What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are present in yogurt, other fermented foods, and in pills. They are promoted as a benefit to the human digestive system. Normally you have trillions upon trillions of bacteria within the colon. Normally we ingest bacteria every time we swallow. Many of these swallowed bacteria may be beneficial while most are simply innocuous and cause no problems. The question for everyone who takes a probiotic much beyond yogurt is whether they really are a health benefit. Here is what we know medically about probiotics.
The Role Probiotics Play in Your Health
Up until the past few years, scientists in the medical profession paid little attention to the colonies of bacteria that live in the lower gut. Today, we know maintaining a healthy balance of good versus bad bacteria is important because people with more beneficial bacteria are less likely to suffer from a wide range of diseases and conditions.
Once GI experts realized there is more to the lower gut than first assumed, the push to understand the diverse roles these bacteria play became urgent. Many mysteries still need solving, but clinical evidence increasingly indicates that people in good health should optimize lower gut bacteria. You can accomplish this by eating prebiotics to encourage the growth of your existing gut microbes, and probiotics to add to the ones that are already there.
The science on what probiotics do is still emerging. There is some hard evidence that suggests eating probiotic foods and supplements can have a beneficial effect on health. Other evidence suggests probiotics benefits are limited to those individuals in good health, and should be avoided by those who suffer from certain serious health conditions. There is no research that demonstrates the risks or the benefits of probiotic supplements on children.
Despite the uncertainty, foods enriched with probiotics and probiotic supplements are increasingly popular in the U.S. Finding probiotic supplements in grocery and health food stores is easy. For example, you may already know that yogurt contains probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Many clinical studies suggest these bacteria relieve symptoms related to lactose intolerance.
In addition, probiotic bacteria also help with common digestive complaints such as diarrhea and gas. Although some yogurt brands advertise themselves as being specially formulated to help with digestion, any yogurt with “live” or “active” cultures (bacteria) can help.
Yogurt and supplements aren’t the only places you can find probiotics. More foods that contain probiotics include:
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi — These prepared dishes contain three essential probiotics plus many vitamins. Always choose unpasteurized versions of these prepared foods since pasteurization kills the helpful bacteria (probiotics).
- Miso soup — Fermented soybean paste may not sound delicious but it is. It’s also extremely nutritious. Miso contains over 150 bacteria, is low in calories and high in vitamins and antioxidants
- Soft cheese and enriched milk — If yogurt doesn’t appeal to you, consider soft cheeses such as Gouda. Evidence suggests probiotic bacteria that live in soft cheese are better able to survive the trip through the acidic stomach. Probiotic-enriched milk, as well as kefir, are more potential sources
- Naturally fermented sour pickles — Pickling in salt water instead of vinegar encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria
- Sourdough bread — Sourdough contains lactobacillus, one of the bacterium found in yogurt
Are Probiotics Safe?
Here is what we know about the safety of probiotics so far:
- Most probiotics are safe. However, if you have an immune disorder like lupus, take chemotherapy or have any serious chronic disease, check with your physician.
- All probiotics are not equal. Most are considered of the good types to have in the gut, but unless a complicated stool test is done on the bacterial makeup of the gut, it will always be a guess. Remember that there are well over 1000 species of bacteria already in the colon. We don’t really know if adding a few more will make any difference.
- It is known that it is unlikely that that taking a probiotic by itself will result in its taking up permanent residence in your gut. Some experts say that you have to take it indefinitely.
- Some probiotics have been effective in certain intestinal disorders like childhood diarrhea and ulcerative colitis. Again, check with your physician.
- Antibiotics taken by mouth are terribly disruptive to the entire healthy bacterial complex. Try to avoid them as much as possible.
- Antibiotics in animal feed may get into your body in small but significant amounts. Check with your butcher on where his meat and poultry come from.
- A low saturated fat diet is likely far more important in establishing a good bacterial flora than any probiotic.
Also, remember that while a billion or so bacteria sounds like a lot, it is really a very small quantity compared to the trillions upon trillions of bacteria that we know are present in everyone.
Probiotics and Fiber
What about prebiotics vs probiotics? Prebiotics are the food fibers that go through the gut unchanged and are then used by good colon bacteria as a food source for their own growth. Everyone already has most of these good bacteria present, but often in small quantities. Prebiotics are used to stimulate their growth. Simply stated, you already grow your own probiotics within your colon. You do not rely on them to make the passage through the stomach acid — acid that can destroy many probiotic bacteria. That’s why taking a probiotic supplement or adding probiotic foods to your diet does not always help your digestive system. You can eat as many probiotic bacteria as you want, but if they don’t survive the trip to the colon, your effort will be fruitless.
Nevertheless, the presence of certain bacteria in the lower gut benefits overall health, not only digestion. The science on the role of the lower gut is changing every day, and has advanced significantly — even over the past 10 years. Research strongly suggests that a favorable bacterial balance in the lower gut positively affects the factors influencing heart disease, immunity, bone strength, depression, and obesity and weight loss. Science has only just begun to determine the roles that bacteria play in human health, but it seems clear that healthier people have healthier bacterial balances. People with poorly balanced bacteria levels are more likely to suffer serious health problems.
For the generally healthy person, you can make a very good case to trust your own body to select and grow the best bacteria that are already in everyone. The foods you eat greatly influence your bacterial mix. Although probiotics offer many positive health benefits, there is no guarantee that they can make the trip from your mouth to your lower gut intact. Although adding more prebiotic fiber to your diet cannot guarantee safe passage of probiotics, it can influence the healthy bacteria that already live in your system. If probiotics help you, eating prebiotic foods or supplements will cause those healthy bacteria to flourish.
That’s why adding probiotics and prebiotics to your diet provide the best possible outcome from a bacteria perspective. It isn’t always easy to eat naturally prebiotic-enriched foods, however, because they are often distasteful to eat in quantity. Would you enjoy eating several cups of raw onion or garlic every day? Probably not. Other foods that contain prebiotic fiber, such as bread and bananas, are high in calories. Consuming hundreds of calories of these foods every day is counterproductive if you’re trying to lose weight.
The foods that are highest in prebiotic fiber are also difficult to find and prepare. Jerusalem artichoke — not the average artichoke sold in your local grocery store — and chicory root contain the highest amounts of inulin and oligofructose. The good news is that Prebiotin offers an easy solution: with our simple supplement, you can get enough prebiotic fiber through normal dietary intake instead of eating a high amount of chicory root a day. Prebiotin is also low in calories. Unlike other fiber supplements, Prebiotin does not have an unpleasant taste or texture. It is slightly sweet and easily combines with beverages such as coffee. You can also sprinkle it on top of food.
With Prebiotin, you can easily add prebiotic fiber to your diet without worrying about eating huge amounts of troublesome foods or hunting down hard-to-find ingredients. You also won’t have to worry about loading up on high calorie foods that can negatively affect any effort to lose weight. Combining Prebiotin prebiotic fiber with a diet enriched with probiotic foods can only help your effort to positively influence the bacterial balance in your lower gut.
If you want to take advantage of the benefits of probiotics and you also want to make sure the beneficial bacteria you already have is optimized to its full potential, supplement your probiotic regimen with Prebiotin. A trained microbiologist cannot tell you which probiotics are the best ones to choose, so why try to do something you are not trained to do? Eat lots of foods with prebiotics in them and take a prebiotic supplement like Prebiotin. It’s the best thing you can do to maximize the benefits of both prebiotics and probiotics on the bacteria in your gut, and your overall good gut health.
Finally, there is a great deal of good research being done on probiotics. Keep tuned as interesting things may be happening.