Yogurt with fruit

Photo by Vlad Chețan

Probiotics introduce a more confusing way to look at strengthening your immune system. We've all learned to be cautious about bacteria. Store shelves are filled with anti-bacterial soaps and household cleaners designed to help prevent us from getting sick. But we are now learning that some bacteria strains are not only helpful, but critical to a strong and healthy body. These are the beneficial bacteria in our gut - and consuming probiotics help us maintain a good balance of bacteria.

The important take away is that our body needs healthy bacteria. If you've recently taken antibiotics for an illness, it's important to replace the healthy bacteria. Stress, chemotherapy, and other factors can throw off the balance of gut bacteria, so consuming foods that contain probiotics regularly is a good habit.

Gut bacteria help digest food, and destroy disease-causing cells. Good bacteria in our gut can reduce inflammation, while bad bacteria can increase inflammation. Since chronic inflammation can contribute to some cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, arthritis, lupus, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and allergies, it's important to manage anything that may contribute to a sustained inflammatory response. 

Probiotics During Cancer Prevention

Recent research and studies show that probiotics may prevent some cancers. A UCLA study found evidence of a relationship between intestinal microbiota and the onset of lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the immune system. The results indicated microbiota might delay the onset of cancer, and that probiotic supplements could help keep cancer from forming. "In addition, mice with the good bacteria lived four times longer and had less DNA damage and inflammation." 

Probiotics After Cancer Treatment

Many oncologists are prescribing probiotics for their patients who suffer digestive side effects due to treatment (diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome), but it's not considered part of the therapy.

Some studies have shown probiotics taken as supplements can interfere with some immunotherapy, so it's important to talk to your doctor before taking probiotics in supplement form.

Probiotics after Cancer Treatment

If you've just undergone chemotherapy or radiation, the first thing you need to do is let your body repair itself. Rest a lot, and provide your body with the nutrition it needs to rebuild. This is a great time to eat foods with probiotics to get a balanced gut and strong immune system back on track.

What foods contain probiotics?

Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics in food.

Kefir is a fermented milk drink which contains several major strains of friendly bacteria and yeast.

Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria.

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product, and is often used as a high-protein meat substitute.

Kimchi is a fermented, spicy Korean side dish.

Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji.

Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink.

Pickles are fermented using their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria.

Traditional buttermilk (not cultured buttermilk) is the liquid left after making butter. Cultured buttermilk does not contain probiotics.

Cheeses that contain live and active cultures - you will need to look at the label.





For more on probiotics and gut health, this is an excellent resource from the National Institute of Health:

For more on Probiotics and Cancer Prevention:

University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences. "Gut bacteria could help prevent cancer." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 5, 2020).