A Fat Chance

I suffer from intestinal lymphangiectasia, an extremely rare disorder which gave me a chance to change my life. A fat chance.

Location: Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

Medical student (Psychiatry), online and face-to-face facilitation, CoP practitioner, writer for and about mental illness (mainly in psychiatric rehabilitation, volunteerism and ICT) but also facilitation nonprofit and CoPs, person with mental illness in recovery.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Experimenting Probiotics and Prebiotics on Myself #1

From all the previous entries, one can detect how I did my homework. Reason for that is, I got a bowel bug that impaired my life for sixteen days, delaying my dental surgery and creating a lot of malnutrition (and consequent muscular pain and edema).

I presently am on:
FOSs: 7 grams/day (prebiotic - have used it for a week)
VSL#3: 1 envelope a day (probiotic - have used it for 4 days). VSL#3 is composed of:
Streptococcus thermophilus
Bifidobacterium breve
Bifidobacterium longum
Bifidobacterium infantis
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lactobacillus plantarum
Lactobacillus casei
Lactobacillus bulgaricus

I have tried fructose (diabetic sugar) for 4 days but would get me bloated, so I discontinued it yesterday (and am already improving).

Just today I added a functional yogurt having Bifidobacterium lactis BB12. The rationale behind that is, I seem to do great on FOSs, which feeds bifidobacteria. So, I gathered I lack bifidobacteria more than lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium lactis BB12 is not encompassed in the VSL#3 mix, thus I added it.

I might be adding Lactobacillus johnsoni La1 and Lactobacillus casei immunitas later on. I also plan to add Saccharomyces boulardi and see how it goes.

I keep my diet religious about:
1. drinking at least one cup of skim milk a day (lactose feeds bifidobacteria and lactobacilli! If we don't drink milk, or drink lactose-free one, chances are we aren't helping them help us!);
2. eat a little salad twice a day (I empirically noticed that some kind of greens are better for me than others.. radicchio and lettuce are dangerous to some degrees, but rocket, baby spinach, baby mix, spring mix are not);
3. try not to have "carb meals" alternated with "protein meals". On the contrary, I try to always eat balanced: some bread/focaccia, together with some proteins (fish, eggs, or cheese) and some greens at every meal.

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Prebiotics and IL

If probiotic comes from the ancient Greek and means "in favour of life", prebiotic still comes from Greek and means "before life".

Prebiotics are substances (not microorganisms!) that pass un-modified through the bowel. This means that our body does not modify them, while bacteria in the bowel do .

Basically, prebiotics are substances that our bodies don't eat but that our bacteria do eat. Plus, intestinal bacteria get their energy from sugars that are “leftover” because we can not digest them and from our own mucus.

Prebiotics selectively feed the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria (such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) at the expense of the less friendly putrefactive bacteria (such as bacteroides, clostridia, and other coliforms).

If we don't feed probiotics with prebiotics, even if we supplement our diet with probiotics, it will not be enough. This is the basic reason for functional food industry is going toward the commercialization of synbiotic food, having both pre- and probiotics.

Prebiotics are oligosaccharides, that is sugars "bigger" than normal sugar but "smaller" than starch.

The main prebiotics are:
*fructooligosaccharides (FOS), normally found in Jerusalem artichoke tubers, dandelion root, burdock root, onions, leeks, some grains, garlic, wheat, bananas, asparagus, tomatoes, yacon, raisins, prunes and honey;
*galattooligosaccharides (GOS), normally found in human milk (and some humanized baby formula, especially in the EU);
*inulin, normally found in dahlia tubers, burdock roots, chicory roots and greens.

Interestingly, bacterial species differ in the types of sugars required for growth. Bifidobacteria grew well on FOSs and inulin, while lactobacilli grow poorly on these sugars.

The by-products of the metabolism of these sugars are primarily short-chain fatty acids, which are considered to be "food" for the bowel cells in the colon.

Coming to IL, why is it all so interesting?

Because among the several aspects affecting the gut microflora, high levels of fat in the stool as well as high level of proteins can negatively affect the level of Bifidobacteria.

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What Probiotics Are

Probiotics are bacteria and/or yeasts that help our body by helping a healthy balance of our bowel flora.

They do not have to be confused with yogurts, because:
* they are alive, like some yogurts
* they are administered by mouth, like any other food
* they reach the bowel alive, and this is the big difference they have with respect to yogurts!

So, actually, probiotic foods are more similar to kefir, which verifies these properties and is a dairy product fermented with bacteria and some yeasts.

When we go to the market and browse the yogurt section, we happen to find dairy products that claim to have probiotics in them. Some do, some do not. The rule of the thumb is to check the list of probiotic strains before buying a "probiotic" product.

This being said, probiotics can be classified as either bacteria (such as some Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, Lactococcus, Streptococcus and Enterococcus strains) or yeasts (such as Saccharomyces boulardii).

Different probiotic strains have been tested and proven effective in different kind of disorders. The most striking examples are the use of VSL#3 for IBD.

The way their presence in the bowel works is very simple. By being there and being alive, they produce lactic acid. Lactic acid diminishes the pH of the lumen, making it more acid. Enhanced acidity inhibits the growth of "bad" bacteria, which causes intestinal infections (mainly rotavirus diarrhea - the "usual" summer bugs, and antibiotic induced diarrhea - due to Clostridium difficile), UTI (through Escherichia coli overgrowth) and vaginal infections (both vaginosis and Candida's).