Probiotic supplements have been around for years now, and are widely used for digestive health and other potential health benefits. These products come in various forms including capsules, drinks, powders and gummies, but are also found in certain foods.
Incorporating probiotics in daily diets continues to expand in the population, and is trending to be an estimated $17.4 billion market by the year 2027. What really are probiotics, and how do they affect your overall health? How should they be incorporated into healthy lifestyles?
In general, bacteria tend to get a bad rap. Microorganisms have a nasty reputation for making people sick. In reality, your body is home to a mix of many different types of bacteria that are essential to health and well-being.
These “good guy” bacteria live on your skin, in your mouth, throughout your digestive system, and elsewhere in and on the body. They help to improve immune function, digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and can even help interfere with “bad guy” bacteria from multiplying into a potential problem.
Various strains of good bacteria in your gut are responsible for helping to breakdown fats and proteins consumed. The human digestive tract is home to well over 500 different genera (or genuses), which are types of bacteria vital to nutrient digestion and absorption.
The population of good and bad bacteria living in your digestive tract is called your “gut flora,” and bacterial cells here out number human cells 10:1. When combinations of diet, stress, illness or medications throw this gut flora off balance, discomforts and health problems may result. More and more often people are talking to their healthcare providers about adding probiotic supplements and foods to their diets.
While probiotic products can contain various types of bacteria, and even some yeasts, two big hitters are groups (genera) Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Many times these two organisms are common ingredients in probiotic supplements.
Many people accept that probiotic products are intended to “support digestive function,” but intended benefits are more focused. Certain types of bacteria may impair undesirable populations of bacteria that harm the intestine. Some probiotic products also contain ingredients called “prebiotics,” that help to contribute to beneficial bacteria colonies in the system.
Some probiotic products may also help your gut flora return to a more healthy balance after being disturbed by disease or medication, for example. Some probiotic products also contain ingredients called “prebiotics,” that help to favor the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics in Foods.
Beneficial bacteria are also naturally present in certain foods or added during production. Let’s discuss a couple of foods that include probiotics – yogurt and kombucha.
Yogurt is one of the most well-known food sources of healthy microorganisms. Yogurt is produced from milk that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus). Look for yogurt with “live or active cultures” listed on the label.
Kombucha is black or green tea fermented by bacteria and yeast. This beverage continues to gain popularity in the U.S. for its probiotic benefits. Evidence of its probiotic benefits related to the fermentation process are promising, but other potential benefits, such as anxiety reduction and immunity boosting, still lack scientific evidence. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi also contain healthy lactic acid bacteria that can help support healthy gut flora.
Did you spot the theme there?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. When active beneficial bacteria or yeasts remain in food products in the diet we may reap health benefits.
The unjust criminalization that all bacteria are bad needs to stop. Understanding our commensal relationship with the beneficial types of bacteria that live in and on us can help us to make better, healthier decisions.
Choosing to include probiotic supplements and/or foods into our diets can have positive effects on our health, but it is important to discuss those effects with your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing specific digestive problems or abdominal discomfort, please consult your physician to address your symptoms and any underlying issues that could be causing them.