Probiotics: My Solution for Crohn's Disease
I've been living with Crohn's disease for more than 30 years. The first 20 years were incredibly tough - I tried all kinds of different medications, but nothing stuck. Then, an alternative health practitioner recommended some high-quality probiotics, and I started taking them religiously.
You've probably heard about probiotics in the last few years - all of the sudden, they've caught on with the public, and there are all kinds of TV commercials promoting them. Basically, probiotics are bacteria that help maintain healthy levels of organisms, called microflora, in your intestines. The normal digestive tract naturally contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria. These probiotic bacteria reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, and lead, in most cases, to a healthy digestive system. But in some people, like me, something throws the balance way off. When there are too many harmful bacteria and not enough beneficial bacteria, you can experience serious issues with your digestive system. So, I take probiotics to replenish the beneficial bacteria and balance my gut flora. There may be no research that proves that probiotics work for people with Crohn's disease, but they seem to help me and my symptoms.
Finding the best probiotic for me took some work, and I still switch it up from time to time. There are tons of different options, and lots of different strains to choose from. I've found that asking knowledgeable health store employees usually helps, as they tend to have personal experience with the product. If that's not the case, then they can at least tell me what type of probiotic is most popular with customers. I've tried to get recommendations from doctors and alternative health practitioners, but it's important to be careful - many of them have their own products and will promote them regardless of whether they're truly the best.
I follow a pretty strict regimen of two probiotic capsules taken three times a day. I've researched and found the strains of probiotics that work best for me, since there are many different types. Over time, I started taking two different probiotic products, to get as many different strains in my digestive system as possible. And shortly after I started this regimen, I noticed a difference. Now, I don't go a day without taking my probiotics.
If you're looking to reset your digestive system by using probiotics, start slowly. Take one a day for a few days, and then move on to two a day - taking one in the morning and one at night. Then, after a week or so, start pounding them. I call it "flipping the flora" because it's a battle of the good flora from probiotics versus the bad flora in your gut. The only way to beat the bad flora is by taking consistently high levels of probiotics every day.
There are other factors to be aware of when trying probiotics. There are a lot of products out there that are labeled as "probiotics," but they're no more probiotics than chalk. So, it's really important to make sure you're getting the best product. Probiotics work best when they're stored at cool temperatures, so if you order a shipment from a company that stores them without refrigeration, the bacteria cultures will likely be dead before you consume them. You should also make sure you're taking a probiotic with at least 10-25 billion CFU (colony-forming units) - this means that there are a lot of bacteria ready to heal your gut. And don't forget: The more strains of probiotics, the better. I switch out the strains I take so that the probiotics don't lose their effectiveness as my gut adjusts to the increased levels.
Everyone with Crohn's is different, and probiotics may not be the magic fix you're looking for. But I think if you're struggling with Crohn's and have tried other treatments that have failed, it can't hurt to try them. They may help heal your gut and prevent further damage.
My Crohn's hasn't been magically resolved, but it's 99% better than it used to be. For me, that's a miracle. Studies researching the effectiveness of probiotics haven't come out with much data proving that they change anything. But I'm a perfect example of how probiotics can change your life and change the course of your disease.
Mike is a feature film producer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jan. These are not their real names.