Probiotics are good bacteria that help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Learn their other health benefits and the food sources where you can find them.
Bacteria have invaded our home refrigerators. Yes, even the tidiest and most immaculately clean fridges may be harbouring these little bugs. But the bacteria I refer to aren’t clinging to a back corner; they are found in food and they are good for you!
I’m talking about probiotics (meaning “pro-life”), the good bacteria that live in our gut helping to maintain a healthy digestive system and aiding in nutrient absorption. These good bugs help to reduce the number of “bad” bugs in our system.
We’re All for Probiotics
These good-for-you bacteria known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium improve digestive health by:
- Relieving diarrhea and constipation
- Treating colitis
- Reducing risk of certain cancers
- Helping treat food allergies and sensitivities
- Synthesizing nutrients (folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, B6, B12, and vitamin K) and increasing nutrient bioavailability
- Producing lactase and alleviating symptoms of lactose intolerance
Probiotics can even influence our immune function, hormonal levels, and our weight. A new set of experiments show how these bacteria influence how fat is digested and deposited in the liver. Some research suggests obese people may play host to a somewhat different set of bacterial species from those found in people of ideal weight.
Other investigations into their synergistic properties show that probiotics play important roles in insulin resistance, which when imbalanced can lead to type 2 diabetes. Dysbiosis, or a disproportionate level of bad to good gut bacteria, might contribute to a plethora of conditions, including systemic sugar imbalances.
Furthermore, 60 to 80 percent of our inherent immune system is based on the interconnectivity of our blood and lymph through our gut and its resident probacteria.
Fortifying Intestinal Fortitude
To maintain good health, it is essential to achieve optimal levels of probiotics in our intestines. For this we need to relyon foods that harbour and support probiotic culture.
The best way to attain maintenance-level probiotics is through injected food sources (where probiotics have been added) as well as those that have naturally occurring levels:
- Yogourt (with live active culture)
- Other fermented foods
Go High or Go Home
Probiotic foods alone will not effectively bring your gut back into a state of balance after such experiences as food poisoning or the more common antibiotic-induced diarrhea. To achieve therapeutic replenishing ranges, you need to dose up heavily with a broad spectrum of probiotics.
The best sources of therapeutic-level probiotics for an effective reload are supplements.
Probiotic preparations differ in the bacterial strains they contain as well as in their concentrations.
Not all probiotics are equivalent in terms of efficiency. For any probiotic to be effective it must have a high count (in the hundreds of billions of cells) of living bacteria per dose, if possible, and be able to survive the journey down the gastrointestinal tract to the colon.
The choice of beneficial strains is based on criteria established by the scientific community. They must be of human origin, resistant to stomach acidity and bile salts, able to adhere to human intestinal cells, able to colonize (even temporarily) the intestine, and able to produce immune-balancing properties.
Look for at least 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose. The more CFUs, the more likely that some will make it through your digestive tract alive. To ensure this, it’s best to take them following a meal so that they ride along with the food you’ve just eaten and are somewhat protected from the acid in your stomach and enzymes in your digestive system.
Always choose a supplement that has been independently verified to contain the level of probiotics promised (see ConsumerLab.com). Use probiotics for at least two weeks to see optimal results. For chronic problems, regular dosages are needed for consistent prevention or relief.
What’s a Prebiotic?
To keep probiotics thriving, remember to eat a diet that contains six to seven servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Known as prebiotics, certain types of fibre are important in increasing the number and the activity of the probiotics in our system.
Pump up Your Probiotics
Probiotic foods alone may not effectively bring your gut back into a state of balance after such experiences as food poisoning or chronic diarrhea. Other factors that can deplete good bacteria and upset their balance in the intestines are:
- Antibiotics, which can kill good as well as bad bacteria
- Chemotherapy and other drugs
- Infections (bacterial, viral, and fungal)
- diet (highly processed, low-fibre foods)
The “Live Active Culture” seal that you may see on some labels is a voluntary seal that simply indicates that the product contains a high number of “starter” bacteria Lactobacillusbulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilu; it doesn’t guarantee probiotic benefits.