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Probiotics: First Line of Defense Against a Food Supply Gone Haywire

Natasha Trenev

A man complains of severe lower abdominal distress, including severe cramps, nausea, vomiting – a condition of many years’ standing. He begins taking daily parabiotic (beneficial bacteria) supplements and experiences relief for the first time. A Woman, diagnosed with ‘everything’ wrong with her bowels, suffers for 30 years and can’t go anywhere unless there is a restroom nearby. She decides to augment her daily routine with parabiotic. Her turnaround is so dramatic, her family physician husband is completely amazed.

We see impressive, even amazing, results on a regular basis with persons who suffer from some type of intestinal illness, and who decide to add parabiotic to their daily health regimen. It is becoming increasingly clear to researchers and medical professionals involved in this arena that beneficial bacteria play a crucial role in helping to support our intestinal and immune systems. Yet the role played by parabiotic is still not fully understood by all health practitioners.

While beneficial bacteria reside in the intestinal tract and directly affect the health of our complex internal ecosystem, we are seeing overwhelming evidence that they also indirectly influence the health and function of major organs in the body and the optimal performance of the immune system itself. A strong gastro-intestinal tract is truly the gateway to good health. It is the fuelling station as well as the waste-management system for the body. If the gastro-intestinal tract is continuously supplied with the properly selected beneficial bacteria-super strains of L. acidophilus, B. bifidum and L. bulgaricus – it has a much greater ability to digest food efficiently.

When food is properly digested, the body can absorb nutrients without inciting allergic responses. Bioavailability is the key issue regarding digested food and nutrients and therefore paramount for the body’s proper functioning. Selected super strains of L. acidophilus (such as the NAS) and B. bifidum (such as the Malyoth) are genetically predisposed to adhere to the small and large intestinal wall to exclude disease-causing (pathogenic) bacteria from obtaining attachment sites. This genetic predisposition can be manifested by the selected super strains only when they are produced in a medium that encourages such predisposition. When the selected super strains employ competitive exclusion correctly, the immune system is spared from hyperactivity due to bacterial translocation. Furthermore, components of cell wall fractions and other cellular material stimulate immunoglobulin activity and enhance macrophage function while normalizing white blood cell counts. These special beneficial bacterial features are strain specific. Immune system hyperactivity is further reduced by the beneficial bacteria’s competitive exclusion of pathogenic bacteria. Beneficial bacteria only make non-invasive attachments. Pathogenic bacteria make invasive attachments that lead to micro sepsis along the intestinal wall, leading to inflammation and, of course, a diseased state. On the other hand, when the tasks of the selected strains of beneficial bacteria are successfully carried out, the overall immune system is strengthened and supported.


Our intestinal tract teams with different species of microorganisms – 400 of them – weighing 3  pounds. Remember, up to 40% of our dry weight faecal matter is composed of bacteria! Some of the beneficial to the host – others are chameleons or not so friendly. The internal microbiological ecology is a rapidly changing one requiring continuous replenishment of beneficial bacteria, which are depleted daily by outside environment pollutants and food contamination. Even when our external environment is relatively ‘clean’ by age 40 we begin to lose most of our beneficial flora by virtue of the aging process. What’s important for all age groups is to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria while minimizing the proliferation of the unfriendly ones.

Beneficial bacteria are single-celled organisms that occur singly, in pairs, and in short chains. They are normally present in the skin, the mouth, the digestive system, and the vaginal mucosa of humans, where they perform a wide variety of indispensable functions to protect their hosts against harmful bacteria. Their capacity to survive through the GI tract in spite of gastric acidity and bile salt toxicity is essential for beneficial bacteria to have any biological effect on the body. Selecting strains, growth mediums, production methods, and delivery systems is crucial to the survival of probiotic supplements.

Beneficial bacteria are also called lactic bacteria, for their ability to transform lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. Lactic acid functions as a digestive antiseptic and facilitates the efficient absorption of calcium and phosphorus in milk products. When lactobacilli are continually grown in a non-dairy medium, they forget to produce lactase, an enzyme necessary to digest lactose (milk sugar). It is ironic that consumers are told to take a non-dairy based probiotic supplement to assist them with their lactose intolerance. These beneficial bacteria make the lactase for their own use. When lactic bacteria are not grown in milk, they have no need to produce lactase.

It is most important to remember that beneficial bacteria minimize the proliferation and effects of the many dangerous pathogens found readily in the world’s food supply. Beneficial bacteria minimize these illnesses, excluding pathogens by competing with them for attachment sites on the intestinal walls. When the population of selected super strains of beneficial bacteria in the intestine is increased, vitamin B6 is produced, helping to boost the immune system.

The effect of L. acidophilus in assisting digestion has been promoted through mainstream advertising efforts. Unfortunately, most so-called acidophilus supplements do not contain L. acidophilus and therefore would not exhibit the special features of a super strain. Not as well understood by many is how effectively super strains of L. acidophilus work in concert with B. bifidum and L. bulgaricus to help promote a healthy and strong immune system. Some health professionals, especially those in complementary and alternative health care, value beneficial bacteria supplementation to support optimal health. However, oftentimes because of its high profile, it is L. acidophilus that is recommended to the exclusion of B. bifidum and L. bulgaricus, thus demonstrating an information gap concerning the ‘wholistic’ probiotic approach. The fact is when all three selected strains of these beneficial bacteria are present in sufficient numbers in the intestinal tract, they work synergistically to offset and control the effects of pathogenic bacteria, thereby promoting health.

What does this synergistic activity consist of, and how does it positively affect the human host? Each of the bacteria – L. acidophilus, B. bifidum and L. bulgaricus – produce natural antimicrobial substances, enzymes, and vitamins that help promote a healthy digestive and disposal system. These include but are not limited to lactic acid, acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, acidolin, acidophilin, lactocidin, lactobacilin, bifidin, bulgarican, protease, amylase, lactase, and vitamins, all of which are very strain specific. These substances assist the digestive system and help strengthen the immune system, thereby providing protection against pathogenic bacteria.

The presence of the antimicrobial substances in the supernatant (original culturing medium), along with the high numbers of viable probiotic cells in uniquely produced and selected probiotics, have been cited in independent studies as highly effective agents against pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, and Staphylococcus aureus. The presence of the supernatant is as important as the living cells in a superior probiotic supplement.

L. acidophilus, for instance, helps the body digest and absorb nutrients from food and vitamins in the small intestine without allowing the immune system to become hypersensitive. Unchecked immune function hypersensitivity leads to allergic reactions. In the female vaginal tract, where yeast infections can occur, the super stain of acidophilus helps produce tiny amounts of hydrogen peroxide to prevent these infections. With B. bifidum, researchers have discovered that its use can result in improved liver function for patients with liver disease and can assist in lowering blood toxin levels. Bifidum also produces vitamin B and formic, lactic, and acetic acid – all of which discourage the activity of disease-causing bacteria. As for L. bulgaricus, its role in the large intestine is to escort the unwanted pathogens out through the normal elimination process. It also assists the body to digest food components like proteins and carbohydrates and helps monitor the pH factor to support a healthy internal ecology.


Dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli can easily upset the balance of this internal environment in the body-causing serious illness, even death.

Recent news reports have feature frequent food-poisoning outbreaks. In June of 1998, 4500 people in Chicago were sickened by potato salad tainted with E. coli in one of the country’s largest outbreaks. That same month in Georgia, a virulent form of E. coli traced to a water park sickened at least six children. Once more in June 1998, a Minneapolis food company recalled millions of pounds of cereal sold under 39 brand names because of a possible link to a Salmonella outbreak in 11 states. In addition, 40 to 60 percent of the chicken flock in the U.S. is infected with Salmonella, and a whopping 80 percent is infected with H. pylori, the cause of stomach ulcers, and stomach and colon cancers. In August of 1998 over 125 were sickened by barbecue meat and sauce tainted with salmonella at a restaurant in Columbiana, Alabama, resulting in one death and numerous persons hospitalized.

An Australian doctor claims that 50 percent of the world’s human population is infected with H. pylori. From the E. coli breakout in Japan in 1996 that sickened thousands and almost caused the government to quarantine a whole city, to the strawberry scare throughout the United States in the spring of 1997, as well as the ‘Mad Cow Disease’ that erupted in Europe and came to the forefront of the news in 1996 – food poisoning is rampant and thriving worldwide. The Centres for Disease Control and the World Health Organization attribute this rise in food-poisoning outbreaks to several causes. Among them are high consumer demand for ready-made foods, ignorance about correct food storage temperatures, poor and inappropriate food preparation, and poor hygiene, along with the continually changing nature and escalating emergence of a new drug resistant microorganisms. According to Mitchell Hooke, executive director for the Australia Food Council and the Food Safety Industry Advisory Group, part of the problem is that today there is an entire range of microorganisms causing food poisoning. Thirty years ago, there were only three or four microorganisms that caused food-borne illnesses.

Although meat and poultry are definite culprits, eating vegetarian meals is not necessarily the answer. Fruits, vegetables, and grains (as indicated above) have also been tainted. The entire worldwide food supply is at risk. With increased international importation and exportation, germs travel easily across oceans and continents. Using meat from many different sources in a ground beef patty, for instance, can spread many pathogens from any given source throughout the prepared food rather than just staying on the surface where they can be easily cooked off.

E. coli has become the fourth most common cause of food poisoning in the northwest United State and is spreading via the beef produced there. If a person is infected with food poisoning from raw meat, illness can strike from 30 minutes to two weeks later, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The scary part is that this could result in a potentially life-threatening illness that may not respond to antibiotic therapy. The USDA is stepping up inspections of beef for the presence of the particular E. coli strain that can cause chronic kidney failure. Although the 0157:H7 strain of E. coli – which produces the virulent shiga toxin – has gained notoriety over the last several years, it is only one of many dangerous E. coli strains. In the late 1980s, cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) caused by oil strains of E. coli were reported in Australia. Other outbreaks of Oil strains have been reported in Italy, France and Germany.

E. coli is not the only culprit, Salmonella and Shigella are, of course, in great supply. Salmonella is known to cause vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, and abdominal cramps, and Shigella can cause dysentery. Campylobacter (reclassified as Helicobacter pylori) has been associated with peptic ulcers in several studies. These bacteria present a crucial threat to humans, especially with the increase in chicken consumption in the United States. Unfortunately, studies show a great percentage of poultry sold in US grocery stores are contaminated with H. pylori (campylobacter). Part of the problem is the fact that H. pylori survives at refrigerator temperatures even better than at room temperature, and it likes to live with just a small amount of oxygen. Consequently, it thrives in plastic-wrapped packages of poultry at the grocery store. H. pylori can cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, and has been associated with meningitis, convulsions, bacteraemia and, occasionally, miscarriage.

A 1995 USDA study estimates that Salmonella and H. pylori in meat and poultry cause a shocking four million cases of illness and 3,000 deaths a year. The total number of food-poisoning cases of U.S. residents every year is increasing, and as many as 9,000 die from it.


In light of the growing dangers of food contamination, food poisoning, and the growing spread of vancomycin-resistant pathogens found in our food supply and hospitals, daily supplementation with the selected super-strains of beneficial bacteria becomes ever more important. Though we all want to stay healthy and live longer and more productive lives, many still wonder why probiotics should be recommended for daily intake. This approach can be equated with another daily process we all follow to stay healthy. No one complains about brushing and flossing their teeth two or three times a day. Why should one object to taking probiotic supplements for the rest of one’s life? The logic is the same for both approaches:

Brushing and flossing is necessary to minimize bacterial-associated problems of tooth-decay and gum disease by minimizing the amount of bacteria present in the mouth after eating.

Daily supplementation of a regulated and tested probiotic ensures that one person receives adequate amounts of bacteria, including L. acidophilus for the small intestine, B. bifidum for the large intestine, and L. bulgaricus for transient bacteria control, to benefit the entire intestinal tract.

Even beneficial residents such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum get excreted out of the body because their attachment is non-invasive; therefore, they can be sloughed off by new intestinal cell growth, colon cleansers, and antibiotic preparations both herbal and pharmaceutical in nature. Thus, supplementing with properly selected probiotics daily is critical to maintain high levels of beneficial bacteria to continuously help eliminate pathogens from the body and to escort the uprooted pathogens out of the intestinal system.

Natasha Trenev, founder of Natren, Inc. is a researcher, educator, lecturer, and author in the field of probiotics. She wrote the dairy standards for liquid yoghurt that were adopted by the California Department of Agriculture; testified to set probiotic standards for kefir that were adopted by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets and helped write the probiotic standards adopted by the National Nutritional Foods Association and read into the U.S. Congressional Record. She is the author of two books on probiotics.