Photo shows a hand holding a gallon of yogurt.

The Yogurt Effect: Fighting Disease In a Powerful Way

Dr. Willie T. Ong (Internist-Cardiologist)

Have you tried eating yogurt? Yogurt, one of the world’s healthiest foods, is actually made from fermented milk. It is regarded by experts as a complete food, having the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Yogurt has calcium for the bones, potassium for the muscles, and vitamin B for the nerves.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a cup of regular yogurt (100 grams or 3.5 ounces) gives the following nutritional values: 61 calories, 4.7 grams (g) of carbohydrates, 3.5 g of protein, 4.7 g of sugars, 3.3 g of fat, 121 mg of calcium, 250 mg of potassium, 16 mg of magnesium and the B vitamins.

But more than your regular milk, yogurt has the added value of probiotics, the good bacteria our body needs, such as your lactobacilli. Let us look at the possible ways yogurt can help us:

1. For those who can’t tolerate milk.

A substantial number of Asians (including me) can’t tolerate milk. Some people have trouble digesting milk proteins and the sugar lactose in milk. They develop bloating and diarrhea. As an alternative, eating a cup of yogurt a day doesn’t give the same unwanted effects.

According to Dr. John Briffa, a London physician, columnist and nutrition expert, yogurt is less likely to cause an upset stomach for two reasons. First, the healthy bacteria used to make yogurt helps in partially digesting the milk proteins. Second, these friendly bacteria also digest the sugar lactose, converting it to lactic acid. Thus, yogurt contains less of these diarrhea-inducing components.

2. May help prevent stomach cancer, ulcer and colon cancer.

Dr. John Briffa writes that the healthy bacteria in yogurt have the potential to help people with stomach ulcer, food poisoning, constipation, diarrhea and other bowel-related problems. The presence of good bacteria in yogurt somehow helps ward off and displace the bad bacteria.

One such annoying bug is called Helicobacter pylori, an organism that is known to cause stomach ulcers. A Taiwan study showed that two probiotics in yogurt, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, helped treat patients with ulcers and Helicobacter pylori infection .

3. For strengthening the immune system.

Several studies have shown that yogurt assists our immune system. A breakthrough study by Dr. Georges M. Halpern of the University of California School of Medicine shows that eating two cups of yogurt a day for four months can increase our body’s gamma interferon (substances fighting infections) by five times. Dr. Halpern and colleagues reports that the yogurt with specific live active cultures (containing Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) boosts interferon levels.

Another one-year follow-up study by Dr. Halpern shows that eating six ounces of yogurt a day can help prevent colds, hay fever and diarrhea. And if ever the patients develop a cold, the symptoms are usually less troublesome.

Yet another research done on elderly people shows a significant reduction in the duration of illness (including gastrointestinal and respiratory illness) in those taking yogurt. Because of its effect on the immune system, yogurt is believed to be beneficial also for patients with allergy, various cancers, and HIV-AIDS.

4. For those taking antibiotics, especially children.

Whenever you take antibiotics, it’s a good idea to take a cup of yogurt every day. Although antibiotics are extremely helpful medicines, they can sometimes destroy the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. Some experts believe that eating yogurt will help replace the good bacteria that may have been destroyed by the antibiotic. One study suggests that eating certain probiotics (named L. casei, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus) can also reduce the incidence of diarrhea, a possible side effect caused by taking antibiotics.

5. To help prevent osteoporosis.

We know that calcium and vitamin D play a major role in preventing osteoporosis. And since a cup of yogurt contains 12% of our daily calcium needs, this can help protect our bones. Check the labels because some yogurt preparations are made with added vitamin D. Other food sources with Vitamin D include eggs and sardines. Likewise, early morning sunshine helps our bodies produce vitamin D.

6. To help treat vaginal yeast infection.

Symptoms of this common vaginal infection are itchiness and the presence of a whitish discharge in the vaginal area. Doctors usually prescribe an anti-fungal suppository for seven days. Aside from medications, experts suggest eating a cup of yogurt for five days to help replenish the healthy lactobacillus in the body. One study reports that women who take a cup of yogurt a day have less vaginal yeast infection and less urinary tract infection (UTI). Yogurt researcher Dr. Georges Halpern believes that yogurt is particularly beneficial for women, “Yogurt boosts immunity, delivers lots of available calcium and helps prevent vaginitis.”

7. To help treat canker sores (locally called singaw).

Canker sores are small, shallow and painful lesions inside the mouth. It’s not contagious but it can make eating and talking painful. It usually starts with a small injury from teeth braces, accidental biting or abrasion from the teeth.

From my own experience, an Ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Elmer De La Cruz, advised me to eat yogurt. According to Dr. De La Cruz, yogurt is particularly helpful because it coats all of the painful sores, even in places where it is hard to reach, like the throat and inner gums. I tried it and it’s a great relief. One technique is to take in 1 to 2 tablespoons of yogurt every hour or two, so it will cover the canker sores and hasten its healing.

8. To help you lose weight.

Compared with regular ice cream, yogurt has fewer calories, less fat and less sugar. A small cup of yogurt yields only 70 calories. In fact, a small study from the University of Washington in Seattle shows that eating yogurt makes one feel fuller and less hungry.

Some tips when buying yogurt. First, you can choose the low-fat or fat-free variety. Second, make sure that your yogurt has “live and active cultures,” which means that it has the healthy bacteria inside. Third, be sure it’s not yet expired.

And so, if you want to stay healthy, have some yogurt today.

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