Home > Articles > Probiotics for Digestion
Probiotics for Travelers
By Gerard L. Guillory, M.D.
Probiotics improves digestion and immunity
If you've had a vacation or business trip ruined by diarrhea and indigestion, you might want to
bring a probiotic supplement on your next trip. A good supplement will help your body protect
itself against the bacteria that typically cause "traveler's diarrhea" and enable you to spend your
trip seeing the sights instead of the bathrooms.
Probiotics are a combination of living, beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the human
intestinal tract. They are essential for maintaining healthy digestion. A growing body of
evidence suggests that the use of probiotics can help treat and prevent a wide array of intestinaltract
disorders, including traveler's diarrhea.
Probiotics have been examined for their effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of such
gastrointestinal disorders as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, various forms of bacterial and viral
diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), irritable bowel
syndrome, small-bowel bacterial overgrowth, and lactose intolerance. Probiotics may also help
prevent the development of colon cancer.
Most cases of traveler's diarrhea are caused by e-coli bacteria. Travelers in developing nations
often pick up this infection from contaminated water or from raw vegetables washed with raw
water. One of the many things that probiotics do is create natural antibiotics, called bacteriocins.
When you ingest bacteriocins, you can nip e-coli infections in the bud.
I recommend a probiotic supplement called Sensitive Colon Support or GastroComplete, from
New Chapter, Inc. It is available at most health-food stores.
I also recommend that you continue taking a probiotic supplement after you return from your
next trip, as probiotics do far more than simply combat traveler's diarrhea. In the coming years,
you'll be hearing much more about the power of probiotics.
An easy way to understand how bacteria aid in digestion is to consider how yogurt is made. Add
beneficial bacteria (usually lactobacilli) to milk, incubate for a few days at 90-something degrees,
and you have yogurt. Take milk and leave it at that temperature for a few days, without the benefit of
the beneficial bacteria, and you have sour milk. Similarly, if you don't have the right blend of
bacteria in your gut, your body may be making the gastrointestinal equivalent of sour milk. Without
the proper balance of good and bad bacteria, your body will be unable to optimally extract nutrients
from your food, and the lining of your intestinal tract may become damaged. This can result in a
series of secondary problems.
Probiotics are essential to the maintenance of a normal mucosa (lining of the intestine), as they
block the invasion of pathogenic, or disease-causing, bacteria. When an imbalance between "bad
bacteria" and "good bacteria" exists, the mucosa of the intestinal tract becomes leaky, allowing
larger food and bacterial particles to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The immune system activates as the body tries to fight off these invaders.
To visualize the problem, imagine an unusually porous coffee filter, with holes so big that the
coffee grounds pass through the paper and into the coffee pot. In the body, large food and
bacterial particles that leak through a porous intestinal lining and into the bloodstream can bring
about a host of non-gastrointestinal-tract diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies and
The bacterial imbalance that leads to these difficulties can be caused by a variety of factors,
including the use of antibiotics to ward off infections. Antibiotics are indiscriminate with respect
to the bacteria they eliminate, and the beneficial bacteria in the gut can become "collateral
damage" in the fight against infections. Another cause of the imbalance relates to diet.
In the past, bacterial fermentation of food was a common practice, and the human diet contained
thousands of beneficial bacteria. That is not the case in the United States today. In some
cultures, however, beneficial bacteria remain a staple. In Japan, for example, miso soup is
consumed regularly. Miso consists of a fermented soybean paste, which contains good bacteria.
Many experts speculate that the lower incidence of colon cancer in Japan versus the United
States may be explained by the relative lack of beneficial bacteria in the American diet.
Many people who report apparent food intolerances might, in fact, be experiencing
gastrointestinal symptoms arising from an imbalance of bacteria. Symptoms might include
bloating, belching, excessive gas production, and altered bowel movements—either diarrhea or
constipation. Symptoms often attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, also may be
attributable to this imbalance. Many, if not most, of the patients I treat for IBS experience
dramatic improvements in their symptoms after a course of probiotics.
Bottom line: Probiotics are an integral part of normal digestion and general health. The absence
of beneficial bacteria in the gut may result in a variety of digestive symptoms and other medical
conditions, including the inability to protect effectively against traveler's diarrhea.
Replenishment of the gut with viable, beneficial bacteria can have multiple positive effects.
Sensitive Colon Support or GastroComplete from New Chapter, Inc., is an excellent probiotic
and is available at most health-food stores.
Gerard L. Guillory, M.D., is board-certified in internal medicine and has been practicing in Aurora,
830 Potomac Circle • Suite 150 • Aurora, CO 80011
Colo., since July 1985. As an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado
Health Sciences Center, Dr. Guillory is actively involved in teaching medical students, resident
physicians, and nurse practitioner students. He has lectured extensively on the role of nutrition and
disease. Over the years, he has fostered an interest in patient education and has authored three books on
digestive troubles. He also has served as medical director of a Colorado-based health plan and as a
health consultant to employer groups. Visit his medical practice on the Web at www.thecaregrouppc.com.
(303) 343-3121 FAX (303) 343-3514
Back to Articles