What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live micro-organisms similar to bacteria or yeast that are claimed to provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amount. Many traditional fermented foods contain “live and active cultures”, such as yogurt and buttermilk, and they may contain probiotics, however, probiotics are not live and active cultures but live micro-organisms. Furthermore, dead microbes are not probiotics.
Health benefits of probiotics
- The best case for probiotic therapy has been applied in the treatment of diarrhea. This includes diarrhea from the use of antibiotics and also diarrhea from an infection. Probiotics inhibit pathogenic colonization and enhance the resistance of digestive tract to infections.
- Probiotics may help people with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and constipation.
A healthy vagina relies on a good balance of good and bad bacteria, just like the digestive tract. Studies have shown Lactobacilli, which contains probiotics may help in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Immune system enhancement
Maintaining good intestinal flora can benefit a stronger immune system. Probiotics provide a positive effect on immune function by enhancing cell-mediated immunity.
- Probiotics enhance the production of SCFAs (short chain fatty acids). SCFAs are the most important by-products of probiotic metabolites. SCFAs help makes intestinal pH more acidic, which facilitates the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
- Probiotics aid the synthesis of essential vitamins, such as folate, Vitamin K and B vitamins. The use of folate-producing probiotic strains can be considered as a new window in the specific use of probiotics.
What should you know about probiotics?
- One dose level can NOT be assumed to be effective for all strains, and a total count does not indicate the levels of each probiotics strain.
- Probiotics must be identified as specific strain and dose effective as well. Same species with different strain can have a different impact on our health.
- Health benefits can only be attributed to the strain tested for health benefits in human studies.
- Multiple strains are not necessarily better than a single strain.
How to choose a probiotic supplement?
- Check species, strains and doses of the probiotics.
- Check storage information and contact information.
- Review how many live microorganisms per serving are indicated on the food package and the suggested serving size.
- Check the studies have been conducted on the product regarding health benefits.
- Vehicle/filler in the product must be considered such as capsules and powder, whether they are tested in another vehicle.
- For any product containing multiple strains of probiotics, information regarding the counts of each strain as well as the target health benefits of each strain should be provided.
- It is suggested that taking probiotics after meals may have better outcome due to the fact that high acidity of an empty stomach may kill the probiotics.
- Keep refrigerated to prolong shelf life; probiotics are living organisms that die at a faster rate when not refrigerated.
- Another factor that can lead to rapid die-off in powdered probiotic products is moisture. To help minimize moisture damage, some manufacturers add a small desiccant bag in the container of the product. After opening, keep them away from moisture, heat, and light.
- Check expiration dates.
Foods that contain natural probiotics
Yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso and some fermented soy beverages are the foods that may contain probiotics. Studies suggested that using yogurt show promising health benefits. Both starter cultures (Lactobacillus delbrueckii, bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) can be presented in the yogurt, and extra bacteria can be added after the fermentation process for health benefits, such as strains of other species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. The results suggested that no differentiation of the different types of bacteria present in yogurt was conducted; therefore reporting the total number of bacteria in products containing multiple strains can be misleading.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microflora in ways claimed to be beneficial to health. There are “short chain” and “long chain” prebiotics based on research. “Short-chain” prebiotics such as oligofructose, are typically fermented more quickly in the colon and provide nutrients to the bacteria in the right side of the colon. Longer-chain prebiotics such as inulin, tends to be fermented more slowly, nourishing the bacteria predominantly in the left-side colon.
Some probiotic products contain a type of non-digestible carbohydrate known as fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS can be considered a prebiotic. FOS are so effective at increasing numbers of intestinal bifidobacteria that some researchers claim that taking a prebiotic is as effective at replenishing intestinal flora as taking a probiotic.
Foods that are rich in prebiotics include chicory root, artichoke, garlic, dandelion greens, onion, asparagus, and leek.
Healthy gut diet
A healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and fiber support a healthy digestive microflora. Foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories reduce the diversity of the microflora.
- Add prebiotic foods to your diet
- Add fermented food products to your diet, such as yogurt, buttermilk and fermented soy products.
- Incorporate more vegetables in your diet.
- Increase the consumption of fiber, specifically prebiotic fibers.
- Limit high sugar and processed or refined food products.
If you have short bowel syndrome, artificial heart valves or auto-immune disorders, etc., you should avoid pre/probiotics. If you are on medications, you should consult your doctor before taking pre/probiotics.
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“Let food be the medicine, the medicine shall be the food.”- Hippocrates