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consciouseating Funny Tummy?


Probiotic Foods Can Fix a Troubled Gut by Kathleen Barnes


Gas, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea and constipation—each of these digestive issues indicates an imbalance of “good” and “bad” intestinal bacteria.


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hronic digestive discomfort is distressingly common. More than 60 million Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), notes Dr. Mark Pimentel, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, in Los Ange- les, and author of A New IBS Solution. Many are too embarrassed to mention it to their doctor, so they suffer silently and learn to live with it.


Multiple Culprits


While digestive distress can visit most of us occasionally, regular bouts have increased due to high-stress lifestyles and unhealthy diets, according to Dr. Dustin James, a St. Louis, Missouri, gastroenterologist and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Digestive Health. “Getting home late after a stressful day, eating a high-fat meal and then going to bed is a recipe for prob- lems,” he says.


James advises a food-free interlude of four to six hours before bedtime and notes that prescription and over-the- counter heartburn medications can actually worsen the problem over time. Pimentel, citing his own research, also suggests that even a minor case of food poisoning may unbalance diges- tive bacteria enough to cause problems for years. “We think food poisoning leads to bacterial overgrowth,” says Pimentel.


In his clinical experience, James says about 10 percent of IBS cases can be connected to the food poi- soning theory. Although such cases are typically treated with an antibi-


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otic, rifaximin, many experts ironically attribute bacterial overgrowth to the use of antibiotics. All antibiotics, taken for any reason, indiscriminately kill both good and bad intestinal bacteria, ultimately creating unbalanced bacte- ria colonies in the digestive tract, says James. “There can be bad long-term effects,” he advises. James’ antibiotics theory is affirmed by a major Austra- lian review of current research on the links between antibiotics and intestinal bacterial overgrowth.


Sugar is another culprit as are antibiotics in dairy products and meats, which can also aggravate digestive problems. Sugar feeds the growth of unfriendly bacteria and yeast and anti- biotics kill friendly bacteria, contribut- ing to imbalances.


The U.S. obesity epidemic has even been linked to digestive


problems. In a study published in the journal Frontiers of Public Health, researchers at the University of Califor- nia-Berkeley warn against long-term exposure to antibiotics through their widespread use in the dairy and meat industries. One animal study from Washington University, in St. Louis, showed that intestinal bacteria tend to extract more nutrients—and more calo- ries—from the same foods when eaten by obese animals than when ingested by thinner ones. This helps explain why obese people tend to stay obese without heroic measures.


Good Food Solutions There is considerable agreement that probiotics—live bacteria such as those contained in fermented foods like quality yogurt—help rebalance beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and ease ailments that include IBS. Due to U.S. food regulations, yogurt is routinely pasteurized, which kills its probiotic benefits; conscien- tious suppliers then add active diges- tive microorganisms, like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, back into their products.


“Check yogurt labels for specific names of the species and a certification that it contains live cultures,” counsels Maria Marco, Ph.D., an assistant profes- sor of food science at the University of California-Davis.


Coconut yogurt may be preferred by those with dairy-free diets. Dairy is acid- forming and can be difficult to digest. Many fermented foods can provide the same probiotics to ease digestive woes and restore a healthy balance of the right bacteria. Sauerkraut, rich in Lactobacillus and other strains of healthy bacteria, is at the top of the list. It’s easy to make super-healthy sauer- kraut at home with shredded organic cabbage and salt.


Other fermented foods to put high on a natural probiotic list include: miso, kefir, tempeh, soft cheese, kim- chi, sour pickles and sourdough bread. James recommends two daily servings of high-quality yogurt or other fermented foods to obtain the 2 to 5


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