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Frequently asked questions: intestinal flora

Q. How long do I have to take intestinal flora?

The content of your toilet bowl will tell you. If your stools are light, fluffy, small, and moist without fiber in your diet, you‘re okay flora-wise. I also recommend rotating various brands of probiotics for optimal effect.

You should always take probiotics after any treatment that may damage the intestinal flora, such as a course of antibiotics, laxatives, chemo-, radio-, and retroviral therapy, severe food poisoning, diarrhea, and similar circumstances.

Some brands of probiotics (not Enterophilus), especially liquid formulas, may cause severe bloating. You should always exercise caution when trying out a new brand. Keep in mind that it takes from a few days to a few weeks for intestinal flora to take hold.

Q. I take intestinal flora regularly, but still struggle with constipation.

If you are taking certain common medicines, or if you already have some form of colorectal damage, such as hemorrhoids or nerve da*mage, then bacterial supplements aren‘t going to eliminate those underlying causes of chronic constipation—even if your stools become picture-perfect in all other respects.

You may also suffer from delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis), so your bacteria never reach the large intestine alive. That‘s because they can't bypass the stomach's acidity and enzymes, even when taken in the morning on presumably an empty stomach.

In this case you‘ll need to use the safest possible method (such as Hydro-C) to stimulate regular defecation. Whatever you decide to do, it still would be better for you than going back to fiber, because the next round of recovery may be even more complicated. Plus, keep in mind all those other essential health properties of intestinal flora, as described above.

In some respects, bacterial supplements are very much like prescription eyeglasses—you don‘t expect them to magically fix bad eyesight, but are still darn grateful for being able to see.

Q. Do you recommend liquid probiotic formulas that can be found in health stores?

To find an answer to this question, I have experimented with several brands in the past. Some left me bloated and flatulent for considerable stretches of time, even on a fiber-free diet. Perhaps they‘d been just too effective. Or, it‘s possible that live bacteria from liquid formulas took hold in the upper sections of the small intestine, where they shouldn‘t be. You may require a course of antibiotics to wipe them out if the discomfort becomes unbearable.

It‘s less likely to happen with capsules, such as Enterophilus, because the bacteria in these preparations are sublimated (dried out) into hibernation. They remain ‘asleep’ while ‘commuting’ through the folds of the small intestine. This trip—from the stomach to large intestine—takes around 24 hours. Once these bacteria reach the relative safety of the blind gut (it has the proper pH and no enzymes to devour them), they finally wake up and get into action.

Q. Can I keep my gut flora healthy by drinking Dannon's Activia or similar products?

Very, very unlikely. The presumably “live” or “active” bacteria in the commercially fermented beverages such as Activia, including organic ones, are likely to be dead by the time you buy them. So they won't have any beneficial effect on your digestive organs.

Manufacturers briefly expose the finished product to high heat in order to shut down fermentation (by killing bacteria, of course). This extends the shelf life of the finished product and prevents blowouts, separation of whey and solids, and spoilage.

You can easily determine if the bacteria in your favorite yogurt are indeed “live” or “active.” Pour the beverage into a clean glass, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and leave the glass overnight in a warm place, such as the boiler room or near a warm electrical appliance. If, come morning, the wrap remains flat, it means the fermentation didn‘t start and the gases didn‘t form because the bacteria were long dead.

Even if you get lucky, and the bacteria are still alive, your stomach acid and enzymes will kill them on contact anyway. No surprise here—sterilization of food is, in fact, one of the stomach‘s key functions. Unlike bacteria in yogurt, supplemental 'dry' bacteria survive the stomach's hostile environment because they are specifically designed to bypass it.

So how can products like Dannon® Activia™ claim to restore “regularity” for some? Well, that happens not because of the bacteria, but due to the presence of inulin—a soluble fiber additive, which happens to be a potent laxative. Each serving of Activia contains 3 g of inulin. That's more soluble fiber than in six capsules of Metamucil Fiber Capsules laxative — they have only 2 g.

Inulin is harvested from plants, and is broadly used as a filler and stabilizer in processed foods. Without some kind of industrial-strength stabilizer, ersatz dairy like Activia, which is “cooked” from dry milk, would separate into water and solids before reaching consumers:

In addition to inulin, Activia's label lists the following ingredients (Dannon ® Activia™ Light Strawberry, illustration modified, click the link to see the original):

Activa Light

That's hardly a recipe for healthy food! Lets investigate these ingredients:

The remaining ingredients (corn starch, gelatin, sodium citrate) in Activia are less offensive fillers and preservatives, but they too have about as much business being in “healthy” yogurt as rat's excrement does in your dinner. I hope you don't vomit.

Finally, if you are experiencing bloating, flatulence, or abdominal discomfort after eating processed yogurt or ice cream, you are likely being affected by soluble fiber fillers, such as inulin, guar gum, agar, or pectin. To exclude junk food like Activia from your diet, just read the labels. By law, it's all printed there.

To summarize: beware when dealing with lawful cheats. They ruthlessly mint money at the expense of your — and your children‘s — health and longevity. The problem here isn't that Activia is junk — that, unfortunately, is still legal to sell. The problem is that Dannon ruthlessly markets it as a 'health' food to unsuspecting consumers. Even more disgraceful — it preys on and exploits adults and children with digestive disorders, who are the first to use this devil's brew.

It's in you power to stop this travesty and tragedy. Bring a copy of this page to your supermarket, grocery store, or cafeteria, particularly so-called organic stores such as Whole Foods. Ask them to remove Dannon products from their shelves. Do not patronize stores that sell this Euro-trash. Contact your stockbroker or mutual fund and ask them to divest Dannon's stock. Send a link to this page to your representatives in Congress, and demand action. The change will come. They all have kids and grandkids too.

(Guess what — I am no longer screaming “bloody murder” alone. Here is more about this courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.)

Q. How do you know so much about this subject?

I am well informed about this condition because it has been extensively covered in European medical schools for at least a century, including at my alma mater — Lviv National Medical University, one of the oldest and largest medical universities in Eastern Europe.

The role of dysbacteriosis in disease was first described by Ilya Mechnikov, a famous Russian-born, French-based scientist, who (along with Paul Ehrlich) was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1908 for their research related to the role of intestinal bacteria in human immunity.

So it isn‘t really something new, unknown, or original in the world of human physiology and medicine.