What are Probiotics and Why Do You Need Them?
Did you know that we have good bacteria in our digestive tract called Probiotics? Let’s take a closer look at probiotics and their benefits.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria (usually Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium) that reside naturally in your gut and play a vital role in the digestive process. The normal human digestive tract contains about 500 different types of probiotic bacteria. A healthy balance of these bacteria helps absorb nutrients, breaks down toxins, and boosts the immune system.
The word ‘probiotic’ is derived from the Latin preposition ‘pro‘ meaning “for” and the Greek word ‘biotic‘ meaning “life”, which together mean “for life”; it’s a fitting definition, considering your body contains such a huge volume of microorganisms.
Probiotics were first discovered in 1907 by a Russian scientist called Elie Metchnikoff. He found that consuming fermented milk with the bacteria Lactobacilli increased a person’s longevity. Since then, research has continued to support his findings along with suggesting even more benefits.
In the mid-1990s, probiotics were discovered to ease GI problems, treat urinary tract infections in some women and delay child allergy development. While probiotics are found naturally in the body, they can also be found in a variety of foods and dietary supplements.
Research has shown that probiotics can have a number of health benefits if taken regularly:
- Support overall digestive health
- Support immune system
- Help prevent infections in the digestive tract
- Help prevent occasional diarrhea
- Promote weight loss
- Reduce the growth of harmful bacteria
- Replace the loss of good bacteria that results from taking certain medication such as antibiotics or during an illness.
What happen if your body does not have enough probiotics?
A deficiency in probiotics may lead to intestinal problems such as nausea, fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, yeast infections, and colon cancer. Those suffering from probiotic deficiency may also develop lactose intolerance.
What are the probiotic rich foods?
Probiotics can be found naturally in fermented food sources, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, natto, sauerkraut, and kombucha. If you can’t get enough probiotics from these foods on a regular basis, it might be necessary to take a probiotic dietary supplement.
The other way to maintain a healthy gut through diet is to eat foods high in prebiotics. Prebiotics are a natural food for probiotic bacteria and are usually found in high fiber foods. The foods rich in prebiotics include asparagus, bananas, chicory root, garlic, onion, leeks, jerusalem artichoke, etc.
How much probiotics do I need per day?
Because probiotics are not regulated by the FDA, there are no standard dosage recommendations for probiotics. Normally, a probiotic product should contain several billion microorganisms to increase the likelihood of benefit. Dosage may also be indicated as colony forming units (CFU).
To maintain a healthy digestive tract, take a probiotic of one to two billion CFUs daily. If you are taking antibiotics, or if you have gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, you can take a probiotic with up to 10 billion CFUs until the problem is fixed.
When is the best time to take probiotics?
There is a misconception that the best time to take probiotics is in the morning and on an empty stomach. Probiotics are living organisms that need food, water and warmth to survive and multiply. Thus, taking probiotics on an empty stomach or fist thing in the morning might not be the best.
Ideally, the best time to take probiotics is just before or after a meal. Food that you eat protects probiotic bacteria from digestive juices and enables them to pass through to your gut relatively unharmed. Aside from protection, the food you eat also provides the probiotic bacteria a proper food and nourishment to ensure it survives, grows and multiplies in your gut.
You need to be careful that you don’t take probiotics with hot beverages as the friendly bacteria are vulnerable to heat.
Are probiotics safe?
Probiotic bacteria are part of the normal digestive system and are considered safe. However, you should not take probiotics if you have had an allergic reaction to Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Streptococcus thermophilus.
If you are considering taking a probiotic dietary supplement, check with your doctor first, especially if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system.