Monday, October 19, 2015

Experiment #2: Probiotics

My first experiment, which was with digestive enzymes, didn't pan out too well.  Here's a second try at improving my digestion and ability to absorb nutrients, which can be a need for people with thyroid issues:  I plan to try a two week course of probiotic supplements, plus consuming some yogurt, buttermilk, and keifer.

 Experiment #2  Probiotic supplements, plus some probiotic milk products, i.e. keifer and yogurt.
Duration:  Starting now and going for two weeks.
Risks:  Possible illness, especially if immune system is weak; 
Benefits hoped for: better digestion, better absorption of nutrients, better modulation of my immune system which could help both my asthma and my autoimmune issues.  
Results:  To be determined.

Many natural health practitioners attribute a problem with intestinal permeability (leaky gut) as triggering the autoimmune process in Hashimoto's disease.  Currently, gut permeability is said to be the root cause of any number of ailments, and reversing it is held up as a wonder cure for a long list of human ills. There are only so many ways for the body to signal you that something is amiss, and so lots of people can identify with the clusters of symptoms said to be caused by leaky intestines. This opens the doors for proponents of the gut permeability theory to sell books, expensive supplements, and appointment time to people who desperately want to feel better.      

Evidence based medicine, to my knowledge, has never proven that such a thing as leaky gut exists. As is the case in many health fads, people have taken one possible germ of truth and have run with it before anyone's really had a chance to sort it out.  One danger of this is that people will self-diagnose a problem with leaky gut when their health problems might be due to something else altogether.  This means that they might not get the treatment -- even life-saving treatment -- that they truly need.

I'm very cautious about attributing Hashimoto's triggers to intestinal permeability or to state with certainty that this problem does or doesn't exist. One recommended solution to gut permeability, if it is a real factor, is to take probiotic supplements and to eat foods with probiotic organisms in order to balance the ratio of beneficial bacteria to negative bacteria.  It's hoped that when a healthy balance of organisms is achieved that the intenstines will function as they should.

Could taking probiotics improve the health of someone with Hashimoto's disease whether or not it involves the so-called leaky gut syndrome?  That's what I want to see for myself.

I have not had to take antibiotics recently, but I have been treated with antibiotics countless times in my life.  Antibiotics are lifesavers, but they can kill beneficial organisms in the process of destroying the bad guys. I am guessing that my system has already corrected for any problems resulting from prior antibiotic use.

Our not so distant ancestors ate more fermented foods, and these were a source of probiotic bacterias. Since the advent of refrigeration and freezing, we now have ways to store food without fermenting it. Were fermented foods healthy for people? Are we suffering for having eliminated many from our diet? Some think so.

I think it's important to note that life expectancies increased in the twentieth century,  It was during this time that food supplies became consistently cleaner and began to be preserved in ways other than fermenting. It's often easy to dream about some distant past, when everyone lived closed to nature and all were at peak health.  In reality, we are living the future dream of our ancestors, of whom so many perished from diseases that we consider to be minor today.  Infancy, childbirth, and life in general was more perilous in times past.  For me, it's not a given that because a way of eating might be old, even possibly paleolithic, that it is good for modern people. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the wisdom of the centuries so long as we use discernment when applying it.
Long story short:  I'm willing to see if taking probiotics might make me feel better.  During a recent bout with a virus, a doctor suggested that I take supplements for twenty-four hours.  Granted, that doesn't add up to two weeks, but I'm going for it.  To be honest, I suspect that dairy products might be a trigger in my case. Since some milk intolerant people can tolerate fermented dairy, I'm hoping that I can still enjoy dairy in the form of keifer and yogurt.

I have taken probiotic supplements off and on in the past, and I have eaten lots of yogurt.  I haven't been consistent with consuming these things, and I have never documented how I feel when taking them.  For purposes of this experiment, I plan to have some form of probiotics every day for two weeks.  If there are no adverse effects, I may repeat the experiment for another two weeks.  Eventually, I will drop the supplements, but I will continue to consume probiotic foods if I can tolerate the dairy.

Are there risks to taking probiotic supplements?  Yep.  This is especially true if you have a compromised immune system.  After all, when you ingest probiotics, you ingest bacteria.  Unless you've had testing, you consume it without really knowing what's going on in the bacterial colonies of your gut.  The risk is smaller in people who are healthy.  Even with my chronic ailments, I think I'm healthy enough to give probiotics a go.

Admitedly, there are controversies about which strains of probiotics are truly beneficial.  Some people also think that most supplements do not provide enough bacteria and advocate taking supplements with enormous quantities of probiotic organisms.  There is some merit to the idea that some probiotic supplements are inferior to others, I think.  As I mentioned above, however, many advocates of taking probiotics for various conditions, including Hashimoto's, just happen to sell those very supplements.   Hmm... there might be some risk to the pocketbook with this experiment.  :)

The Berkley Wellness Center has an article about the pros and cons of probiotics.  

Bonne Sante!

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