What Are Probiotics?

probiotics

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that are considered healthy and aid in bodily functions. They are very similar to the billions of different types of healthy microbes already present in the system.

For instance, the gut alone is teeming with a complex and diverse community of bacteria that aid in digestion and absorption.

It is possible that you might already be consuming probiotics if you like fermented foods such as cheese and yogurt. But to boost your immune system, you may consider supplementing your diet with probiotic-rich foods and drinks available in the market.

Here is a ready guide to everything you need to know about probiotics, including their benefits and functions.

How Do Probiotics Help?

According to a research study conducted by Harvard Medical School, the human bowels hold more than 100 trillion microorganisms across 500 different species.

These microorganisms live in a balance which is unique to each individual, much like the fingerprints. Illness, stress, and disorders can change the internal bacterial balance causing digestive and other problems.

Restore Gut Balance

Probiotics are essentially good bacteria. They work directly on your digestive system and intestines and do so by crowding out the bad bacteria and restoring balance in your gut and metabolic activity. Simply put bad bacteria cause inflammation, infections, and other issues in your body. Probiotics prevent these bad bacteria from multiplying.

An interesting example of this phenomenon can be seen with an increase of yeast in the body. Yeast infections are fairly common in women. However, a well-balanced gut biome reduces the yeast levels preventing inflammation and yeast infections.

Helps in Digestion

Probiotics are essential to digestive health. Bacteria are crucial to the digestive process. Good bacteria produce enzymes that are required for necessary nutrient absorption. These enzymes are also capable of inhibiting and preventing the multiplication of bad bacteria.

Immune System Stimulation

Studies have shown that certain stains of probiotics help in stimulating the immune system. For instance, inadequate gut health as in imbalances with the bacteria biome are known to potentially can cause type 1 diabetes in children. Certain bacteria are necessary for vitamin absorption and hormone production.

Health Benefits

Probiotics do not affect everyone the same way. This is a major reason behind the lack of detailed studies regarding it. However, initial studies show that probiotics aid digestion and prevent diarrhea.

They also fend off urinary tract infection and help in easing vaginal infections. Other health benefits are related to auto immune diseases and skin ailments such as eczema.

Circumvent Drug Side Effects

Antibiotics are known to kill off good bacteria while targeting an infection. Many doctors recommend taking probiotics with antibiotics to restore gut balance. Generally, diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotics. By including probiotics in your diet you can easily restore a healthy bacteria balance in your intestines, aiding the digestive process.

Various Types of Probiotics

There are many different kinds of bacteria that are classified as probiotic. It’s vital to understand their various species and strains individually.

Probiotic Species

There are two major groups or species which include most of the studied probiotic.

Bifidobacteria

This is a common species of bacteria labeled as probiotic and is found in various foods and supplements. These are known to support the immune system and limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines. They are especially good for lactose intolerant people as they help in breaking down lactose into essential nutrients that the human body can use.

Lactobacillus

This species of bacteria have a primary function of breaking down lactose or milk sugar with the help of an enzyme called lactase, and can be taken and consumed once a day in capsule or tablet form.

The process results in the production of lactic acid that inhibits the multiplication of bad bacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria help in increasing the body’s absorption of nutrients and minerals while serving as muscle fuel. This species is naturally found in the vagina, mouth, and small intestine.

Probiotic Strains

Strains are a genetic subtype of a species. Probiotic strains have different effects on the body. Each strain is combined with one of the species to create a probiotic.

For instance, probiotic L.acidophilusis species Lactobacillus combined with individual strain acidophilus. This probiotic is naturally found in the small intestine and vagina. It is present in yogurt and fermented soy products as well.

Here are other common strains found in dietary supplements:

B. longum

This strain is a powerful antioxidant and lives in the gastrointestinal tract. It helps in breaking down carbohydrates.

B. animalis

This strain boosts the immune system, fights food borne bacteria and helps in aiding digestion. It is naturally present in common foods, being particularly abundant in yogurt and other fermented foods.

B. lactis

A culture of this probiotic strain serves as a starter for cheese, cottage cheese, and buttermilk. It is derived from raw milk.

B. breve

This is a powerful strain that helps in fighting infection causing bacteria in vagina and the digestive tract. It ferments sugar to help the body absorb nutrients and energy. It is also essential to breaking down plant fiber by making it more digestible.

L. reuteri

It is thought to help fight tooth decay by killing oral bacteria. It also promotes digestion. It is found in the mouth and intestines.

How to Include Probiotics in Your Diet?

It is not advisable to add probiotics to your diet as a lifestyle food. It is best to speak with your doctor before you make any dietary changes. However, probiotics are generally considered safe as long as you do not have a compromised immune system.

There are many naturally occurring probiotics in various food stuffs. For instance, yogurt is a great source of probiotic. In fact, Dannon yogurt’s Activia product has B. animalis added to it for superior strength.

You can try fermented cheese options such as Cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, and Parmesan. If you are lactose intolerant you can also try vegetable products such as pickles, miso, and sauerkraut.

Dietary Supplements

There are a number of available to purchase commercial probiotic products in the market that you can find online or in your local store. Pick an option that has large quantities of bacteria to form colonies or CFU.

Multiple bacteria strains are usually more effective than single bacteria. The most important factor to consider is whether the bacteria are living or dead. Bacteria are living beings that flourish and multiply in your gut. Make sure you check the expiry date and pick a product that has ‘live’ bacteria.

Probiotics are Crucial

Probiotics can positively impact your health in a variety of ways. But make sure you check with your doctor before including probiotic supplements in your diet. Probiotics are essential to maintaining gut balance and a healthy digestive system.

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