Probiotics – Fad or Fabulous? Dr. Ian attains his IFMCP! Dr. Autoimmune turns 5!
Probiotics – Fad or Fabulous? As a functional medicine practitioner, this is a question I answer daily. Probiotics are one of the cutting-edge supplements we use to support optimal health. According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are ‘live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.’
The typical person has 10 times as many microorganisms than actual human cells! Traditional uses of probiotics include post-antibiotic therapy, IBS, constipation and bacterial overgrowths. New research has found novel uses including mastitis, endometriosis, atopic eczema, anxiety, high cholesterol and even prevention of postpartum obesity. With so many potential uses of these delightful critters the question isn’t if you should be using them, but rather “which probiotic is right for my health goals?” The two main probiotics found in our gut are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus. Although these two are the most common, there are thousands of potential different strains that have different characteristics and actions. Just like all domestic dogs are of the species Canis lupis, various breeds can be quite different. Imagine trying to herd cattle with a Chihuahua rather than an Australian Shepherd! The same goes for using the proper strain of probiotic. An article in the Annals of Gastroenterology, March 2011, “Evidence of Probiotic Strain Specificity Makes Extrapolation of Results Impossible from One Strain to Another, Even From the Same Species” drew the conclusion that one strain of probiotic cannot be interchangeably used for another unless it has been shown to be effective for that particular condition. For example, only nine of the 29 strains of Lactobacillus salivarius have been successfully used to inhibit Helicobacter pylori, which is implicated in stomach ulcers. Lactobacillus plantarum has been studied extensively for treating IBS. While one strain of L. plantarum effectively decreases abdominal pain and bloating, another strain of L. plantarum actually increases IBS symptoms! Utilizing the correct strain for the condition at hand is essential for the desired results, but equally important is the number and stability of live probiotic cells in your chosen product. Your best bet is to find a trusted functional medicine provider who has been trained in selecting the appropriate strains for you and the condition you are addressing. Remember, don’t waste your time chasing cattle with a Chihuahua!
Dr. Ian completes his certification in functional medicine (IFMCP)! I wanted to personally thank my family, friends and patients who have supported my 3 year journey through the Institute for Functional Medicine’s certification track. I have invested myself in this program and I can honestly say that the information has been worth the effort in attaining my IFMCP. So what is functional medicine anyway? This healing science was created to bridge the gap modern medicine could not fill with chronic conditions and maintaining wellness. As our society has become sicker and more reliant on medicine, one thing has not changed – our body can heal itself! The trick is asking the right questions and using the basics like lifestyle interventions, targeted supplementation and dietary changes to engage the bodies natural healing abilities. It is simple as asking two questions: What is the body missing and what does the body have in excess? For some it is a lack of essential nutrients like vitamin, minerals or amino acids that supports the bodies natural tendency to heal. For others it may be excessive amounts of bad bacteria in their gut compromising detoxification and setting them up for auto-immunity. The beautiful part of functional medicine is that I’ve been learning how to ask “why”, and by taking the long road I think I can say my patients are better for it.
Ian Hollaman, DC, IFMCP