From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Good Eats: Prebiotics and Probiotics,” by Erin Zimniewicz Williams, in the October 2009 issue. Article summary: We often think of bacteria as something to avoid, but there are more than 400 types of beneficial anaerobic bacteria in our digestive tract. Commonly referred to as intestinal flora, these bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, promote a healthy digestive system and help keep us disease-free.

by Erin Zimniewicz Williams

Acidophilus means “acid-loving,” indicating these bacteria live in acidic conditions and require a food source, such as such as lactose, to survive. Acidophilus may be found in fresh, unpasteurized yogurt (pasteurization kills all bacteria) or in acidophilus milk. Check the label to make sure the yogurt or milk was cultured with acidophilus after pasteurization.

Acidophilus and bifidus supplementation is used to restore a normal, healthy population of intestinal organisms following various intestinal infections/infestations.

Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of forms, such as freeze dried powder, capsules, wafers and liquids. Probiotics are commonly sold in colony forming units and should be contained in dark, refrigerated containers. Ideally you would want more than 2 billion colony-forming units/gram of supplement daily. In any form of supplementation, in order to be effective, the bacteria must be alive, so it is important to find good quality sources.

Acidophilus and bifidus are killed by alcohol and antibiotics. Avoid alcohol while taking these probiotics in any form for therapeutic purposes. If you are taking antibiotics, wait until you have finished the course of treatment before starting acidophilus/bifidus.

It is important to note each type of friendly bacteria has a specific health benefit to the body. With more than 400 different types of bacteria currently identified, researchers are just starting to uncover the health roles and benefits of each. Also, research has not yet determined what portion sizes are most effective, so you’ll want to eat a variety pre- and probiotic foods regularly as part of your healthy diet.

Erin Zimniewicz Williams, C.N., L.M.P., is the owner of EZ Balance in Redmond, Washington. She is a certified nutritionist and licensed massage therapist as well as a yoga and Pilates instructor.