Probiotics—a recent topic of interest among many people today. It seems to be another health buzz word around campus—taking probiotics via supplementation and food items. But what’s the hype about probiotics, and why are they just now coming into focus? They have been around for centuries, all throughout different cultures, in and around different parts of the world. Here’s what you need to know about probiotics and why they could absolutely benefit you, even if you don’t realize it.
First, let’s define the difference between a PREbiotic and a PRObiotic. So many of us get confused with these two technical terms, and might even mistake them for the same thing. However, they are two very separate entities that work symbiotically to maintain your gut health.
Prebiotics: a non-digestible food source that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. Prebiotics are typically found in fiber-rich sources such as artichokes, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, banana and wheat bran. These oligosaccharides cannot be broken down by the body, thus they travel through the small intestine into the colon where the gut microbiota begin to break them down into smaller fragments. Prebiotics are essentially food for the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Probiotics: a dietary supplement or food source that contains live organisms/healthful bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics come in the form of some fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, sourdough bread, and other fermented drinks and vegetables. Probiotics are especially important to help maintain gut health, and overall function, by balancing out the ‘bad’ bacteria.
Research has been looking more and more into the benefits of probiotics and how these beneficial bacteria microorganisms can help treat or prevent certain diseases, metabolic conditions, autoimmune disorders, and neurological disorders. Probiotics are nothing new to civilization, they span throughout many different cultures through the use of fermented foods. Although probiotics have made their debut and have become popular in our Western society, and we can find them easily in the grocery store without having to make our own—prebiotics are still widely unmentioned. The use and consumption of both can help you reach new heights in your gut balance and overall health.
Under the large umbrella term of ‘Probiotics’ lies several hundred different species and strains of bacteria, most notable are the common species- Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Saccharomyces boulardii. Under these species lies several more strains, each good for different purposes, much like modern day medicine.
Lactobacillus: The most widely found bacteria used in yogurt and other fermented dairy products because of the aerobic, lactic acid-forming by-products. They have the ability to form biofilms that withstand the low pH of stomach acid.
Bifidobacterium: This microorganism helps in the digestion of foods, producing short chain fatty acids, and reducing inflammation.
Streptococcus: some strains of this species (S. thermopiles) is used when culturing milk products. This species produces lactase as a by-product, allowing people who are sensitive or lactose intolerant to digest fermented dairy products more efficiently. This species has also been found to improve immunity and overall digestion.
Saccharomyces boulardii: This probiotic species is actually a yeast that has been used in the past to treat gastrointestinal conditions such as diarrhea (C. difficile) in hospitals. Most notable, this species of yeast is found in the popular drink—kombucha.
Our health essentially begins in our gut, which is the starting block of the health seen and felt from the outside. When we have an imbalance of harmful bacteria to healthful bacteria, the scale is near the tipping point towards other metabolic diseases and issues we may face on a daily basis such as allergies, sensitivities, weight gain, mood disorders, headaches etc. Many species within the probiotic realm help to maintain the gut barrier and help to produce organic acids that nourish healthful bacterium colonies.
-Interested in learning more about gut health? Check out my previous blog post on why our gut health is so important. Health Begins in Your Gut
Before running to the local grocery store and buying up all the kefir, yogurt, and fermented cheese, here’s a few tips on probiotic health.
For starters if you have never taken a probiotic, it works much like fiber does. Too much at one time can cause stomach distress such as bloating, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Starting with small doses is much easier on the stomach when introducing probiotics for the first time. Start with 5-10 billion CFU per day (Colony Forming Units) and work your way up to 100 CFU. I also suggest starting with food-based probiotics first instead of taking a supplement. Food is typically absorbed in the body better than supplementation, however, in some instances a supplement may be tolerated better.
Certain fermented foods with live cultures can contribute to a healthy gut microbiota, however, not all fermented foods are considered probiotics. Fermented foods are those that have been slowly decomposed by controlled measures to produce acids from sugar, alcohol, and CO2 as by-products. These by-products serve as an anti-microbial platform to help preserve the food from food borne pathogens. While fermented foods are used for their health benefits, not all fermented foods reach the standards given by the World Health Organization (WHO), which states, “to be considered a probiotic food, a fermented food must have an adequate level of live microbes that have been shown to have a health benefit.”
With all that being said, probiotics are a wonderful way to balance and maintain the healthy bacteria in your gut. With the use of both prebiotics and probiotics in the diet, the symbiotic relationship can help maintain a flourishing gut from the inside-out.
Food and Nutrition magazine: The Potential of Probiotics by Esther Ellis MS, RD, LDN March/April 2018
Today’s Dietitian: The Facts About Fermented Foods by Carrie Dennett MPH, RDN, CD April 2018
International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics
Photos: Google images
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2 Comments Add yours
I love reading your blog posts and your e-mails! I noticed once you posted that you enjoyed reading about nutrition. I would love it if you could do a blog post about your favorite nutrition magazines and books.
That’s a great idea! Thanks for asking for this, I have several magazines and books I like to reference for nutrition information