Can Yogurt (DOI) Fight Disease?

Your immune system's backbone

More than 400 types of bacteria populate your gastrointestinal tract. Collectively, they're called intestinal flora, and aside from merely living in your small and large intestines, they comprise nearly 70 percent of your immune system. They're essential to your body's ability to protect itself from all sorts of assaults. 'These organisms not only form your body's front line of defense against infection by food-borne bacteria, but they may also boost Rhite blood cell production, quicken immune response and increase nutrient absorption," explains Pat Baird, R.D., a digestive disorder specialist and author of Be Good to Your Gut. In addition, research suggests that intestinal flora can help the body produce specialized antibodies that prevent recurring infections.

Some of the bacteria in your body, however, aren't so protective, and can even be dangerous if left unchecked. "Antibiotic use or overuse is the most common cause of intestinal flora imbalances, but poor diet is also a factor," explains Baird. That's where consuming probiotics - either in food or from supplements - comes in. "These products contain good bugs that help control the growth of bad bacteria by competing for nutrients ad space in the digestive tract," explains Baird. One study found that women who ate probiotic-packed dairy foods at least three omzs per week suffered nearly 80 per cent fewer urinary tract infections than women who ate them once a week or less. Research saggests that they may help ward off diarrhoea and constipation and lessen the effects of lactose intolerance. Eating just 100 gms of yoghurt twice a day may even keep bad breath at bay by controlling bacterial overgrowth on the back of the tongue, according to Japanese researchers.

How probiotics prolong life

Other preliminary studies have found that probiotic bacteria may prevent precancerous changes from occurring in colon cells. Consuming probiotic dairy products, like yoghurt, may also help lower total cholesterol and improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad, cutting your risk of atherosclerosis (a major precursor of stroke and heart disease).

Whether future findings will confirm these benefits is unknown, but for some dieticians, it doesn't matter. "Including more probiotic-packed foods in your diet seems like a no-brainer, especially since they pose no harm," says Baird. In fact, most experts advise consuming them on a regular basis - if not every day, then close to it. "The idea is to continually replenish your intestinal flora and keep the population strong," explains Dr. Walker.

Getting your dose of bacteria

Not not all probiotic-rich foods are created equal. Milk can be turned into yoghurt with the help of several different strains of bacteria, but only the hardies - Lactobacillus (L.) acidophilus (that kind found in dahi) and L. casei, among others - can survive the trip through the highly acidic environment of your stomach, explains Baird. "These are the types you want to consume in the greatest numbers," she says. (See "What Probiotics Can Do for You" below)

It's also extremely important to check the expiration date and choose only the freshest product. Ideally yoghurt should contain at least 100 million bacteria per gram; how much is still there when you finally get around to eating it is anyone's guess. But even if you hate dai/yogurt, you can still get the healthy bacteria by taking probiotic supplements which can be found in many health food shops. These contain hundreds of billions of beneficial bacteria and aren't as prone to spoilage as yogurt or other dairy foods. Such power in a single pill makes it easy to quickly replenish your intestinal flora. For this reason, they're often prescribed as a companion to a round of antibiotics or as part of a treatment for a particular digestive disorder, such as Crohn's disease or traveler's diarrhoea. But "for general wellness, fermented dairy products are the better option because they provide additional beneficial nutrients like calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and potassium, often in a low-calorie package," says Baird. Just be sure that the expiration date is far into the future and eat it as soon as you can.

Source : Health & Nutrition

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