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Probiotics - Making Friends with Bacteria

Updated: May 16, 2022

Everyone’s been talking about their gut bacteria lately and about the importance of this colony inhabiting your insides. But how do these microbes get there and are they the same in everyone? Can probiotics really improve my health?

Essentially, your microbiome (aka gut flora) is all the “good” microbes present in your gut that help you break down food and provide immunity. Over 1,000 species of bacteria have been identified in the average human and your body is full of trillions of microbes! Remember, not all bacteria are bad.

So, we need to have a large variety of gut bacteria available to help us digest all different kinds of food. If we only eat certain types of food, such as those with simple sugars, we eventually become over- colonized with those types of bacteria, because they are the most used. The other bacteria that can digest more complex foods are eventually kicked out; bad news for your gut. You are what you eat!

You also build immunity through exposure to bacteria from the environment. They are literally everywhere! They’re in the dirt, water, air, dust, surfaces, your skin, and anywhere you can think of. Despite the scary thought of a world overrun with bacteria, we are becoming “too clean.” Fewer and fewer people are working outdoors. Exposure to different types of bacteria helps train your immune system.

Unfortunately, it is also easy to throw this balance of bacteria out of whack. Also stress, poor diet, and antibiotics all disrupt your gut.

Are Probiotics the answer?

Probiotics are live microorganisms added to foods that offer potential health benefits to the host when consumed in adequate amounts.

They have been shown to improve the health of your gut and assist in digestion. Traditionally, most probiotics have been incorporated into yogurt or dairy products, but more and more applications are being developed, including powders and juices.

Probiotics promote homeostasis between good and bad bacteria, or that they interact with the good bacteria.

Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

Benefits of taking Probiotics

Having the right gut bacteria has been linked to numerous health benefits, including:

  • weight loss

  • improved digestion

  • enhanced immune function

  • healthier skin

  • reduced risk of some diseases

When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they often experience diarrhea — even long after the infection has been eradicated. This is because the antibiotics kill many of the natural bacteria in your gut, which shifts the gut balance and allows harmful bacteria to thrive. Probiotics may also help combat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder, reducing gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

Research shows a connection between gut microbes and obesity in both infants and adults. It also shows that microbial changes in the gut are a factor in developing obesity as an adult. The success of a diet may depend on both the type of food you put into your mouth and the type of bacteria that live inside your gut.

Can I get probiotics from food?

You can absolutely increase beneficial microbes in your body from the foods you eat. Certain foods have probiotics (good bacteria) in them and can benefit the health of your microbiome.

These foods can be introduced into your diet at any point of the day. You may even be regularly eating them now and not realize that they contain probiotics. You will want to check the food label for “live and active cultures.”

Here are a few suggestions for just some of the probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet.

They include yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, cottage cheese, kombucha, tempeh, fermented pickles, fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup.

Probiotic supplements

There are several ways you can take a probiotic supplement. They come in a variety of forms, including in:

  • Foods.

  • Drinks.

  • Capsules or pills.

  • Powders.

  • Liquids.

Probiotic supplements may be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in your gut. Basically, prebiotics are the “food source” for the good bacteria. They help feed the good bacteria and keep it healthy. Prebiotics include inulin, pectin and resistant starches. When you have a supplement that combines a probiotic and prebiotic, it’s called a synbiotic.

It’s also important to keep in mind that unlike medications, dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the FDA. This means that manufacturers can sell supplements simply with “claims” of safety and effectiveness.

Bottom Line

Maintaining a healthy gut is about more than taking a probiotic supplement.

Day-to-day diet and exercise are just as important, as many lifestyle factors affect your gut bacteria. However, probiotic supplements may offer a wide range of benefits with few side effects. As such, if you’re interested in improving your gut health, they are worth a try.

About the authors

Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.

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