Whether you are a fitness enthusiast or someone trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, at one point or another you may have considered taking a probiotic supplement. Existing research suggests numerous health benefits of probiotics for humans. Probiotics are essentially live microorganisms that help the body perform optimally. Some people are surprised to learn that there are trillions of microorganisms living on and inside a human body, but this is true. These organisms play an important role in the health and well-being of a person.
Keep reading to learn how bacteria can help your overall health.
Probiotics are live microorganisms—usually, bacteria and yeasts—that live in your body and are good for your health, especially for the digestive system.
Usually, bacteria are associated with bad health and illness; however, probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that help your body in digestion and in some other ways, and they keep your gut healthy. The human body is full of bacteria and other microorganisms—both good and bad—and has its own microbiome. This microbiome is a diverse community of trillions of microorganisms (living on and inside you in a symbiotic relationship) that work in a system to keep your body healthy. The ‘good’ bacteria play an essential role in many functions of the body, including digestion and fighting off bad bacteria. A probiotic is a microorganism or microbe that has the following attributes:
- It can be consumed safely.
- It can be isolated from a human body.
- It can survive the journey from your mouth to your gut and stay there.
- It has proven benefits for you.
The body has microbes or probiotics living on and inside different places, including the gut (mostly large intestines), mouth, urinary tract, lungs, skin, and the vagina. All of these places come in contact with the ‘outside world,’ and the probiotics help in maintaining the health of these organs.
Although the most common bacteria in probiotics are bacteria belonging to the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium group, probiotics may contain a variety of micro-organisms. Additionally, probiotics may contain yeasts such as saccharomyces boulardii. It is important to note that different types of probiotics have different effects on the body; for example, a certain type of lactobacillus may help in preventing an illness, but other types of probiotics wouldn’t do the same thing.
Probiotics help in maintaining a healthy balance in the body’s microbiome. When a person falls sick, the number of bad bacteria in the body can increase, which can cause other health problems. Different probiotics may function differently; depending on the type of probiotic consumed; they might:
- help the body maintain a healthy microbiome
- restore the number of good micro-organisms in the body
- support the lining of the gut in preventing bad bacteria from entering the blood stream
- help in production of useful substances, such as vitamins
- aid the immune response.
These things happen naturally in a person’s body; there is usually no need for manual intervention. However, if a person has been sick for a while or is not eating a nutrition-rich balanced diet, their microbiome may be disturbed. Such people may need to consume foods rich in probiotics or probiotic supplements to restore the balance.
Food sources of probiotic
The number of food sources of probiotics is increasing by the day, with the largest chunk from dairy-based products, such as the following:
- Fermented milks
- Milk powder
- Ice cream
Many people are vegans, lactose intolerant, and/or have allergies to certain probiotics, and they may require a non-dairy or specialised probiotic supplement. There is ongoing research to develop suitable probiotic supplements for these group. As of now, probiotics can be added to the following non-dairy food items:
- Soy-based products
- Sourdough bread
- Fermented pickles
- Miso soup
- Nutrition bars
- Variety of juices
Since probiotics are live micro-organisms, the packaging and logistics of delivering them to the consumer are challenging. For example, the pH balance of the food source must be ideal for the organisms to survive inside the packaged food source.
Many probiotic supplements also contain some prebiotics and synbiotics to make the supplement extra efficient. Prebiotics are food components that cannot be digested by the human body and are used to stimulate the activity or growth of certain micro-organisms. Synbiotics are also food components that combine the probiotics and prebiotics together in a probiotic supplement. A supplement with probiotic & prebiotic benefits you by enhancing the functioning of the micro-organisms in it.
Health benefits of probiotics
Several studies have indicated that the health benefits of probiotic supplements include improved gastrointestinal, respiratory, and urogenital tract health. The evidence for these claims usually falls under three categories—proven and accepted facts, promising indications, and widely accepted traits despite the lack of evidence and contradictions. However, the research has been conducted on limited strains.
The exact activity of probiotics is still not clear; health benefits of probiotics include the production of short chain fatty acids and bacteriocin, lowering the gut’s pH level, and the enhancement of immune response. There is increasing evidence that highlights the benefits of eating probiotic foods, such as reduction of serum cholesterol, cancer prevention, blood pressure control, and improved therapeutic outcome in women with bacterial vaginosis.
Additionally, when a person consumes antibiotic medicine, it suppresses the natural microbiome inside the body. Thus, many people experience mild to severe diarrhoea as a side effect of consuming antibiotic medicine; generally, doctors recommended palliative (supportive) care with probiotic treatment in such cases.
A probiotic supplement may benefit a person who has the following conditions:
- Urinary tract infections
- Gum disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Yeast infections
Things to remember while consuming probiotic supplements/foods
- Probiotic supplements come in a variety of forms and different compositions, including capsules, powders, and liquids. You can try and see which one works best for you or consult a doctor about which one to use. It is always better to talk to your doctor before making any big changes in your diet.
- While choosing a probiotic supplement, check the ingredients and label to know what exactly you are consuming.
- Probiotics usually need to be stored at specific temperatures under specific conditions to preserve them. Follow the storage instructions given with the probiotic supplement.
- As with any other food, moderation is key while consuming probiotics; some people may get an upset stomach if they consumed excessive amounts of probiotic supplements.
Scientific evidence supports the notion of incorporating probiotics supplements in food items or regular diet to gain some health benefits of probiotic supplements. Furthermore, this evidence confirms that probiotics can help in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases; however, they are deemed either promising or controversial for some other conditions. Nevertheless, further research is necessary to evaluate the probiotic foods’ health benefits and to create suitable agents for delivery for people who are lactose intolerant or vegans:
People are gaining awareness about probiotic supplements’ benefits on their health, and a rise in the functional food industry has also been observed in recent years. You can invest in a probiotic supplement or simply consume yogurt as it remains the most prominent agent for the delivery of probiotics.