You might have heard a lot lately about probiotics. But what are they, and can they deliver health benefits to you and your family?
Let’s dive in and look at how probiotics work, learn about some of the best probiotic foods, and ways you can incorporate more into your lifestyle for better health and well-being.
Probiotics 101 – Benefits of Probiotics
Your gastrointestinal system – specifically, your gastrointestinal tract (also known as your “gut”) – is filled with trillions of microbes. Many of these bacteria and yeasts in your gut are good for you. Others are harmful and can lead to serious health issues.
It's very important that good microbes outnumber the bad ones. That’s where probiotics come in.
So, what are probiotics, exactly?
Well, probiotics are viable microorganisms that “exert positive health effects.” They are good bacteria that help to reinforce those already in your gut and they support your health and well-being. Probiotics keep a healthy balance in our gut.
The two main sources of natural probiotics are through fermented foods and supplements.
Factors That Affect Good Bacteria in the Digestive Tract
Again, it’s important the good bacteria in your digestive tract outnumber the bad bacteria. And there are several things that can threaten that balance. Antibiotics are known for being powerful medications that kill bad bacteria. But, did you know: Antibiotics kill good gut bacteria as well?
Probiotics, which you get through eating probiotic food or taking supplements, can make certain you have enough good bacteria to balance out the bad bacteria in your GI tract, especially if you’re taking antibiotics.
Now, there are many strains of beneficial bacteria, and they deliver many different health benefits.
Different Strains of Natural Probiotics
Now, there are many different strains of natural probiotics. Here are just a few of the more important or well-known strains of probiotics:
Many experts consider L. acidophilus to be the most important – and most beneficial – Lactobacillus strain. This probiotic strain multiplies within your small intestine, which helps strengthen the intestinal wall and aids in the absorption of nutrients.
Studies have shown that L. acidophilus can help strengthen your immune system.
Research has found that this strain is linked to improved vaginal health. One study found that women who suffered from vaginal discomfort tended to have a lower supply of L. gasseri.
L. plantarum is responsible for the production of hydrogen peroxide, which your body uses to fight the effects of bad bacteria and other harmful microbes. There is also evidence that L. plantarum may help strengthen the immune system.
The L. rhamnosus bacterium is another important probiotic that helps protect your digestive system. This specific strain can withstand our strong stomach acids that can kill off other good, but weaker, bacteria.
B. bifidum is one of the first bacterial strains you start to grow as a baby. Eventually, it becomes one of the most populated strains found in your gut. It helps inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens, and it aids the digestive process by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Research has found that B. bifidum is specifically helpful when keeping your body running smoothly while off routine, such as traveling.
The B. longum bacterial strain helps break down carbs and neutralize toxins in your gut. Along with the other strains, it can strengthen your immune system.
One study involving showed that B. longum continued to help elderly subjects in the improvement immune system functioning for up to 20 weeks after stopping the use of probiotic supplements.
You’re are only born with an amount of beneficial bacteria already in your system, including B. infantis. Unfortunately, however, your supply of this important bacterium tends to decline as the years go by. B. infantis is important because this type of good bacteria can help provide relief of symptoms from those suffering with gastrointestinal issues.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Here are just a few of the ways that probiotics can help improve certain aspects of your health.
1. Help with digestive trouble – Research also indicates certain strains of good bacteria could help reduce gastrointestinal symptoms (such as gas and bloating). Research of strains of good bacteria have found it helps relieve constipation by increasing bowel movements.
2. Boosting the immune system – Probiotics have also been shown to help strengthen the immune system. Studies show that good bacteria may help give your immune system a boost.
3. Oral health – Research suggests probiotics can help areas other than your gastrointestinal tract. In one study, researchers found that certain strains of good bacteria can help reduce the risk of bad breath and issues involving gums.
Sources of Probiotics
So, what foods are rich with probiotics? Apparently, there are lots of healthy, delicious probiotic foods. Listed below are just a few of the fermented foods that are high in friendly bacteria.
Sauerkraut comes from the fermentation of cabbage. The fermentation of cabbage puts sauerkraut at the top of the probiotic foods list. This food contains an incredible supply of beneficial bacteria.
If you want to try to add probiotics into your body through sauerkraut, make sure to pick up the non-pasteurized version.
This is a very popular breakfast food in Japan. Miso is a great source of good bacteria, and it also contains several important nutrients. These nutrients include magnesium, iron, and vitamin K.
Kimchi is Korea’s version of sauerkraut! The longer kimchi ferments, the more good bacteria develop. Kimchi is high in dietary fiber, which helps keep your digestive system healthy.
The fiber in probiotic foods such as kimchi also helps reduce the chances that you’ll overeat, since it helps to make sure you feel full.
Colony-Forming Units (CFUs)
Probiotic supplements such as tablets, capsules and powders contain a certain amount of colony forming units, or CFUs. The label of the product should list the number of CFUs received in each dose. The number of CFUs tells you how much good bacteria you’re putting into your body with each dose.
Researchers found that children who received 5 billion CFUs each day and adults who received 10 billion CFUs daily tended to see more substantial benefits.
Probiotics – The Power is in Your Hands
Hopefully, you now see the importance of probiotics in helping you stay as healthy as possible. There is no debate – they play a vital role in keeping you healthy and feeling your best.
But before you alter your diet to include probiotic foods, talk to your doctor first. They will put together the best plan to make sure you get an ample supply of probiotics.