By Thomas M. Grier, M.S. ©
Recently after the July floods in Hermantown, MN near Duluth, many people in the region experienced severe diarrhea, possibly from the contamination of well water.
None suffered from this condition more so than our singer in our band.
For over a week she took her probiotic capsules only to find each day her condition seemed to get worse.
Medically trained she knew taking her probiotic with milk would give something for the Acidophillus and Bifidobacteria bacteria to grow on.
Unfortunately she was severely lactose and gluten intolerant and felt milk or grains would worsen her condition.
Not knowing what else to do she adhered to the medically recommended diet for severe dysentery known as the BRATs diet. (Bananas, Rice, Apples, Toast)
She felt she had few dietary choices that would help, but with a little research she soon discovered that what her diet needed wasn’t dairy products or wheat; but rather a special class of carbohydrates:
Oligosacharide – 3-10 simple sugars linked together and found in natural foods.
(Latin meaning acid-loving milk-bacterium) is an aerobic bacterium that ferments sugars into lactic acid, and grows readily at rather low/acidic pH values (below pH 5.0) and has an optimum growth temperature of around 37 °C (99 °F), and is used in the production of acidophilus-type yogurt.
(Source – Wikipedia)
Bifidobacterium is a genus of Gram-positive, non-motile anaerobic bacteria. They are inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract, vagina, and mouths (B. dentium) of mammals.
Bifidobacteria are one of the major genera of bacteria that make up the colon flora in mammals. Some bifidobacteria are used as probiotics.
(Before the 1960s, Bifidobacterium species were collectively referred to as “Lactobacillus bifidus”.) (Wikipedia)
Most digestion takes place in the upper intestine where the predominant digestive bacteria is the aerobic Lactobacillus acidophillus.
These bacteria also help supply us with vitamin-K for blood clotting which our bodies cannot produce without L. acidophillus.
In the lower-intestine/colon, anaerobic bifidobacteria finish most of the digestive processes. It is in the colon where diarrhea must be controlled.
Why Carbohydrates are important in our GI Tract
Not long ago we were all taught that there were just two kinds of carbohydrates: Sugars and Starches.
Simple sugars were just one or two six carbon rings linked to each other.
Sucrose or table sugar is a disaccharide made of glucose and fructose.
Glucose Sucrose (Glucose + Fructose)
Carbohydrates such as starches, were long chains of simple sugars strung together like a chain, or linked in a fashion resembling a tree branch and we called them complexed-carbohydrates.
Then we were told about another class of carbs that didn’t count much because they were mostly undigestible, and we called them fibers or insoluble-fibers.
Later in the 1970s, we learned that dietary fiber lowered the risk of colon cancer.
Then we discovered soluble-fibers, and learned that they lowered our cholesterol.
As it turns out, this class of complex-carbohydrates known as dietary fiber is important to our GI health, not just because of cancer and cholesterol but because of how they are digested.
The term complex-carbohydrates may becoming an obsolete term because we now know that some complex-carbs raise blood sugar faster than many sugars.
And many simple sugars play roles we never dreamed of beyond just giving us energy/calories.
Most starches are only partially digested in the upper intestine.
The starches then complete the digestion process in the colon, where the break-down products play a vital role in the health of the colon.
Some starches especially resistant starches are fermented in the colon and produce a fat that our body needs called short-chain-fatty-acids, SCFAs, which cannot easily be obtained in our diet.
(Pretty cool huh! A carbohydrate that becomes a fat in the gut because of our probiotic anaerobic bacteria!)
One SCFA is butyrate which protects our colon cells from genetic damage and cancer.
Between the simple sugars and the starches (polysaccharides), is a middle class of carbohydrates known as the oligosaccharides.
Oligosaccharides are made of chains of 3-10 simple sugars and can be found naturally in many plants; they often have a slight sweetness and have been described by food scientists as having a pleasant mouth-feel, and are now common food additives for texture and fiber.
Natural sources of oligosaccharides include:
onions, leeks, garlic, most legumes (beans, lentils, and peas) wheat, asparagus, and chicory (labeled as inulin on food labels), and al dente pasta.
Why are these foods good to consume with your probiotics?
Recently this class of foods have been referred to as pre-biotics, because they feed the bacteria we need to digest our food.
Unfortunately Americans get about 1/3 the levels of oligosaccharides in their diet as Europeans, or what is consumed in a typical Mediterranean diet.
Because the upper intestine has a hard time breaking down this class of carbs, almost 90 % escapes to the colon where oligosaccharides reach their full pre-biotic potential.
A prebiotic supports the health of probiotics!
So now you can see how taking a probiotic does little good for your intestinal track if you don’t support the probiotic bacteria with proper nutrition.
Up until the 21st century we used to think nutritional support of our gut bacteria was as simple as drinking a glass of milk.
In addition to the oligosaccharides, another class of prebiotic is emerging.
Both resistant starches and fermentable fiber are two carbohydrates that also add to our colon’s good health.
You might know resistant starches by their signature sound and smell as a by product of digestion in the colon is methane gas.
The digestion of fermentable fiber in the colon also produces more beneficial by-products including:
short-chain-fatty-acids, and some B-vitamins, and recapture dietary magnesium and calcium that would have been excreted.
So as we feed our probiotic bacteria with these alternative food sources we also reap the benefits of:
lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved immune system function.
If you have diarrhea from antibiotic use and are taking probiotic capsules or probiotic yogurts, and kefirs, then the following foods may help support the probiotics and improve the health of your intestinal tract.
BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Apples, Toast.
Bananas may be more effective when they are green, and use low-fiber or white bread for toast.
Other foods to eat during episodes of diarrhea include
crackers, pretzels, apricots, applesauce, mashed potatoes, noodles, cream of wheat or cream of rice, smooth peanut butter, eggs prepared any way but fried, skinless poultry, mild white fish, lean beef, low-fat cottage cheese, and canned vegetables.
It is best to eat small, frequent snacks and meals instead of larger meals.
Beans, peas, lentils, wheat, rice (Creme of Rice hot cereal seems to work best)
Foods to Avoid
Greasy, deep-fried, fatty foods, and rich sauces because these may worsen diarrhea.
Sugary or very spicy foods may also be bothersome.
Sugar-free gums and candies usually contain sugar alcohols (sweeteners) that may cause diarrhea.
Large meals with large amounts of protein and Fats.