It always seems to start with becalming. Your usually active child suddenly becomes quiet, intently focused. For my girls it is usually a request to watch television. Now I dust my TV more than I turn it on and I am not fond of dusting. So when they ask to watch Winnie the Pooh or Kipper I know something is happening they can’t quite put into words. They take a seat on the couch or Mr. Big Bear, an oversized stuffed bear, then the thumb goes in their mouth. When I offer fruit or water they refuse. It’s the calm before the storm.
About a week ago this is exactly how it started. My younger twin woke up at 6:30am, two hours before she usually wakes, and instead of asking to breastfeed she asked to watch Baymax. While Big Hero 6 is one of three favorite movies, asking at so early an hour was suspect. Sure enough, within an hour the vomiting began. Every half hour on the mark she was loosing what looked like her entire stomach contents from the day before. Within three hours the diarrhea started. I call these the two bucket diseases, one bucket for each end. I realize this is a pretty disgusting narrative so far so rest assured, the truly gross part is done. It took six hours for her sister to become sick. Within three days their older sibling became ill on his 17th birthday. Five hours after Darwin took ill I also became sick. So with an entire house sick how did we all bounce back within 24 hours of being ill? I will let you in on a secret I have.
Probiotics: Because Not All Bacteria Are Bad
So if you’ve read my About page you know I am an infectious disease molecular biologist. Bet you only thought my nerd tended toward fiber geekery and cosplaying at Comicon. Well the truth is I specialize in the truly nasty stuff, not just the nausea, vomiting, diarrhea bacteria and viruses I affectionately call the Butt Bugs. No, I work with high acuity agents and my specialty is antibiotic resistance and toxins. I primarily work with the genetics that regulate expression mechanisms that allow the bacteria to make their niche. Knowing all this I can put the good, the bad, and the toxic in their place and decide the best course of action.
Yes, antibiotics are necessary in some cases but most of the time they are not. These are, of course, decisions you will make with your physician and pharmacist and I am by no means advocating restricting the use of antibiotics in the case of certain pathogens. My first line of treatment is always to use probiotics, especially when antibiotics are in use. Antibiotics work to target specific bacterial pathways such as preventing building a cell wall which in turn prevents the cell from making new cells. When you are taking those antibiotics you are limiting the population so that your body has time to get ahead of the infection. Other antibiotics stop proteins from being made or prevent thick protection layers from being formed making those bacteria vulnerable to the body’s immune system attacks.
While working against the bad bacteria that cause infection and subsequent disease, the antibiotic also affects the good bacteria. The good guys are there to keep the bad in check. They are often carnivorous, consuming other bad bacteria and using their proteins and fats to create new cells. They also are responsible for helping break down the food we eat into smaller pieces that our bodies can then use as fuel. Some beneficial bacteria also make precursor molecules they discard as wastes that become the building blocks for larger nutrients in our body including vitamins K and B complex. So making sure the good bacteria stay in high numbers is essential. Without them diarrhea will last longer and nutrition can suffer.
So what are probiotics?
They are sources of live or freeze-dried bacteria that have been known to naturally inhabit the intestines and are good or non-disease causing bacteria. There are many different species of good bacteria and the population of your intestines will be different from mine just based on where we live and what we eat. The normal flora of a plant based diet is different than that of an omnivore. It shouldn’t scare or surprise you to find out your food is not sterile. It has loads of good bacteria and having worked in the industry a long time, should not contain bad bacteria. Of course mistakes happen, food is grown in the ground and sometimes the ground contains pathogenic bacteria. This is especially true when your food is grown down field from a ranch where animals are housed. But remember what I said about the good bacteria being carnivorous? It means the good bacteria that is naturally on your food help to correct and keep the system in harmony. When a bad bacteria gets in the system using a probiotic can help to neutralize the effects of the disease process.
Food Sources of Probiotics
I am a big fan of kefir milk. Kefir is milk that has had the good bacteria added and allowed to grow to reach certain numbers. Along the way the bacteria eat those pesky lactose molecules and leave the milk lactose free. Many of the milk proteins are also digested but do check the label if you have a casein sensitivity or allergy. Our favorite Kefir by far has been the Lifeway Kefir which is sold in plain, blueberry, and strawberry flavored with the berries pureed in so it tastes more like a smoothie. Sick babe with a sore throat? Lifeway also makes one of our favorite frozen snacks boosted with probiotics. The twins favorite is the GooBerry Pie Lifeway ProBugs which is a pouch smoothie boosted with probiotics. What I love about the Probugs is there are ten different probiotic bacteria in good number served up in an ingenious no spill pouch. That’s right, they can’t squeeze it out all over the place due to a valve inside the pouch so no mess when they loose their wig over a toy.
Another one the twins really like is probiotic boosted juices. These contain natural sugars from the fruit and while they are not ideal for those with diarrhea, the probiotic content is usually just a billion or so bacteria higher than some of the milk based sources. This means they can drink less juice, 2 ounces, and get a higher dose than the 6 ounces of kefir milk. This can be the difference if my girls are refusing any food. Sometimes I can get them to take a drink of juice and still get in a full dose. Our favorite fruit based probiotic drinks are Good Belly and Yakult. The drawback to the juice based is the sugar, naturally sourced but not good when the bad bacteria thrive on sugars for growth, and they are usually only one strain of Lactobacillus rather than a boost of many different bacteria.
I also keep quite a bit of yogurt on hand in the house which is a great probiotic maintenance regimen. We prefer Fage Greek Yogurt which is extra thick and creamy but when a flavored yogurt is craved we enjoy the Mountain High or Noosa too. Yogurt is an every day treat for the ladies and me. Some of our more decadent treats start with yogurt. If you haven’t tried our Chia Seed Pudding recipe it’s perfect for that last cup of yogurt in a big container. Another one of our new favorites is the Neopolitan Parfait which features chocolate avocado pudding and sliced strawberries layered between coconut chia seed pudding.
If you prefer to make your probiotic foods or have more variety without fermentation consider a probiotic powder. There are several on the market which usually consist of anywhere from 8 to 32 different bacterial strains. The bacteria are grown in pharmaceutical grade conditions in bioreactors, rinsed of their growth media, then suspended in either half strength skim milk or a vegan milk source and freeze dried. This means the liquid form is flash frozen to -80C and placed under vacuum where the air is removed and the sample is kept frozen. The result is the bacteria are still alive, just left in a dehydrated form awaiting moisture to come back to life. The benefit to a powdered probiotic is that you can take it in a tablet or capsule format with water (I personally prefer coffee) or if sold in the powdered format, sprinkled on room temperature or cold foods. For the girls our Pediatric Dietician and Nutritionist recommended Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infants or Ther-Biotic Children’s Chewable tablets. The Infant formula boasts ten probiotic strains in an easy dissolve powder with the strains selected geared toward children two and under. The Children’s formulation contains all but two of the strains in the infant formula and is overall a higher concentration of probiotic. How do I use it? I use the Infant Formula and add it to their electrolyte drinks or I make freezer pops adding the powder to the mix before freezing.
Babywearing, cloth diapering, breastfeeding twin Momma sharing my insights.