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Yogurt's Effects on Intestinal Conditions

Yogurt's Effects on Intestinal Conditions

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Published by Nicholas Owens
Yogurt's Effects on Intestinal Conditions
Yogurt's Effects on Intestinal Conditions

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Published by: Nicholas Owens on Nov 20, 2009
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05/24/2012

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Yogurt's Effects on Intestinal Conditions
Ever since the longest-living inhabitants of the Balkans attributed their continuing health toyogurt, this dairy product has been high on people's shopping list. Here's a review of itsknown benefits with regard to the gastrointestinal tract.IntroductionThe human intestines are far from sterile - they are, in fact, loaded with bacteria. Such bacteria may have good or harmful effects. Fortunately, harmful bacterial infections of theintestines, such as typhoid fever or bacillary dysentery, are rare. One of the 'good' actions thatgut bacteria may carry out is to heighten resistance to colonization by 'bad' bacteria; we cancall these actions anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory.Some nutritionists recommend influencing the balance between good and bad gut bacteria byhaving people consume cultures of beneficial live organisms, which they call 'probiotics'.Yogurt is the best known food that contains probiotics, and its effect on intestinal function hasnow been reviewed in the
 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
. This is a summary of thatreview.What's in yogurt?Yogurt is a coagulated milk product resulting from the fermentation of lactic acid in milk by
 Lactobacillus bulgaricus
and
Streptococcus thermophilus
. Other lactic acid bacteria (LAB)may be used to produce different characteristics of the final product, often bacteria that arenormally found in the gut. The finished product must contain live LAB at a sufficientconcentration so that the cultures remain active throughout the product's shelf life. In addition,of course, there are flavoring materials, carbohydrates, and other inert constituents. Nutritional value of yogurtThe nutritional constituents of yogurt are derived from the milk used in making it, those thatare synthesized by the LABs, and those that are added by the manufacturers. The nutritionalvalue of the milk protein is well-preserved during the fermentation process. Some LABssynthesize folic acid; other LABs synthesize lactase, an enzyme that reduces the lactosecontent of the yogurt. Yogurt has a high content of conjugated linolenic acid, which has beenreported to have immuno-stimulatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. And finally, yogurt isan excellent source of calcium and phosphorus; the acidic nature of yogurt 'ionizes' calciumthereby improving calcium uptake into the body.Changes in the gut microfloraBacteria of the
 Lactobacilli
family bind to the inner surface of the intestines, preventingharmful bacteria getting into the mucosal cell layers. However, for the LABs in yogurt toexert this useful effect, they have to survive passage through the stomach, where an acidenvironment is likely to kill them. The amount of LABs that reach the upper gastrointestinaltract is therefore quite limited.Immunity of the gut
 
While experiments in mice show that yogurt feeding increases the number of cells secretingIgA (a marker of immunity), and similar findings, along with an increase in cytokine production, have been reported in a few human studies, there is little evidence supporting theclinical relevance of such effects (see below).A laxative effect?Certain strains of LABs may decrease the colon transit time, but yogurt, in general, does nothave a laxative effect.Lactose intoleranceMore than half the world's adult population, depending on ethnicity, is lactose-intolerant, dueto a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. When undigested lactosereaches the colon it's fermented by colonic bacteria, which causes excess gas and diarrhea.Impaired digestion of lactose can also occur with inflammatory diseases of the small intestine,such as Crohn's disease, celiac sprue, short bowel syndrome (after surgery), and bacterial or  parasitic infections.Lactose intolerance causes abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and wind after consumption of milk.People with this problem tolerate fermented milk products, like yogurt, better thanunfermented milk products. This is most likely due to the lactase activity of LABs. Whatever the mechanism, it's generally accepted that yogurt has a beneficial effect in lactoseintolerance.DiarrheaTreatment with
 Lactobacillus
strains is a safe and effective way to treat acute infectiousdiarrhea in children caused by viruses and, possibly, by bacteria. LABs are also beneficial inantibiotic-induced diarrhea. Several possible mechanisms are suggested, but the real one isunknown.Colon cancer While some studies have suggested that colon cancer is less common in people who eatfermented dairy products, and animal experiments provide a number of encouraging results,there is no good clinical evidence that yogurt has a protective or curative effect against coloncancer, at this time.Inflammatory bowel diseaseThese include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and in both diseases the microflora of theintestine plays a crucial role. It's thought that the proportions of different microflora arealtered in patients with these diseases, leading to a weakened mucosal barrier to pathogenic bacteria. Human and animal experiments indicate that LABS can improve the outcome inmodels of inflammatory bowel disease, but actual clinical benefit in people with thesediseases is lacking, to date.H. pylori stomach infection

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