistent acidic first morning urine pH may be the result of a poor dietary intake of minerals, particularly enzymes and/or calcium. Many studies show that these are absolutely necessary for maintaining proper pH balance.

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077

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Fiber

Dear Mike,

I heard recent reports on the news that suggest fiber does not really help prevent cancer. What do you think about this issue?

DD in Baton Rouge

Dear DD,

The use of fiber for health reasons is a complex issue and not without controversy. Sometimes we are told to have more fiber; at other times we are told it really doesn't matter. I would suggest to you that even though there are studies that are "yea" or "nay", it remains that fiber is a quite valuable component to our digestive health and should be a part of our dietary considerations.

DD, the truth is that dietary fiber is a crucial element of health and can indeed prevent certain diseases, including cancer. Our number one health issue in this country is not cancer or heart disease; it is the poor manner in which we feed ourselves.

Fiber is necessary for many of the body's key functions. We need fiber for proper digestion and elimination of wastes. We also need fiber to produce certain beneficial bacteria to aid in the immune system's response to potential disease causing pathogens.

Fiber promotes the body's ability to detoxify itself. It helps to regulate the fats and cholesterol we use. Fiber is also crucial in keeping our digestive system moving, which will keep cancerous activity from forming in the digestive system, including the colon.

It is interesting that fiber consumption has diminished over the past twenty years, at the same time that cancer of the colon has dramatically increased. YOU MUST HAVE FIBER IN YOUR DIET!

Fiber, of course, is best obtained from eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts, grains and certain proteins also contain fiber. A health level of fiber is between twenty and thirty grams daily. Four to six servings of fruits and veggies can produce this.

Many people choose to supplement fiber in their diet, and I believe they are smart for doing so. There are both soluble and insoluble fiber supplements available and both offer specific benefits to the body.

For the best fiber, consider your diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and beans. The secret to a long life is a good digestive system, and fiber is one of the key elements to its continued good health.

For supplemental options with fiber, contact me or stop by the Wellness Store. We offer a variety of fiber products, and other supplements to support the digestive system, and can help you understand the role that digestion plays in maintaining your health and resistance to the major diseases.

A final word about digestive health. These three elements of digestive nourishment, Probiotics, enzymes and fiber all contribute to the health of the digestive system, as well as help in so many other ways within the body. Another element worth mentioning is essential fatty acids. Our fats play an important role in digestion by keeping the cells and organs of our digestive tract nourished. They are essential for the constant repair that occurs to keep the system working in tip-top shape. For this reason, essential fatty acids should be considered if there are digestive problems. To learn more about the important roles essential fatty acids play in the body, click here.

If there are deficiencies of any of these elements, you can pretty well guess that there will be some accompanying problems. Among the problems I see in my practice are constipation, "leaky gut syndrome" and chronic yeast infections. There are methods to keep our digestive system in good shape, but they recommendations are as varied as the people I see. Since our bodies are unique and our food intake is unique, you can understand that there is no one single approach to proper digestive health. For this reason, I would recommend that you contact me for a consultation about your digestion and…well, let's fix the problem and see how much better you can feel! Click here to contact me or stop by the Wellness Store. And keep reading. We have some articles on digestive health that may help you understand why you are feeling the way you do!

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077

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Yeast Infections

Dear Mike,

I read on a website that antibiotics can cause yeast infections and that both men and women can suffer from them. I suffer from chronic yeast infections and wondered if this is the reason. The website said there are natural methods of controlling the problem. Is there any truth to this?

RT, New Orleans

Dear RT,

Yeast infections, also known as candida, have been a medical mystery for some time, and until recently, there were so few methods of controlling outbreaks. While I disagree with the statement that antibiotics cause the infections, I do believe that these drugs can bring on infections in some folks.

A number of drugs are tied to yeast-related conditions, among them antibiotics and chemotherapy medicines. I tend to believe that yeast outbreaks are tied to the state of the intestinal tract and the immune system, not to the drugs themselves.

If someone is sick and prescribed antibiotics, a yeast infection may manifest shortly after the medicine is taken. Yeast, which exists in our body naturally residing in our colon, can move through the body when intestinal bacterium does not hold it in check.

For this reason, I now suggest that you take a "probiotic" supplement during and after your dose of antibiotics. I feel the supplement is truly worth the money, but for more reasons than simply halting the yeast growth.

Probiotics, also know as beneficial bacteria, contain species of bacteria such as Acidophilus and Bifidus. They are responsible for helping the immune system ward off bad bacteria that can cause illness. When you take a dose of antibiotics, the drug kills not only bad bacteria, but also our "good" bacteria, our "probiotic" flora.

There are literally trillions of bacterial cells living in our body. The major side effects of antibiotics are nausea, constipation and diarrhea. Intestinal bacteria, water and fiber are the nutritional elements that keep us from having these problems.

I recommend that people take probiotics while they are taking antibiotics, but that they take them apart from the medication by at least a couple of hours. I also suggest that they continue taking the supplement for a couple of weeks after the medication. This will help to rebuild the flora stores and will aid the body in recuperating from the illness. I always recommend a probiotic that contains at least 7.5 billion CFU (colony-forming units). This means that there will be at least this many organisms alive when taken. The best product I can recommend for this condition as well as yeast infections in general is Ultra Flora Plus.

Yeast infections can plague men and women, as well as children. They often are caused by a poor diet and can create a number of problems. Women usually see signs of yeast infections in their reproductive system. Men will see signs of problems in their digestion, muscles and joint aches, and by headaches and fatigue.

Symptoms of yeast problems in children include constant colds, sleep problems, bowel or digestive problems, ear infections and hyperactivity. There are many theories that suggest yeast is responsible for attention deficit problems.

All people that suffer with yeast have common eating problems, including the constant craving for sugar and sugary foods, and carbohydrates. Common problems experienced by folks with chronic yeast infections include depression, fatigue, food and chemical sensitivities, and irritability. It is interesting to note that those with yeast problems often have less than optimal probiotic bacteria levels.

Here is where it gets interesting. Intestinal flora produces some of our B vitamins, which directly effect our mood and mental clarity. If there is deficient digestive function, there is less production of vitamins and absorption of nutrients, and many feel this is the reason for these symptoms of yeast-related problems.

There are natural means of keeping our digestive tract in good shape. Fiber from foods and supplements helps to produce intestinal flora. Flora aids in digestion and nutrient absorption. A bi-product of flora produces substances that kill, or "corral", yeast in its natural residence in the colon.

While these natural means of protecting our digestive and immune system from yeast outbreaks are important, they may not stop the conditions that currently exist. There are medications to help curtail yeast outbreaks. Herbs, such as Olive Leaf Extract, Pau d'Arco and Citrus Seed Extracts are natural approaches to stopping fungal spread in the body. I recommend a product that contains healthful levels of these herbs, along with some important nutrients to support the process of intestinal balance, known as Candistatin.

But you must consider the entire strategy of proper diet, maintenance of the intestinal tract, and hygienic approach to controlling the yeast outside the colon. A complete, or holistic, approach has been shown to be the most effective treatment in stopping yeast outgrowth.

Look to your intestinal tract for the relief and energy you may be lacking, as a result of yeast growth. Disorders such as Leaky Gut Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue, as well as Fibromyalgia, may also result from problems within your digestive system.

Mike Casso, R.Ph