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What is a probiotic?A probiotic is a type of microorganism (a tiny, microscopic organism) that helps your body function in various ways. Its name is of Latin origin, meaning “for life.” These microorganisms aren’t a rarity: they are everywhere in nature. But even though they are bacteria, that doesn’t mean they are “harmful germs.” Despite the word association, people are beginning to favor these bacteria. Data from a 2012 national health survey showed that about 4 million adults had used probiotics in the last 30 days. That’s a lot of people who like bacteria! With that many people interested in probiotics, we must wonder: Are probiotics even good for a colon cleanse? In the context of a colon cleanse, probiotics are loosely related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While sellers of supplement-based probiotics would never claim they solve IBS, they’ll place a litany of asterisks next to claims to be safe. There has been quite some research on the relation between probiotics and colon cleansing, but scientists say it’s far from conclusive. Let’s sift fact from fiction about probiotics.
What do probiotics do?Many look to use probiotics to allieviate a host a health problems, such as…
- Digestive disorders like diarrhea or IBS
- Allergic disorders like eczema or hay fever
- Liver disease
- The common cold
Here’s why:Depending on the probiotic we use (because there are 10x as many probiotics as there are cells in our body), researchers are unsure which does what, and if it does what they think it does. One type of probiotic may do nothing similar for the body that another probiotic does. It’s like saying since a Corvette and a Buggy are both just vehicles for transportation, they’re the same. Even if the probiotics look the same, have the same source, and are touted to treat the same ailment–they aren’t. We could be [figuratively] washing our car with dish soap. According to the FDA, no probiotics have been approved as demonstrating substantive treatment of any health problems. In other words, the FDA, the grand arbiter of claims, is not giving us a verdict: so don’t get high hopes about probiotics.
How do probiotics respond to the colon?As mentioned above, probiotic benefits vary from spectrum to spectrum–but do they interact with the colon? In order to answer what probiotics target, we have to learn [briefly] about process of cleansing the colon. If you look at your body’s digestive process, there are five main processes from start to finish:
1. First, you ingest food or liquid through the mouth (obviously). 2. Second, the food or liquid travels to the stomach to become digested as chyme. 3. Third, the chyme travels through the small intestine for the bulk of its nutrients to be absorbed. 4. Fourth, the chyme travels through the large intestine where the water or any liquids are absorbed. 5. Last, the chyme, now pretty much a ball of waste, is situated in the colon for ejection.For a fun, interactive look at the colon process, see it here. Probiotics’ role is located in the gut, the stomach. They are responsible for the “gut micro-biota,” some scientists call the “forgotten organ.” When probiotics are used for a colon cleanse, they target these microbiota, which are responsible–or at least largely contribute to–your gut health. But what determines our gut health?
Your gut health at infancyWhen you’re first born (oh the good ol’ days), your intestinal tract was sterile. You were CLEAN. Then, your gut was colonized by maternal and environmental bacteria, and then was populated by feeding and other contacts. Some studies have demonstrated a possible link between probiotics and long-term impacts to your colonic microbiota–as scientists have long thought that positive effects on the microbiota were transient (that your microbiota always fully recovered). This means there may be a foundation for the gut health from using probiotics.
Should I take probiotics, then?That is your choice, but I wouldn’t bet on a significant improvement for your colon. If you are looking for something closer to “gut health,” then there are plenty of free alternatives for probiotics. You can eat…
- Miso soup
- Kefir (fermented milk)
- Dark chocolate