Do you know that your gut naturally contains approximately three pounds of healthy bacterial flora?! These are required for the breakdown of food into vital nutrients for your body to function appropriately, absorbing and assimilating these nutrients to create your thriving self. Everyone is born with a different amount and variety of bacteria in their gut. The problem is that with the Standard American Diet, high in sugar and carbohydrates, the gut flora becomes damaged and cannot do its job for your body to have available nutrients for its maximum functions.
Where are probiotics found? Probiotics are available first through the foods you eat. They are in the active cultures of a range of foods including products such as yogurt, some cheeses, and kefir. If you are lactose intolerant, you do not have to miss out on probiotics believing they are only found in dairy products. The good news is that fermented foods such as miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut can all add healthy probiotics to your diet! You may be making a sour face right now thinking about a bowl of sauerkraut sitting in front of you. But could you do one spoonful a day mixed in a health array of greens and other vegetables? That’s all it takes to supply your gut with healthy doses of probiotics. These are tasty and often easy additions to our diet that can also help improve our overall digestive health.
While food-based probiotics are optimal, circumstances arise which require supplementation. Before you go to a retail store and buy a probiotic, beware that control is a big issue in the United States regarding supplements. Just because it says probiotic on the label, it may not contain the amount advertised; it may be contaminated with other substances; and it may not contain viable or live strains of probiotics. Look for high-grade, third-party verified sources of probiotics. Optimally, medical grade probiotics only available through health care providers are strongly recommended to ensure high quality.
You may be wondering what are other benefits of probiotics? Probiotics have been studied and shown to convey a range of benefits for people of all ages. We will provide an overview of several benefits of probiotics such as their use with antibiotics, promotion of digestive health and immune support.
Probiotics balance the effects of antibiotics which are prescribed to treat infection in the body. Although the antibiotics are helpful for ridding the body of “bad” bacteria, they also kill the helpful bacteria in the gut, causing an imbalance, which then may cause additional negative symptoms. Helpful bacteria do not just assist digestion, they also protect the body from issues such as overgrowth of Candida, a fungus which can lead to yeast infections. In addition, if bacteria such as Clostridium difficile overgrow in the gut, you may develop additional symptoms such as severe diarrhea, requiring hospitalization for additional antibiotics which may create further problems. Because of these potential effects from an imbalanced gut flora, physicians in many countries do not prescribe an antibiotic without also prescribing a probiotic. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, it is very important for you to also take a probiotic at the same time to support the helpful bacteria.
Probiotics also help healthy young children maintain a more diverse and happy gut flora which leads to whole body benefits. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Saccharomyces boulardii at 5 to 40 billion colony forming units/day may be appropriate in children to improve antibiotic- associated diarrhea. (1)
The effects of probiotics are well-documented in relation to improving digestive health, especially in the case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (2,3,4,5 ) Strains of probiotics that have been tested through placebo-controlled trials and have had positive effects include various Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species and strain mixtures.
Probiotics help promote immune support. Probiotics have been demonstrated to activate natural killer cells of the intestinal immune system to release immune mediators. (6)
The basis of the gut flora begins during infancy. Mother’s breast milk has been shown to seed the baby’s gut with healthy bacteria. (7) Breastfeeding of any length of time is important to the baby.
I hope this has provided you with a better understanding of how probiotics can help your body. Now that you are aware of just a few of the many benefits of probiotics, you may consider adding some food-based or high-grade supplemental probiotics to your lifestyle and see what a difference they can make to your health!