Probiotics are microorganisms that provide a bevy of health benefits.
When ingested live, probiotics such as yeast and bacteria work to confer many positive health benefits to the host.
This article will cover important aspects of probiotics such as:
What are probiotics?
At first glance, yogurt, miso soup, and pickled foods seem to be very different products with very different health benefits, but you may be surprised to find that they all have one special health-bringing component: probiotics.
Probiotics are microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria which work within a system to break down food, facilitate the absorption of nutrients, and equalize chemical levels in the digestive tract and the vagina.
A lot of current research is aimed at measuring the effects of probiotics in conjunction with other conditions.
Probiotics promote autoimmune health and can fight a plethora of conditions such as:
- Lactose intolerance
- Blood pressure disorders
- Helicopter pylori infections
- Negative bacterial growth
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Colitis, necrotizing entercoliis (NEC)
- Bacterial vaginosis, and a variety of other conditions.
How do probiotics work to improve your health?
The balance of bacteria in one’s system is key to good digestion and good health.
When the balance is disturbed, or when not enough friendly bacteria are present, food cannot be properly broken down.
When food is not properly broken down into nutrients, the body cannot absorb them properly: In effect, one is starved of the healthful benefits of his or her diet.
When probiotics are introduced into a system, they create a protective wall which lines the intestines, breaks down food into nutrients, and thus, promotes absorption.
They interact with the system, balancing chemical levels, and working to make sure the intestines digest food efficiently and effectively.
Probiotic foods have the bacteria and yeast that is so good for the gut.
In order for these cultures to be effective, they must be live when ingesting and when working in the body.
For this reason, eating foods rich in probiotics is often more effective than taking supplements.
Foods rich in probiotics have gone through a fermentation process.
Common favourites are:
- Sourdough bread
- Ginger beer
Digestive enzymes are the compound in probiotics which break down food.
These enzymes are produced in the pancreas, small intestine, saliva glands, and stomach.
Without digestive enzymes, there is no way nutrient absorption can take place.
Certain disease and conditions can cause a shortage of digestive enzymes in a system.
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pancreatic cancer
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Low-grade inflammation of the digestive tract (caused by food allergies or parasitic infection)
- Low stomach acid
- Chronic stress
A paleo-style diet of avoiding grains and legumes can promote the growth of enzymes. Grains and legumes are rather hard to break down, and sometimes they can cause or promote some of the conditions listed above.
Since the pancreas is where many digestive enzymes are produced, any disruption, inflammation, or ailment having to do with the pancreas will negatively affect the balance of digestive enzymes in the body.
Aging and chronic stress also inhibit enzyme production. In both scenarios, the body must prioritize other functions.
In the case of aging, the body must work harder to rejuvenate cells and keep all systems working properly.
Likewise, when one undergoes chronic stress, the body’s systems prioritize the fight or flight mode as its main function, and therefore, the production of enzymes is stinted.
Do you need more probiotics and digestive enzymes?
If you have any doubts about whether or not probiotics could improve your health, the most sure way to find out is to get your stool tested by your physician.
Indications that you could use more enzymes in your system include:
- Gas and bloating after meals
- Sensation of food just sitting in your stomach
- Feeling full after a few bites of food
- Undigested food in your stool
- Floating stool
- Oily stool (appearance of undigested fat)
Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common of all probiotics ingested for health benefits.
Bacteria of the lactic acid variety convert compounds such as lactose and sugars into lactic acid.
This action balances chemical levels in the vagina and gastrointestinal tract, and research has shown that lactobacillus acidophilus also works as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent in mice.
It does have one downside: Lactobacillus acidophilus is also present in the mouth and it is often the culprit of cavities and tooth decay.
This lactic acid probiotic can be found in yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, wine, cider, miso, kimchi, cocoa, kefir, and other fermented foods.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a probiotic which counteracts harmful bacteria. This yeast variety is used widely as a medicinal treatment for many conditions as explained below:
Diarrhea: By fighting off harmful organisms, this bacteria is extremely effective in treating and preventing –
- Diarrhea in children
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Diarrhea brought on by antibiotics
- Diarrhea associated with tube feedings
Digestive Conditions: Other digestive problems such as –
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Iinflammatory bowel syndrome,
- Lyme disease
- Bacterial overgrowth can also be treated with saccharomyces boulardii
Balancing chemical levels: Issues such as –
- Lactose intolerance
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal yeast infections
- High cholesterol levels
- Hives, fever blisters
- Canker sores
- Acne can also be treated with saccharomyces boulardii.
The benefits of probiotics
Much research has been and is being conducted on the many benefits of probiotics and how they interact with different conditions.
Below is a list of these conditions in which probiotics can promote health.
Much data has been gathered to measure the function of probiotics in accordance with allergies. The bulk of this research shows that probiotics can help promote a strong immune system. Introducing friendly bacteria into a system helps to diversify and challenge the immune system in positive ways. This way the immune system can work in coordination with probiotics to interact with food and other allergy stimuli.
Research suggests that probiotics aid in fighting some forms of gastroenteritis.
When it comes to antibiotic-asdocaited diarrhea (or AAD), probiotics seem to be very effective.
Since antibiotics generally (and especially in children) create an imbalance in the bacterial make-up of our digestive tract, decreased absorption occurs, and this results in diarrhea. Probiotic treatment could reduce the severity of this diarrhea by balancing out the chemicals of the digestive tract.
Research shows that the ingestion of certain strains of probiotics may promote the tolerance of lactose for those who experience negative effects.
Preliminary studies have been conducted to test the ability of some strains of probiotics to reduce cholesterol.
Probiotics break down and mobilize certain components of our food (such as fat and nutrients) and this could mean that probiotics play a key role in how fat is processed and where it goes.
Some studies indicate that fermented milk containing strains of probiotics may result in modest declines in blood pressure.
Immune function and infections:
Some strains of probiotics counteract pathogens by way of competitive inhibition.
In this way, the growth of probiotics impedes that of pathogens.
The increase of good bacteria — in most cases in the form of plasma-producing cells — decreases the incidence of respiratory tract infections as well. Furthermore, by including good bacteria in one’s diet, the immune system is better-maintained and can react more quickly and efficiently to new infections.
Helicobactor pylori (the cause of peptic ulcers):
When used in coordination with medical treatment, probiotics can positively affect Helicobacter pylori infections.
Some strains of probiotics can positively mobilize the immune system, by promoting inflammatory and hypersensitivity responses.
Bacterial growth under stress:
Studies show that harmful bacterial growth (incited by stress) is negated by the introduction of healthy probiotic bacteria.
Irritable bowel syndrome:
Many types of probiotics appear to help people with irritable bowel syndrome, however exactly what probiotic is best depends on the specific case.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC):
Research strongly shows that probiotics lower the risk of NEC and mortality in premature infants.
By synthesizing vitamins, probiotics make vitamin K, folic acid, and vitamin B12 viable.
Researchers have found that specific forms of probiotics (L rhamnosus 19070-2 and L reuteri DSM 122460) are effective in diminishing atopic dermatitis.
Probiotics such as L. acidophilus and L. rhamnosus produce hydrogen peroxide and normalize pH balance in the vagina, preventing bacterial vaginosis.
This dietary fiber induces the growth of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. These microorganisms contribute to the well-being of the host.
By creating an environment in which probiotics can truly thrive, prebiotics provide a dynamic set of health benefits.
Research shows that prebiotics can promote the absorption of calcium and other minerals, boost the immune system, balance bowel pH, reduce the risk of colon cancer, abate inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ease hypertension, and promote intestinal regularity.
Research shows that increased production of bacteria (for which prebiotics are responsible) increases the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). The production of SCFA is widely recognized as the main player in the aforementioned health benefits.
Sources of prebiotics include:
- Aacacia gums
- inulin products (such as Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, and chicory root),
- raw oats
- unrefined wheat
- unrefined barley
- apple skins
Some components of breast milk are believed to have probiotic qualities and could play an important role in promoting a healthy immune system for infants.
Probiotic medical foods including VSL #3 can contain billions of live bacteria in a single pill.
The addition of this bacteria results in the formation of a barrier between the inner layer of the stomach and pathogens. The result is a boosted eradication of toxins.
While VSL#3 and other supplements can promote colon and gut health, the pill is a huge boost in probiotics and a large variety of new compounds working in the system.
The company claims no side effects come as a result of ingesting this pill, and this cocktail can work well for some, however some users report the dosage is a little too strong, resulting in further disruption of the gut and bad cases of gas.
When trying this supplement, one should start with a very low dosage and measure the benefits and side effects carefully.
Many kefir enthusiasts claim kefir smoothies are the most delicious route. It is a great way to gain the benefits of balancing the chemical ecosystems of the gut and the vagina.
Kefir goes through a fermentation process which involves carbon dioxide and ethanol. Because of this fermentation process, very little lactose remains in kefir, and this allows for people with lactose intolerance to enjoy kefir and its benefits.
Nutrients abound in the form of milk protein and polysaccharide as well as vitamins including A, B1, B2, B6, D, K2, folic acid, and nicotinic acid. Kefir also is a good source of calcium, iron, iodine, and phosphorous.
Tryptophan is also found in kefir and is responsible for the calming or sleepy effect one gets from drinking it.
Side effects of probiotic use
Those sensitive to changes in diet may experience gas or mild bloating when introducing probiotics into their diet.
It can take awhile for the body to react to the chemical change which occurs, and those that are adding probiotics for the first time should do so slowly.
In some rare cases, the lactobacillus from supplements may grow too well in people whose immune systems are weakened.
To be sure that intake of probiotics is right for one’s diet, one with a weakened immune system should consult a doctor.
Probiotics for children and infants
Children and infants can reap many of the benefits as adults.
These benefits include the treating of diarrhea, digestive issues, and atopic eczema.
Some proponents claim that probiotics can help fight off allergic reactions as well, although research is inconclusive on this front.
As with adults, children with weakened immune systems should consult a doctor before ingesting probiotics.
Probiotics for pregnant women
Some research points to probiotics as a way to bluster both mother and baby’s immune system, help them avoid allergic reactions, treat eczema, and aid in digestion.
One thing to keep in mind is that the introduction of probiotics to a system can through some chemicals into a new balance.
At times, this imbalance can cause vaginal infections, which are known to occasionally cause early labour.
Probiotics for weight loss
Although much research has been devoted to the matter of probiotics and weight loss, the jury still seems to be out.
The probiotic, lactobacillus rhamnosus, has performed well in trials where women took supplements to lose weight, however the study with men demonstrated little to no influence of the probiotic as far as the measurement of weight loss.
One thing is clear: Thin people tend to have a different bacterial make up than heavy people. This seems to suggest that if one can maintain a lifestyle of ingesting probiotics and maintaining a healthy chemical balance, that one will be at a more healthy weight.
How to begin your probiotic life
Like introducing any new food or habit into your diet, adding probiotics takes a little planning and can be helped by scheduling when exactly you will ingest your daily dose.
To be effective, probiotics must be ingested as live cultures and these living organisms must survive the gastric acidity of the gut.
For this reason, many claim that before breakfast may be the best time to get your probiotic kick. This way the live cultures can survive the acids before they are revved up by other food.
One thing to keep in mind is that hot drinks are not good to mix with probiotics, as the temperature could kill the cultures. While it is probably a bad idea to use powder or swallow a pill with hot drinks, once the culture is ingested, it can most likely survive even if you follow up with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
Can vegans use probiotics?
Many plant-based options exist for vegans who would like to add probiotics to their diet.
Many of these options include a strain of bacteria called lactobacillus which is derived from lactose. Although one would assume a connection with dairy, this bacteria exists even in the stomach and digestive tract of a person who does not eat dairy.
It is simply the fermenting agent of cheese and yogurt, not the actual dairy. Even when lactobacillus is formed on a dairy medium, a process of extraction occurs and no dairy is left in the final product.
One thing vegans should look out for is any supplements with casein. This protein comes from mammalian milk and should be avoided by vegans. It can also cause problems for those with dairy allergies.