Would it surprise you to learn that there are more bacteria in your intestines than cells in your body? Despite their massive presence in the body, the role that these microorganisms play in human health was historically ignored. Now science is beginning to grasp that having a healthy gut flora is crucial for optimal wellbeing. From digestive function to immunity and even mood, having enough helpful bacteria to outweigh the potentially harmful ones establishes a foundation for good health.

Unfortunately, antibiotics and other medications, stress and poor diet can all disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria. When the intestinal flora is out of balance, a condition known as dysbiosis, can lead to gas, bloating, constipation, impaired immunity, bad breath and a long list of other health conditions. Replenishing the good bacteria regularly is as fundamental to a healthy lifestyle as a wholesome diet, regular exercise or a daily multivitamin.
Probiotics are an essential right from birth. The womb is a sterile environment; the first exposure a newborn has to healthy bacteria happens as the baby passes through the birth canal. At this time he will be covered with the microorganisms that, within the first few days of life, will colonize the intestines and establish the foundation of a healthy immune system. If an infant is born by C-section, this important first dose of bacteria is missed. Studies show that C-section children have a higher incidence of asthma, eczema and allergies – conditions that are all directly related to a lack of healthy bifidobacteria.

Fortunately, probiotics specially formulated for children can tip the balance back towards a healthy flora. Similarly, expectant moms and women in every stage of life benefit from a probiotics combination with special strains that benefit the vaginal and urinary tract flora.

Probiotics continue to be important as we age. In fact, after the age of 50, research shows that the beneficial strains of bifidobacteria in the colon tend to be replaced by undesirable species. This can negatively impact immune function and leave older people more susceptible to developing C. difficile infection after an antibiotics treatment. A daily probiotics supplement is a smart part of a healthy-aging regime.

You can’t rely on yogurt to meet all your probiotics needs. Dairy-origin probiotic strains are transient; they only remain in the body temporarily so they don’t have a lasting impact on the immune system. More therapeutically useful probiotic strains can be found in a professional quality supplement, available in the refrigerator section of your local natural products store.