Gut health has been a hot topic in recent years, with more and more people looking for ways to improve their digestive function and overall wellness. One approach that has gained a lot of attention is the use of probiotics – live microorganisms that can be consumed in food or supplement form. These tiny but mighty organisms have the potential to revolutionize the way we think about our health. In this article, we’ll dive into the world of probiotics, exploring their benefits and providing examples of foods that contain them. Whether you’re a probiotic newbie or a seasoned pro, read on to discover why these microorganisms could be the key to unlocking optimal health.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed in food or supplement form. These microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, are beneficial to the human body and are known to promote health in a number of ways. Probiotics are naturally found in some foods, including fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as in dietary supplements.
The human body contains trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. When the balance of these bacteria is disrupted, it can lead to a range of health problems. Probiotics help to restore this balance, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and reducing the risk of disease.
There are several types of probiotic bacteria that are commonly found in probiotic supplements and fermented foods. These include:
- Lactobacillus: This is one of the most common types of probiotic bacteria. It is found in many fermented foods, including yogurt and kefir, and is known to promote digestive health.
- Bifidobacterium: This type of probiotic bacteria is commonly found in the large intestine. It is known to promote digestive health and may also help to boost the immune system.
- Streptococcus thermophilus: This type of probiotic bacteria is commonly found in the mouth and upper respiratory tract. It may help to boost the immune system and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Saccharomyces boulardii: This is a type of yeast that is commonly found in probiotic supplements. It is known to promote digestive health and may also help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Overall, probiotics have become increasingly popular in recent years as people become more interested in improving their gut health. In the following sections, we’ll explore the benefits of probiotics in more detail and provide examples of foods that contain them.
HOW DO PROBIOTICS WORK?
Probiotics, or good bacteria, play a vital role in maintaining a healthy balance in the body. They act as the neutralizers, preventing bad bacteria from taking over and keeping the body in balance. When the body is attacked by harmful bacteria, probiotics work to fight it off and restore balance, which in turn helps you feel better.
In addition to supporting the immune function and controlling inflammation, certain types of probiotics can also do the following:
- help with digestion
- prevent bad bacteria from becoming dominant and causing illness
- create essential vitamins
- support the cells lining the gut preventing harmful bacteria from entering the bloodstream
- breakdown and absorb medications
Fortunately, our bodies have a natural ability to maintain this balancing act on their own. While probiotic supplements are available, consuming a well-balanced diet that is rich in fiber can help keep the levels of good bacteria at appropriate levels. By consuming a well-rounded diet that supports the growth of good bacteria in the body, we can maintain the delicate balance between good and bad bacteria and promote optimal health. While probiotic supplements may be helpful for some individuals, a healthy diet is the foundation for keeping our body in balance and ensuring optimal health.
BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that probiotics can offer a range of health benefits. Some of the key benefits of probiotics include:
- Improved Digestive Health: Probiotics are known to promote digestive health by restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut. They can help to alleviate symptoms of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Boosted Immune System: Probiotics have been shown to boost the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. This can help to reduce the risk of infections and illnesses.
- Reduced Risk of Heart Disease: Some studies have found that probiotics can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Improved Mental Health: There is some evidence to suggest that probiotics can have a positive impact on mental health. They may help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by reducing inflammation in the body.
A review of human studies found supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains for 1–2 months can improve anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and memory.
- Enhanced Nutrient Absorption: Probiotics can improve the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. This can help to reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and promote overall health.
- Reduce the Severity of Certain Allergies and Eczema: Probiotics may reduce the risk and severity of certain allergies, such as eczema in infants. However, more research is needed.
- Probiotics May Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat: Certain probiotics may help you lose weight and belly fat. For example, some probiotics prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine. However, other strains have been linked to weight gain. More studies are needed to clarify the link between probiotics and weight.
EXAMPLES OF PROBIOTIC FOODS
As mentioned above, probiotics can be found in a number of different foods. Some examples of foods that are high in probiotics include:
1. Yogurt: Yogurt is one of the most well-known sources of probiotics. Look for yogurts that contain live and active cultures, as these are the strains of bacteria that provide the health benefits. Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics, the friendly bacteria that can improve your health in many ways, such as bone health, lower blood pressure, relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and is best for people with lactose intolerance. Just make sure to choose yogurt that has active or live cultures.
2. Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink that contains a high concentration of probiotics. It is similar to yogurt but has a thinner consistency and a slightly tangy taste. While yogurt is probably the best-known probiotic food in the Western diet, kefir is actually a better source of good bacteria. Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria and yeast, making it a diverse and potent probiotic. It may improve bone health, help with some digestive problems, and protect against infections.
3. Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and is a good source of probiotics. In addition to its probiotic qualities, sauerkraut is rich in fiber as well as vitamins C and K. It is also high in sodium and contains iron and potassium. Sauerkraut also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. Look for sauerkraut that has been fermented using traditional methods or unpasteurized brands, as these will have a higher concentration of beneficial live bacteria.
4. Kimchi: Kimchi is a Korean dish made from fermented vegetables, including cabbage and radish. It is rich in probiotics and is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. It contains the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus kimchii, as well as other lactic acid bacteria that may benefit digestive health. Kimchi made from cabbage is high in some vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and iron.
5. Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink that is rich in probiotics. It is made by fermenting tea with a culture of bacteria and yeast, which creates a slightly fizzy and sour drink.
It is claimed to have a wide range of health benefits, but more research is needed.
6. Miso: Miso is a fermented soybean paste and a popular Japanese seasoning. It is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a type of fungus called koji. It is rich in protein and fiber as well as various vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds, including vitamin K, manganese, and copper. Some studies have found that it may reduce the risk of cancer and stroke, especially in women.
7. Pickles: Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in salty water and fermented. Pickled cucumbers are a great source of healthy probiotic bacteria, which may improve digestive health. They are also low in calories and a good source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for blood clotting. However, pickles made using vinegar do not have probiotic effects.
8. Some types of cheese: Only some types of cheese — including cheddar, mozzarella, and gouda — contain probiotics. That’s why it is important to look for the words “live cultures” or “active cultures” on the food labels. Cheese is highly nutritious and a very good source of protein. It is also rich in important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. It may lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
There are several ways you can take a probiotic supplement. They come in a variety of forms, including in:
- Capsules or pills.
Probiotic supplements are a convenient and effective way to ensure that you are getting a sufficient number of beneficial bacteria in your diet. However, not all supplements are created equal, and it’s important to choose a high-quality product that contains the specific strains of bacteria that have been shown to offer health benefits.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, look for a product that has been tested by a third-party lab to ensure its purity and potency. It’s also important to choose a supplement that contains a high number of CFUs (colony-forming units) to ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of beneficial bacteria in each dose.
In terms of dosage, it’s important to follow the instructions on the label and consult with your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. The recommended dosage can vary depending on the specific strain of bacteria, as well as your age, overall health, and other factors.
ARE PROBIOTICS SAFE?
While probiotics are generally considered safe, there are some potential risks and side effects that should be considered. It’s important to note that the majority of people can consume probiotics without any negative effects, but some individuals may experience adverse reactions.
One of the main concerns with probiotics is the risk of infection. While rare, there have been reports of infections caused by probiotics in individuals with weakened immune systems, critically ill patients, or those with certain medical conditions. This risk can be minimized by avoiding high-risk groups and only using probiotics under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Another potential risk associated with probiotics is digestive upset, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and temporary, but in rare cases, they can be more severe. Individuals who experience persistent or severe digestive symptoms should discontinue use of the probiotic and consult with a healthcare professional.
It’s also important to note that the safety of probiotics can vary depending on the specific strain and dosage. Some strains may be more beneficial than others for certain health conditions, while others may have a higher risk of side effects. Dosage is also important, as taking too much of a probiotic supplement can lead to adverse effects.
To minimize the risk of negative side effects, it’s important to follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen. It’s also important to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement from a reputable manufacturer to ensure its safety and efficacy.
In conclusion, probiotics are an essential part of maintaining a healthy body, and they offer a wide range of potential health benefits. By supporting immune function, controlling inflammation, aiding in digestion, and preventing harmful bacteria from taking over, probiotics play a crucial role in maintaining overall wellness.
While supplements can be helpful in ensuring adequate levels of probiotics, it’s important to remember that many foods also contain high levels of these beneficial bacteria. It’s also important to note that the safety and effectiveness of probiotics supplements can vary depending on the specific strain and dosage. By choosing a high-quality supplement from a reputable manufacturer and following the recommended dosage, individuals can minimize the risk of negative side effects and reap the potential health benefits of probiotics.
So, if you’re looking to support your overall health and well-being, consider adding probiotics to your daily routine. Whether through supplements or food sources, these beneficial bacteria can offer a wide range of potential benefits that can help you feel your best. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine which probiotics may be best for your individual needs and start taking action today to support your gut health!
About The Author
Dr. Hannah is a highly-skilled and compassionate physician who completed her medical degree at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in 2014. She passed the Physician Licensure Exam in 2015, and has since gained experience working in various hospitals and clinics throughout Metro Manila. For three years, she served as a physician on duty at a dialysis institute, caring for patients with chronic lifestyle diseases.
As a primary care physician, Dr. Hannah is dedicated to providing patient-centered care that takes into account the whole person, not just their illness. She believes in empowering her patients to take an active role in their healthcare, and believes that this type of doctor-patient relationship is key to achieving optimal health.