WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS, HOW DO THEY WORK AND, OF COURSE … WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
WHY ARE PROBIOTICS IMPORTANT
The lining of your gut, like every surface of your body, is covered in microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. Although we may be unaware of it, it plays a huge role in our health. It supports our bodies to absorb nutrients from food, remove germ invaders, and calibrate our immune systems.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROBIOTIC AND PREBIOTIC?
There are two ways to maintain gut balance
1. Adding living microbes directly to your system (Probiotics):
Probiotics are different to prebiotics in that they contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut
2. Helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotics):
Prebiotics are specialised plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs are not digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.
THE BENEFITS OF TAKING PROBIOTICS (AND PREBIOTICS)
More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing probiotics.
Potential benefits of probiotics also include:
- the treatment or prevention of irritable bowel syndrome, digestive disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux, which plague millions of people (mostly women);
- prevention of ulcers;
- Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem. The dominant Lactobacilli strains normally make it too acidic for harmful microorganisms to survive. But the system can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills. Probiotic treatments that restores the balance of microflora may be helpful for vaginal and urinary infections in women as well as the recurrence of bladder cancer, and infections of the digestive tract. If you get recurring yeast infections which are caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria then you will want more of the good bacteria that’s found there: lactobacillus acidophilus;
- delay the development of allergies in children.
Also, if you struggle with anxiety, you should know that our brains and gut work together, and both produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin (the happiness chemical). Experts claim that by balancing our gut it may help treat anxiety, because it promotes better communications between the two. Look for strains lactobacillus plantarum and bifidobacterium bi-fidum.
HOW TO TAKE PROBIOTICS
If you are not taking a supplement (tablet or liquid), there are many healthy probiotic foods you can eat. This includes numerous varieties of fermented soybeans, dairy and vegetables.
- Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. It is made from milk that has been fermented by friendly bacteria, mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacterial;
- Kefir is a fermented probiotic milk drink. It is made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk;
- Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It is one of the oldest traditional foods and is popular in many countries, especially in Europe;
- Kimchi is a fermented, spicy Korean side dish. Cabbage is usually the main ingredient, but it can also be made from other vegetables.
- Miso is a Japanese seasoning. It is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a type of fungus called koji;
- Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink. This popular tea is fermented by a friendly colony of bacteria and yeast. It is consumed in many parts of the world, especially Asia. You can even purchase it online;
- Pickles (also known as gherkins) are cucumbers that have been pickled in a solution of salt and water. They are left to ferment for some time, using their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria. This process makes them sour.
HOW TO TAKE PREBIOTICS
Foods that contain prebiotics include sweet potato, wholegrain oatmeal, bananas, onions, garlic, and asparagus. There are many healthy probiotic foods you can eat, these include:
- Jerusalem artichoke;
WHEN TO TAKE PROBIOTICS
If you are taking a supplement, although there isn’t an exact science to when you should take your probiotic, it’s better to do so with a meal or no more than 30 minutes before a meal. When you eat, stomach acid and bile secrete to break down the food. Stomach acid is often too harsh for the delicate bacteria cultures to survive on their own, but adding some food into the mix will allow the cultures to make it to the intestines without as much acid exposure. A common misconception is that first thing in the morning is the best time to take probiotics. As living organisms, probiotics need food, water, and warmth to thrive.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
Probiotics are generally considered safe as they are already present in our normal digestive system. There is however a theoretical risk for those with impaired immune function. Be sure the ingredients are clearly marked on the label and familiar to you or your health provider, as there is no way to judge the safety of unidentified mixtures.