Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are present in large quantities in the digestive system of any healthy person. Probiotics are found in the composition of food and dietary supplements (capsules or powder). Examples of foods containing probiotics are yogurt and fermented foods (such as cabbage and fermented milk drinks, soy or miso). The main types of beneficial bacteria are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacteria (acidophilus, plantarum, rhamnosus) Propinobacteria, Peptostreptococci, Propinobacteria and enterococci.
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits for the host. Probiotics act by eliminating some of the bad bacteria in the digestive system.
Probiotics are attached to the intestinal wall where they multiply and increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria, maintaining a healthy balance between the number of beneficial and harmful bacteria.
Probiotics: food versus supplements
In general, probiotic supplements contain about 10 billion friendly bacteria. This number may seem very high, but the same amount of bacteria can be found in about 250 grams of yogurt.
Therefore, experts believe that people should get these friendly bacteria from what they are eating – yogurt and other fermented foods, because food contains other nutrients essential to maintaining a good health.
Probiotics are recommended when taking antibiotics, to protect the colon from the aggressive action of the antibiotics.
The health benefits of probiotics
Experts say that probiotics provide benefits not only for the intestinal health. They say that the lack of good bacteria in the intestinal flora is among the main causes of many diseases today.
– Help with diarrhea. Most commonly, probiotics are used to treat diarrhea. Studies show that Lactobacillus GG may shorten episodes of infectious diarrhea in infants and children (but not adults). Although studies are still limited and the data is inconsistent, they suggest that probiotics may improve symptoms of diarrhea and also the consequences of the antibiotics could fade by up to 60%.
– Help in the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Probiotic therapy may be useful also for people suffering from Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical trial results are varied, but most suggest that certain probiotics can help prevent ulcerative colitis remission, prevent relapse and recurrence of Crohn’s disease medical complications that can succeed surgery to treat ulcerative colitis. Because many of these digestive disorders are difficult to treat, many people choose to use probiotics. However, more extensive research is needed to determine what type of bacteria works best with these conditions.
– Maintain urogenital health. Probotics are useful in maintaining urogenital health. Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a balanced ecosystem. Strains of lactobacilli vaginal flora that are prevalent in local acidity accentuates so that harmful organisms do not survive. However, the balance of intestinal flora can be disrupted by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides and contraceptive. Treatment restores the balance of microflora and probiotics can improve several urogenital diseases such as bacterial vaginosis, fungal infections and urinary tract infections.
– Reduce allergies. Risk of allergies in children can be reduced when mothers have a healthy balance of intestinal flora during pregnancy. This can be done through the use of probiotics during pregnancy – beneficial bacteria reach the fetus as well and improve its immune function.
– Alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance. People who suffer from lactose intolerance can consume probiotics to ease the symptoms of the condition. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body is deprived of the enzyme that breaks down milk sugars. The condition can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
– The best composition that probiotic supplements can have is a mixture of dominant bacteria in the intestinal flora. If you choose to use probiotic supplements, you should eat every day – in the form of capsules or powders – as part of a healthy eating plan. Probiotics improve health because they:
• help the immunity – about 83% of the immunity is located in the intestinal wall;
• help the digestive system;
• improve absorption of nutrients from food;
• restore bacterial balance of intestinal flora;
• protect the intestinal wall against harmful bacteria that can damage the intestinal tissue. A “leaky” gut allows pathogens to pierce the intestinal wall and infect the body;
• maintain a clean intestine;
• help the production of vitamins;
• help the body to destroy and eliminate toxins and carcinogens.
Producers and consumers should pay attention to storage conditions and expiry dates of food products containing probiotics in order to benefit from their positive effect on health. Food labels must contain the number of bacteria per dose and purity (presence of contaminants or ineffective bacteria).
When you want to take probiotics, search data and scientific studies that will provide information about the type of probiotics that you want to take. Your doctor can help you decide if you need probiotics and can give advice on the amount and type of probiotics appropriate in your case.