The Pros of Probiotics

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2014

Not all bacteria is bad. Keep your good bacteria levels up to reap health benefits.

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When we think of bacteria we automatically assume the “bad guys” and sure enough, there are plenty of those bad bacteria out there and inside us.

However, we require and need a significant amount of bacteria for optimal health. These bacteria are the “good guys.” You may know these little soldiers as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum (to name only a couple).

It’s a balance of the good and bad bacteria that help us maintain optimal health. The microflora (the name given to these microorganisims) live in our gastrointestinal, urinary and respiratory tracts.

We have more than 100,000 billion bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract and more than 400 species of bacteria. That’s pretty impressive since that’s more than the 10,000 billion cells we have in our entire body.

Urinary Tract Infections

Following a spinal-cord injury (SCI) a person may often experience a neurogenic bladder, which requires catheterization or other urinary devices to help drain the bladder. This can introduce those unwanted bad bacteria into the bladder and can lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

UTIs are a constant and lifelong threat to individuals with SCI. In fact, approximately 80% of individuals with SCI will develop bladder infections over their lifetime, some chronic in nature.

As a result of these infections, a person is often put on antibiotics and in some cases, individuals can be on these antibiotics for a long time.

Prolonged and repeated use of antibiotics can actually increase the risk of UTIs by:

-Developing bacteria that are resistant to drugs, causing repeated infections.

-Destroying good bacteria in your gut, compromising your immune system.

-Destroying the protective shield of good bacteria that line your urethra. When antibiotics are used for long periods of time, this protective shield is stripped away or replaced by less effective organisms.

Plenty of Positives

Probiotics are needed to help boost the immune system and reduce infections.

When someone is placed on antibiotics the gut can be exposed to such problems as parasite, urinary tract and yeast infections. A common example of this is candida. Supplementing with a probiotic can prevent this from happening as well as treating any yeast or urinary tract infections that can occur.

Probiotics such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum actually help the body make vitamin K and biotin. Biotin is important for fat metabolism, slows down the graying of hair and helps with skin problems such as dermatitis and eczema. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting.

Probiotics also produce antibacterial substances which kill or deactivate harmful bacteria and they help the efficiency of your digestive system. They may also help to protect against colon cancer, the adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and may help treat allergies.

Additionally, probiotics can assist with regulating the bowels, which is often an issue with individuals with SCI who suffer from neurogenic bowels. Not only can they help with constipation, but also with diarrhea and diverticulitis. Both common problems that can occur in individuals with SCI.

Some people will take probiotics as a preventative measure against food poisoning especially when travelling to foreign places.

Probiotic vs. Prebiotic

Prebiotics are the food that probiotics feed off. Prebiotics are also known as inulin or FOS (fructooligosaccharides).

Our intestines can’t digest these carbohydrate molecules and they’re left to ferment in the colon and in turn, feed and promote the growth of our good bacteria.

So how can we keep our good bacteria up?

Consuming foods that contain probiotics is a great start. Unsweetened yogurt contains these active cultures. Other fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and miso all contain probiotics.

Refraining from sugar and refined carbohydrates is important as they’re bad bacteria’s fuel, which will help it grow and flourish.

You should also look at taking a probiotic.

Picking a Probiotic

When looking at buying a probiotic you want to look at the following things:

-A minimum of eight billion active bacteria cultures

-Should contain lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidus

-If you have a bladder infection or are wanting to prevent one it should contain lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus fermentum

-Ideally buy freeze-dried probiotics as they keep the flora dormant until it enters your body

-Keep it stored in the fridge

If you’re on antibiotics, you can take probiotics. You just need to take them two hours apart. If you’ve completed a course of antibiotics you need to take probiotics for at least two to three months.

For more information, visit

Kylie James, CNP, and Joanne Smith, CNP, are co-authors of the Paralyzed Veterans of America-supported book Eat Well, Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury.


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