Friday, March 23, 2007

The Buzz: Probiotics

Probiotics seem to be one of the big buzzes going on in the food industry these days. Some yogurt has them, the new Kashi Vive cereal has them, and the "World's Healthiest Pizza" I'm having for lunch--it's the name of a local company--has them in its crust.

Of course, in the case of yogurt, you also have to do some label reading to make sure you're not taking in a lot of sugar with your probiotics, and since Kashi was bought out by Kellogg's--boo hoo hoo--it's easier to find their products but there's more sugar creeping in, too. (I've tasted Vive, by the way. It tastes kinda like a graham cracker and, yes, it has sugar in it.) Yeast is another probiotic we're all familiar with--that would be live yeast cultures.

So, what are probiotics, and why do I need them?

According to the handy-dandy Physicians Desk Reference, probiotics are microorganisms that can help balance our intestinal microflora. In other words, help our digestive systems run more smoothly.

And it's nothing new. The Bible (Old Testament, no less) makes reference to probiotics. Genesis 18 finds Abraham feedings his guests yogurt. Yogurt appears in several other Old Testament references.

Recent research suggests ingesting dietary probiotics could have anti-cancer properties and reduce systemic inflammation.

Antibiotics are the opposite of probiotics. When you have an infection and take antibiotics, it kills off the good bacteria along with the bad. Probiotics puts it back.

Which makes me wonder. At the risk of sounding too hippy-dippy-chick, could there be a cause-and-effect relationship going on? Could the antibiotic residue we ingest in our meat, poultry and eggs be contributing to the rising rates of chronic inflammation (which in turn is believed to contribute to heart disease, among other things)? If so, perhaps probiotics could tip the scales back in our favor.

Oh well, that's too deep a subject for a Friday morning when I'm stressing out over my upcoming trip, anyway.

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