Being a doctor comes with its share of tough decisions.
But deciding whether or not to recommend probiotics – those healthy ‘gut bugs’ – for my patients isn’t one of them.
Because, sick or not, my patients DO need them – and so do YOU. As I shared with you in last month’s issue, working on your intestines and ‘gut’ will give you the biggest value for your money in terms of your overall health.
In fact, when you improve the state of your intestinal gut lining, the health benefits everberate through your whole body… MANY times over.
When I started practicing many years ago, we doctors felt that we were giving plenty of probiotics if we could get 5 to 10 billion live cultures in a supplement. And although that level of probiotic dosage did help patients, the holistic medical community has upped the ante over the years.
These days, a good probiotic at a health food store can have between 10 and 100 billion live cultures.
But now, I’ve found a new gem in the probiotic world that’s up to 100 times MORE potent than the average probiotic.
It’s called VSL#3, and its ‘Double Strength’ version (VSL#3-DS) has 900 billion live cultures! More specifically, it contains eight different strains of live bacteria in very large quantities, including three species of Bifidobacterium, four species of Lactobacillus, and one species of Streptococcus.
It takes the prize for the most potent probiotic that you can find. VSL#3 is available to order online. However, VSL#3-DS is so powerful that, like the other ‘medical foods’ I’ve shared with you in the past few issues, you need a prescription from a doctor in order to get it.
And that prescription is well worth getting. Because when I started prescribing VSL#3-DS for issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – as well as many other gut complaints – they became much easier to treat.
In fact, my patients often beg me for refills.
Taking care of the ‘good guys’
There are 10 times more naturally-occurring ‘good’ bacteria in your gut lining than there are other cells in the rest of your body.
It’s almost unfathomable! All of your good gut bacteria together weighs more than your brain.
That is, of course, under ideal circumstances. If you want to stay healthy, your main goal should always be to keep as many ‘good guys’ in your gut as you can… and limit the number of ‘bad guys’.
But sometimes, something can happen to throw off that balance and diminish the level of the ‘good guys’ in your gut – and usually, you can blame antibiotics for it. (See the sidebar on page 5 for some of the other reasons.)
Even just the word ‘antibiotic’ tells you exactly what it does – it’s ‘against life’ (biosis). Antibiotics kill ALL life in the gut lining, including the good AND the bad bacteria.
Unfortunately, when everything starts to grow back, the bad bacteria will often flourish unless you restore that optimal balance between good and bad bacteria.
And the best way to do that is by replacing the probiotics – those ‘good’ bacteria that are for (‘pro’) life.
There are 400 species of probiotics – that we currently know of – that work in so many different ways. For example, probiotics can support regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. They can even decrease lactose intolerance and improve how you digest other foods, too.
And because probiotics can influence your mood and food cravings, they can help control your weight… and actually improve your ability to lose weight!
Probiotics make essential fatty acids – as well as vitamins A, K, and B vitamins – and they’ve got a strong influence on your immune system. In fact, they actually produce antibiotic chemicals – and, therefore, they can kill infection causing bacteria naturally.
They can help fight off viral infections… and even possibly cancer!
You’ve got a lot of territory to cover in your gut
Some cultures around the world have been using probiotics for centuries, often in the form of fermented foods like kefir, natto, lassi, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi. But the most obvious source for many of us is yoghurt.
You can pick up any yoghurt and see on the side of the container that it ‘contains live cultures’ – and those are the probiotics!
Although the probiotic counts in foods are hard to calculate accurately, a good guesstimate is that you’re likely to get about a billion colonies from a serving of sauerkraut and 10 to 20 billion colonies from a cup of plain yoghurt.
So food sources are a good way to get probiotics, but they’re not GREAT – and you can do better.
The 900 billion colonies in VSL#3 may sound like a TON of good guys, but in no way is it too many… especially if you’re suffering from one of the many serious gut illnesses.
Considering the fact that your small intestine is about 24 feet long and your colon is about five feet long, you need as many colonies as you can get.
Bottom line: You’ll feel better fast
Over 100 medical studies show the effectiveness of VSL#3-DS in the treatment of ulcerative colitis and IBS.
In a 2012 study out of Korea and a 2010 study out of Italy, VSL#3 improved the symptoms of patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis – both in just eight weeks. It’s even been shown to safely increase the remission rate in CHILDREN with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis!
A 2010 NIH-funded study also showed that VSL#3 improved symptoms in patients with IBS-D, also after just eight weeks of treatment.
What’s more, many of these studies – including a 2003 study from the Mayo Clinic – have shown that this potent probiotic is well-tolerated by patients of all ages without adverse effects or risk of overdose.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even given it the ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) designation in treating ulcerative colitis as well as irritable bowel syndrome. Ulcerative colitis is a very serious medical disease of the colon, so I’m impressed that even the FDA recognizes that you can treat this condition with a high-powered probiotic!
We’ve still got a long way to go to convince the medical authorities of how amazing nutritional remedies are to heal MOST medical issues… but this is a start.
Superior potency, even from the lowest dosage
It is possible your doctor won’t want to prescribe the Double Strength version of VSL#3 for your gastrointestinal issues, so fortunately there are three other ‘single strength’ versions of VSL#3 that you can purchase online.
Your choices are either packets of flavored and unflavored versions, with 450 billion bacteria each, that can be mixed into cold or room temperature beverages or soft foods, or vegetarian capsules that contain 2.5 billion each.
You can start with as little as one single-strength packet or two capsules a day… and that might be enough to make you feel better after a week or so. If not, you can try gradually increasing the amount, up to eight capsules of single-strength packets a day. It’s better to start low and move your way up, since it can take three weeks to really make a change in your gut flora. If you start too high or increase the dose too quickly, you may experience mild belly bloat.
Of course, take the prescription only Double Strength version as directed by your doctor.
My goal is to introduce you to cutting-edge therapies that I’m using in my own practice – but that doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from other probiotics. In fact, my experience with
VSL#3-DS has made me even more diligent about having my patients continue their probiotics, whether it is VSL#3 or not.
So, please keep on eating yoghurt, sauerkraut, or kimchi… drinking kombucha… and taking an over-the counter probiotic supplement.
It’s especially important to take probiotics while you are on antibiotics – as long as you do it correctly. I recommend that my patients stagger the dosages and take the probiotics either in the late afternoon or at bedtime, since most antibiotics are taken with meals.
If you take the probiotics at the same time as you take the antibiotic, the antibiotic will just kill the probiotic, like it does everything else in your gut!
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 7 • July 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.