In recent years, probiotics have become one of the most common topics when it comes to improving overall health, with questions such as “What are probiotics?”, “What does a probiotic do?”, and numerous others. These live microorganisms are like little warriors that fight for our health by keeping harmful bacteria in check in our bodies.
So, let’s dive in and learn more about these powerful little organisms!
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide various benefits to human health when consumed in sufficient quantities. They are commonly referred to as “friendly bacteria” since they assist in maintaining the natural balance of microorganisms present throughout your body, with the majority residing in your gut (specifically in the large intestines). Additionally, they are found in several other areas that are in contact with the outside environment, such as your mouth, vagina, urinary tract, skin, lungs.
In short, if you’ve ever wondered “What Are Probiotics?,” they are simply beneficial bacteria that can help support your overall health and wellbeing.
How Do Probiotics Work in Your Body? Proven Benefits of Probiotics
The primary function of probiotics, which are also known as good bacteria, is to maintain the natural balance of microorganisms in your body. It helps keep your body in a state of equilibrium. Whenever you get sick, harmful bacteria enter your body and multiply rapidly, disrupting the balance. In this scenario, the good bacteria fights off the bad bacteria and brings back the equilibrium, promoting recovery.
Good bacteria supports your immune system and regulates inflammation, which keeps you healthy. Additionally, certain strains of good bacteria can aid in:
- Digesting food: Good bacteria play a role in digesting food by breaking down complex carbohydrates and fiber that your body cannot digest on its own. They also produce enzymes that help break down certain types of food, such as lactose in dairy products, which can prevent digestive discomfort and bloating.
- Synthesizing vitamins: Good bacteria in the gut are also involved in synthesizing essential vitamins that the body needs for optimal health. For example, certain strains of bacteria can produce vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health. Other strains can produce B vitamins, which play a key role in energy production, brain function, and maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Without the help of these good bacteria, the body may not be able to produce sufficient amounts of these essential vitamins, leading to potential health problems.
- Strengthening the gut lining to prevent harmful bacteria from entering your bloodstream: he cells lining the gut create a barrier that separates the inside of the intestines from the rest of the body. Good bacteria help to maintain the integrity of this barrier by promoting the growth and maintenance of the gut lining. In addition, they can help to stimulate the production of mucus, which acts as a protective layer in the gut, preventing harmful bacteria from penetrating the lining and entering the bloodstream. This process helps to support the immune system and maintain overall health.
- Breaking down and absorbing medications: Good bacteria in your gut can help break down and absorb medications by producing enzymes that aid in their absorption and preventing their rapid elimination by the liver or kidneys, which can increase their effectiveness
However, it’s important to note that not all probiotics are the same, and their effectiveness can vary depending on the strain and dose.
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The 10 Most Common Types of Probiotic Bacteria
There are many different types of probiotic bacteria, the 10 most common ones include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Bifidobacterium longum
Each type of bacteria can provide different health benefits, so it’s important to choose the right strain for your specific needs.
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Can probiotics help when I have medical treatment?
Currently, extensive research is being conducted on the potential benefits of probiotics for the human body. While there are numerous potential positive effects, researchers are still striving to determine definitive answers regarding the specific ways in which probiotics can address various medical conditions.
Nevertheless, probiotics may offer some benefits for certain medical conditions, although their effectiveness may vary depending on the individual and the type of probiotic consumed. By increasing the amount of probiotics in the body through either food or supplements, it may be possible to alleviate some conditions. Some of the medical conditions that may potentially benefit from probiotics include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Yeast infections.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Gum disease.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis).
- Upper respiratory infections (ear infections, common cold, sinusitis).
- Sepsis (specifically in infants).
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Increase the good probiotics (microbes) in your body
There are multiple ways to increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in your body and reap the benefits of probiotics. Consuming probiotic-rich foods, drinks, and supplements is one of them. Many common foods like yogurt and pickles contain a host of good bacteria that can positively impact your body, and fermented foods are particularly rich in these beneficial bacteria.
Supplements are another option for obtaining probiotics. It’s worth noting that while these supplements do not require FDA approval, it’s recommended to consult with your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet to experience the full benefits of probiotics.
By incorporating probiotics from various sources into your diet, you can help support a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut, leading to overall health and wellness. It’s important to remember that the effectiveness of probiotics can vary depending on the individual and the specific strain of bacteria.
Probiotics from food
Consuming probiotic-rich foods is one way to increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut. There are many common foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and pickles.
When selecting probiotic-rich foods, it’s important to choose products that contain live and active cultures. This information can often be found on the food packaging. Additionally, it’s important to be mindful of added sugars or other ingredients that may negate the potential health benefits of probiotics.
Here is a sample menu for a day that includes some probiotic-rich foods:
- Greek yogurt with berries and granola
- Kefir smoothie with banana and almond butter
- Pickles or pickled vegetables
- Miso soup
- Tempeh stir-fry with vegetables and brown rice
- Kimchi fried rice with egg and veggies
- Kombucha or other fermented drink
- Yogurt with honey and nuts
- Grilled salmon with sauerkraut and roasted vegetables
- Chicken tikka masala with a side of raita (yogurt sauce)
Remember to keep a well-balanced and healthy diet, even when incorporating probiotic-rich foods. Although these foods can provide many benefits, it’s important to avoid over-consuming any one type of food. A diverse and varied diet that includes nutrient-dense options, including probiotic-rich foods, can support your overall health and wellness.
Probiotic supplements come in various forms, such as:
In addition, probiotic supplements may also contain prebiotics, which are complex carbohydrates that provide nourishment to the microorganisms in your gut. Prebiotics act as a “food source” for the good bacteria, helping to keep it healthy. Examples of prebiotics include inulin, pectin, and resistant starches. When a supplement combines a probiotic and prebiotic, it’s called a synbiotic.
Effectiveness of probiotics
Risks from improper storage
Improper storage of probiotic supplements can lead to risks and potential loss of the product’s effectiveness. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be affected by exposure to heat, moisture, and light. If they are not stored properly, the number of live microorganisms in the supplement may decrease, which can decrease the product’s effectiveness. Additionally, improperly stored supplements may also be at risk of contamination by other microorganisms, which could potentially cause harm. It’s important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for storage and to check the expiration date before using any probiotic supplement.
To properly store probiotic supplements, it’s important to follow these suggestions:
- Check the expiration date before purchasing and using the supplement.
- Store the supplement in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight or heat. Refrigerated probiotics if required.
- Keep the supplement in its original packaging or in an airtight container.
- Do not store the supplement in the bathroom or other humid environments.
- Follow any specific storage instructions on the supplement packaging or provided by your healthcare provider.
- If traveling with probiotic supplements, keep them in a cooler or insulated bag to maintain their effectiveness.
By following these suggestions, you can help ensure that your probiotic supplements remain effective and safe for consumption.
Are probiotics always safe? Possible risks of probiotics
While probiotics have numerous health benefits, they can also come with potential risks. Some of the possible risks associated with probiotics include:
Probiotics are live microorganisms that require proper storage to remain viable. If probiotics are not stored at the proper temperature or in the correct conditions, their efficacy can be compromised. Improper storage can cause the probiotics to die off, reducing their effectiveness and potentially causing harm to the user.
Probiotic supplements can become contaminated with harmful bacteria if they are not produced and packaged under strict conditions. Contamination can lead to serious health issues, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.
Taking high doses of probiotics can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, causing digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. In some cases, high doses of probiotics can also cause serious infections.
While the benefits of probiotics are numerous, some individuals may experience side effects when taking them, particularly if they are new to taking these supplements. Common side effects of probiotics include digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. However, these side effects are generally mild and short-lived, and the benefits of probiotics often outweigh any potential risks.
Taking probiotics after taking antibiotics: Repopulate the good bacteria in your body
Antibiotics are often necessary to fight infections, but they can also eliminate good bacteria along with the bad ones, leading to issues such as diarrhea or the proliferation of harmful bacteria like C. diff. While research hasn’t conclusively shown that taking probiotics after antibiotics can relieve diarrhea, some studies suggest a positive link. The idea behind probiotic supplementation after antibiotics is to reintroduce beneficial bacteria to the gut, helping to restore the natural balance and support overall health.
This is where the benefits of probiotics come in. While it may not work for everyone, many people find that probiotics can speed up recovery and reduce the risk of digestive issues. As always, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
Who Should Take Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotic supplements are generally safe for most individuals to take, but certain populations may benefit from probiotics more than others. Some of the groups of people who may benefit from probiotic supplements include:
People with Digestive Issues
Probiotics can be particularly helpful for individuals with digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They can help alleviate symptoms such as bloating, gas, and constipation, and improve overall digestive health.
People with Weak Immune Systems
Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, may benefit from taking probiotics to strengthen their immune system and prevent infections.
Pregnant and Nursing Women
Probiotics can be safe and beneficial for pregnant and nursing women, particularly in preventing vaginal infections and reducing the risk of eczema in infants.
Probiotics can be safe and effective for children, particularly in preventing diarrhea and reducing the risk of eczema. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before giving probiotics to children to ensure that it is safe and effective for their individual needs.
Probiotics can help support the immune system and reduce the risk of infections in athletes who engage in intense physical activity.
Vegetarians and Vegans
Individuals who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may benefit from taking probiotics to ensure that they are getting an adequate amount of beneficial bacteria in their diet.
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