Why Baby Boomers Need Probiotics
Baby boomers are an especially active and involved segment of the population, and so staying at the top of their game is of vital concern. Probiotics can be an important tool in helping to support and maintain a vibrant lifestyle and avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor.
What’s special about probiotics?
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria of various strains that share living space with bad or disease-causing bacteria in the intestinal tract. Ideally, the populations of these opposing “camps” stay in balance, which in turn helps to support optimal health as well as fortify the immune system to fight a variety of symptoms and diseases ranging from diarrhea to depression.
Life’s challenges can throw the bacterial flora in the intestinal tract off balance, including aging, poor nutrition, and use of antibiotics. Although intestinal flora changes with age, you can take significant steps to improve your diet and limit the use of antibiotics as ways to help restore balance.
The one factor you can influence multiple times a day is diet. A new study in World Review in Nutrition and Dietetics emphasizes that as people grow older, “lack of diversity in the diet upon aging is linked to a less diverse microbiota [microorganisms in the intestinal tract], which correlates with poorer health status.”
Therefore, a diet that supports a healthy balance of bacteria (e.g., lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, foods containing probiotics, little to no sugar, high fiber) as well as probiotic supplements can help individuals reach that goal and thus stay on track for their life goals.
What can probiotics do for you?
Much research has been dedicated to probiotics, but that does not mean experts fully understand these minute microorganisms and all they can and cannot do for you. However, as a new French review notes, “It seems that effects are not only strain specific, but will depend on many environmental factors that make the immune system receptive or not to the influences of a given probiotic strain,” and that the interactions between probiotics and the immune cells “are a complex interplay that is rarely mediated by a single mechanism.”
That said, studies have shown that probiotics have an ability to:
- Manage depression: So far the studies have been conducted only in mice, but the results have been promising. Mice given Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 demonstrated much fewer behaviors associated with depression, anxiety, and stress than mice that took a placebo.
- Fight the common cold: Who wants to be hampered by a cold when you have so much to do? Certain probiotics have been shown to reduce the risk of developing the common cold among healthy adults.
- Assist with type 2 diabetes and obesity: Good bacteria, along with proper diet and exercise, “may represent a novel approach for treating obesity,” according to researchers. When the intestinal microbiota are improved, research suggests the enhanced environment may better control development of metabolic diseases associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes.
- Help with celiac disease. It is not uncommon for celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder in which individuals cannot tolerate gluten) to begin causing symptoms later in life. Probiotics can be helpful in maintaining a healthy intestinal tract and dealing with any symptoms of the disease, which include stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.
- Ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A new review in World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that “many studies have suggested that probiotics are effective in the treatment of IBS.” Interested individuals should talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider to determine which strains of bacteria are most beneficial.
Where to get probiotics
Good bacteria can be found in various foods (e.g., yogurt, kefir, fermented soy products, and a growing number of functional foods enhanced with probiotics) and in supplements. Various species and strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (e.g., L. acidophilus, B. lactis) are the most common types of probiotics present in both foods and nutritional products.
For general health maintenance, experts usually recommend taking a supplement that provides at least two and preferably more species of bacteria and taking a dose of at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) daily. For management of specific conditions, consult a knowledgeable healthcare professional for the probiotics best for your needs.
Baby boomers can make many positive lifestyle choices that will allow them to get the most out of life. One of those positive choices is to make sure you enhance your diet with probiotics to help maintain a balanced intestinal environment that supports overall optimal health.
Dai C et al. Probiotics and irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology 2013 Sep 28; 19(36): 5973-80
O’Toole PW et al. Probiotic bacteria and their effect on human health and well-being. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013; 107:25-31
Power SE et al. Intestinal microbiota, diet and health. British Journal of Nutrition 2013 Aug 12: 1-16