Importance of Intestinal Health

Destruction of the World Within
A war is raging. An entire world is under attack. In a classic battle, billions of inhabitants, along with the environment they live in, may be headed for destruction. This is not a page out of a science fiction novel. This is real for the world within your intestinal tract. Your intestinal tract is truly teeming with life. Somewhere between 100 to 400 different species of microscopic bacteria live in the intestine. With a population numbering as high as 100 trillion, these bacteria can be 100 times more plentiful than all the body’s other cells combined. But like any world, there are both helpful and harmful residents in this bacterial population. The harmful tenaciously fight for supremacy. They try to overpower the helpful and then try to move on to conquer new worlds.

The helpful bacteria stand in their way. They want to keep the harmful bacteria in check, to create a balance that is tipped in favor of good health. By creating this balance, they serve as a force in favor of the health of the intestinal world and the health of the whole body.

It is obvious, then, that we need to support our helpful bacteria in their battle, but we seem to be doing the opposite! Wholesale destruction of our healthy bacteria may be occurring largely as a result of habits we have developed. This may create a serious challenge to our intestinal and overall health. But there is hope; it is easy to change these habits.

The Effect of Antibiotics: One habit that is sometimes lethal to the bacterial world inside us is the overuse of antibiotics. With the discovery and implementation of antibiotics, the world believed that infectious disease would be conquered. But over-prescribing of antibiotics has become common. Every year over 35 million pounds of antibiotics are consumed by humans, livestock, and poultry in the U.S. Humans may also unknowingly consume second-hand antibiotics hidden in meat, poultry, and dairy products.

The overall effect has not only been destruction of the healthful bacteria in the human intestinal tract, but also the establishment of strains of harmful bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Over the last 30 years, strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria have turned up for almost every bacterial disease. The seriousness of the problem is reflected in the fact that, in 1992, 13,300 hospital patients died of infections that resisted every drug doctors tried. In 1993 the number grew to 70,000 whom died as a result of hospital-acquired, antibiotic-resistant infections.

According to one representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “It is probably the number one public health issue.” According to scientific authorities, when helpful bacteria are destroyed by antibiotics, harmful bacteria may proliferate in the intestines. The balance of the bacterial population may then be tipped in favor of the bad bacteria, resulting in production of a large variety of toxins in the intestine. This may also contribute to virulent infections that may not be contained in the intestine and, as a result, may infect other areas of the body. Damage to the Intestinal Wall In addition to preserving and promoting a healthy bacterial population in the intestine, it is also important to maintain the health of the structure bacteria live on – the intestinal lining itself.

Contrary to that goal may be practices that have been shown to induce unfavorable effects on the intestinal wall. These include: alcohol abuse; consumption of raw eggs, raw oysters, and other foods that may produce bacterial infections in the intestines and diarrhea; consumption of aspirin and other pain killers that can damage the intestinal lining; use of broad spectrum antibiotics which may result in diarrhea or yeast infections; and bad diets that may lead to poor intestinal health.
Diet and Intestinal Health: The average American diet consists of highly refined and processed food and is generally not conducive to achieving optimal intestinal health. It provides an excess of simple sugars and fats and is deficient in nutritionally adequate, whole, unprocessed foods and fiber. Consumption of this diet is associated with less frequent bowel movements and a number of forms of chronic intestinal ill health. It not only might work to move the intestinal balance toward the overgrowth of unhealthful bacteria and the proliferation of yeast or fungal organisms, it may also lead to deterioration of the intestinal wall.

Supporting Intestinal Health: People have long supported intestinal health by consuming natural probiotics in the form of cultured dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and fermented milks. The term “probiotic” refers to organisms and/or supportive substances that beneficially affect the balance of the intestinal bacteria. Classic among the probiotics are Bifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Their supportive properties may include the production of organic acids that inhibit the growth of certain undesirable bacteria, the promotion of normal gastrointestinal function, and the promotion of a healthy intestinal wall, to mention a few. Dietary fiber is also very important. Animal studies have shown that adding fiber to a liquid diet reduces the amount of bacteria crossing the intestinal wall and getting into circulation by almost 90%. Complex carbohydrates, known as fructooligosaccharides(FOS), are fiber-like in that humans do not digest them but they serve as food for healthful bacteria. In a study conducted with 23 elderly patients, it increased the quantity of friendly bifidobacteria in their system by 1,000%. Certain bioactive proteins are another class of supportive substances that qualify as probiotics. They are produced in the body naturally, or can be obtained from various foods. They help maintain the balance of healthful intestinal bacteria by inhibiting those that are unhealthful. Lactoferrin, for example, is an iron-binding protein that prevents the unhealthful bacteria from getting the iron it needs to live. Lactoperoxidase is a protein enzyme that, in various ways, damages unhealthful bacteria. Certain immunoglobulins derived from whey protein help prevent unhealthful bacteria from attaching to the intestinal wall, making them easy to eliminate. Additionally, it is important to make sure that a good diet includes pure water. Use of tap water derived from a municipal source contains chlorine which may destroy healthful bacteria in the intestine.

Recommendations for Optimal Intestinal Health

Avoid the use of broad spectrum antibiotics and NSAIDs as much as possible.

Avoid alcohol, chlorinated water, and refined sugar and fat rich foods.

Eat a diet rich in whole, unprocessed, nutritionally adequate foods and fiber. Also consider adding fiber-like fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to your diet.

Supplement your diet with high quality, healthful bacterial products such as Bifidobacteria infantis and the NCFM strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus.

Finally, consume a diet rich in, and/or supplemented with, probiotic proteins such as lactoperoxidase, lactoferrin, and globulin proteins.

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MET131 Rev. 6/99 ©1997 Advanced Nutrition Publications, Inc., revised 1999