Science in Society Archive

Health-promoting Germs

Cultivate Health from Within: Dr. Shahani's Guide to Probiotics by Dr. Khem M. Shahani, Dr Betsy F. Meshkesher and Dr. Venkat Mangalampalli, Vital Books Publishing, P.O. Box 152, Ridgefield CT. 2004 Rhea Gala reviews

Cultivate Health from Within: Dr. Shahani's Guide to Probiotics

Here's a book to change your view on germs forever.

'Probiotics' are beneficial bacteria that live in our gut, helping us to digest our food and maintain a healthy immune system. If we've overlooked our relationship with our own bacteria up until now, then this new book will open up a whole new exotic world of friendly bacteria that keep us in good health. Cooperating with this inner life could add years to our lives.

"At birth and throughout life, the large intestine is a bacterium's idea of paradise. The human gut provides food, shelter, and warmth for these microbes to proliferate.

Most of us are aware of the changes that have occurred in the outer world of Earth today - the macroecology. Just as toxic chemicals have harmed the macroecology, for many of us, our inner world - the microecology of the gastrointestinal system - has also been harmed and changed."

Apparently there are three and a half pounds of bacteria in the human intestines; more bacteria than there are people in the world, at several thousand billion, and more than the total number of cells in the human body! In the healthy body, less than one percent of these bacteria are pathogenic, but in the wrong environment, they can spiral upwards in numbers and cause anything from mild distress to virulent disease and death.

More than 400 species of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) have been identified, which promote the production of lactic acid that removes detrimental pathogenic bacteria from the system. They belong to six major groups and more minor groups; but very few have yet been researched. By providing our probiotic bacteria with a healthy food supply – 'prebiotics' - a flourishing community is maintained throughout our gut that protects us against numerous disease conditions. The prebiotics, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), available in common healthy foods, encourage the proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria.

The book gives a comprehensive review of the disadvantages of the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in human and animal health and especially as growth promoters in animals. It describes how the action of beneficial bacteria can eliminate resistant pathogenic bacteria from the gut after antibiotic use, and how they heal a leaky gut so that disease cannot take hold. The authors recommend a lifestyle that enables probiotics to prevent disease, rather than using antibiotics to suppress symptoms or to give a (often temporary) cure.

"When an oral antibiotic is swallowed, beneficial bacteria are killed, allowing yeast to grow unchecked in the intestines. Their tendrils poke holes in the lining of the intestinal walls creating a "leaky gut." Yeast can then escape and infiltrate other bodily tissues, causing suppression of the entire immune system."

"When prescribed for cold or flu, antibiotics are worthless; yet this is a common practice. According to several studies, children who were given antibiotics for acute ear infections suffered double the rate of adverse effects as compared to children who were given placebos."

Khem M. Shahani is widely regarded as one of the world's leading researchers on the role of lactobacilli and gastrointestinal bacteria in human nutrition and health. He has worked for many years at the University of Nebraska where he and his team isolated, developed and optimised exceptional strains of lactic acid bacteria, which have become internationally acclaimed for their probiotic qualities and distributed worldwide.

This work is the continuation of an age-old tradition that has been largely forgotton in developed countries. Eating the LAB-fermented milk (yoghurt) of cows, sheep, goats, camels and horses was said to be the cause of longevity in Eastern Europe. The probiotic Lactobacillus bulgaricus was named after observing very old but fit people living in Bulgarian villages.

The authors describe 24 major beneficial effects of probiotics, with compelling accounts of the research that backs up these claims. Live yoghurt, other high calcium foods, and assorted green vegetables, suddenly feature strongly on the shopping list. Some examples of benefits described after taking probiotics are given in the Box.

Some benefit of probiotics

  • augments the immune system
  • alleviates anxiety
  • prevents arterial disease, lowering cholesterol
  • prevents and controls diarrhoea
  • inhibits food pathogens and enhances food preservation
  • inhibits tumours and carcinogenesis
  • fights fungal/yeast/candida infections
  • promotes/aids liver function and detoxification
  • produces natural antibiotic-like agents that fight and prevent bacterial infections
  • prevents osteoporosis
  • promotes longevity

On the subject of tumour suppression, the authors write:

"Over the last 30 years, several studies have revealed that lactic cultures possess anticarcinogenic properties and are capable of suppressing tumor growth through various mechanisms. The most effective organism for this purpose is L. bulgaricus, but a review of findings from Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, Japan, and the United States show that antitumor properties have also been credited to special strains of Bifidobacterium infantis, S. thermophilus, L. acidophilus, L. helveticus, L. casei, and L. lactis.

Hints that lactobacillus can be helpful in treating cancer originated from Bulgaria. In a book published in 1982, Bulgarian physician Ivan Bogdanov discussed his experiences in treating 100 cancer patients with a hydrolyzed extract of Lactobacillus bulgaricus.

Bogdanov administered the extract orally or intravenously to his patients, who suffered from dozens of types of cancer. In some cases, the extract was given to counter the effects of radiation and chemotherapy; where other therapies had failed, the extract was given alone. Bogdanov stated that the results differed among the patients, ranging from partial remissions to total cures."

A snippet of the advice given to candida patients:

"To improve their inner ecology and restore a proper pH balance, it is recommended that candida patients make the proper dietary changes and avoid unnecessary burdening of the body with antibiotics and other harmful substances. Incorporating a good exercise program into the lifestyle is also suggested to give the lymphatic system adequate circulation so the body may heal."

The advantages of the natural probiotic route to good health for the newborn, young and old alike are explained, beginning from the newborn child receiving its first microbes through mother's milk. However, the mothers' gut microecology is now thought to be imbalanced, so that the health of a breast-fed baby's gut today is comparable to that of a formula fed baby of a generation ago.

A description of the connection between gut bacteria, sleep and the immune system is really fascinating, while practical advice on how good health can be achieved and maintained makes this book more than just a very good read.

The lead author has received numerous scientific awards for his original research and has convinced clinicians around the world of the outstanding health benefits available from probiotics. Now he and his coworkers have made this complex subject accessible for mass readership.

The book is attractively laid out with diagrams and a strong structure that treats the material from a variety of perspectives. The style is lucid, fresh and descriptive. It ends with a chapter on frequently asked questions that addresses many practical areas of interest for the reader, plus a full list of references to the text.

Article first published 19/04/05

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