Many of you have heard about probiotics. For those of you who haven't, probiotics are beneficial bacteria. We all have them in our intestines and women have them inside their vaginas (lack of these beneficial bacteria is what leads to yeast infections). Antibiotics kill bacteria when there is an infection in your body, but they are often non-discriminating and kill off the good bacteria as well as the bad. This is why many people experience digestive symptoms after taking antibiotics. Probiotics are used to replenish the good bacteria that you have lost. However, antibiotics are not the only thing that can deplete us of our good bacteria. Poor diet and stress can also do that over time.
But let's look at the Eastern perspective.
According to Chinese Medicine, digestion is the realm of the Spleen. When the Spleen is functioning properly it separates the "pure" from the "turbid" in the food that we eat; the pure is transformed into the Qi and the Blood and the turbid becomes waste. When the Spleen is weak or over burdened with too much sugar, refined, raw or cold foods, you experience symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, loose stools, constipation, flatulence and lots of phlegm (like chronic sinus congestion). Antibiotics are seen as very cold (since they attack infections which are hot) so they easily damage the Spleen, causing many of the above symptoms. Probiotics, since they aid digestion, are seen as a Spleen tonic. They warm and improve the Spleen's function thereby repairing the damage that antibiotics cause.
Even without antibiotic use the Spleen can become damaged. As I mentioned before poor diet can affect the Spleen, but emotions can also cause injure it. The Spleen is vulnerable to over-thinking, obsessive thinking, too much mental or physical work. When you are stuck in your head, it is not good for your Spleen. When your Spleen is damaged by your emotions, you might experience a "knot" in your stomach, or bowel irregularities (incomplete bowel movements, alternating between loose and hard stools) or when it is really chronic, more extreme conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Colitis. Probiotics can help with many of these conditions by regulating the bowel movements, seen by Chinese Medicine as improving Spleen function.
According to the Western view of physiology, about 70% of your immune system is found in your gastrointestinal tract. According to the Eastern view of physiology, the Spleen makes the Wei Qi (see Nov. 1st blog entry). Either way, your digestive system plays a huge role in the state of your immune system. Regular probiotic intake can play a big part in keeping your immune system healthy. Probiotics are found mostly in fermented foods, like saurkraut, high quality yogurt, kefir, natto, miso, kombucha as well as in raw dairy products. You can also buy probiotic supplements in your local natural food store or vitamin store.
Keep your Spleen and your immune system happy by eating warm, cooked, easily digestible foods and probiotics. A little goes a long way to keeping you healthy!