Are there any health benefits of taking probiotics? Or to start with, Are there any health benefits of taking probiotics? Or to start with, what are probiotics? Well, according to a definition given by UNFAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization), probiotics are “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.
In simpler terms, probiotics are helpful, live bacteria and yeasts that naturally live in the gut of all animals. They also exist in probiotic supplements and fermented foods.
For a while, the idea of probiotics was dismissed as a mere marketing trick to sell probiotic supplements. But over time it has become clear that they come with many health benefits. The most important of these benefits of taking probiotics is restoring gut flora.
This definition, by the two most powerful health organizations, promises health benefits. What are those benefits of taking probiotics? We will discuss them below.
When we eat enough of them, probiotics work to change the gut bacteria in our bodies. They bring balance to the gastrointestinal environment.
The gastrointestinal system consists of a very high number of bacteria and yeasts. Most of them are in the stomach, the intestines and other areas of the body. Prolonged use of antibiotics can lead to a reduced number of gut bacteria. Probiotics help in restoring gut flora that we lose over the years.
History of Probiotics
The idea of probiotics was first introduced to the world in 1908 by Metchnikoff, a Russian zoologist. He was known for his research of the immune system. He discovered how fermented milk-based foods helped Bulgarian laborers live longer and healthier. Fermented milk-based foods are very rich in good live bacteria.
Kollath was the first man who used the term “Probiotics” in 1953. He derived it from the Greek words “pro” (which means to promote) and “biotos” (which means life). Hence, probiotics means that which promotes life. Well-named, we think. The benefits of taking probiotics definitely put them into the category of life and health-promoting wonders!
Benefits of Taking Probiotics Today
Today the idea of eating foods that help prevent and treat diseases has gained favor among both doctors and patients. Today, probiotic supplements and foods are popular for solving digestion-related problems. They also help in restoring gut flora.
In fact, probiotics are today available in various forms. They range from pills and powders to a wide range of dairy products like probiotic yogurt, cheese, and even chocolate. Probiotic supplements and foods alike have become very popular all around the world.
Common Types of Probiotic Bacteria
Okay, so we’ve introduced you to the idea that all bacteria or microbes are not actually as bad as you may have been led to believe. Now, it’s equally important to know which ones are actually friendly, helpful kind.
While discussing the benefits of taking probiotics, it is important to also know the types of probiotic bacteria we find in our systems. We can also find some of them in fermented foods and probiotics supplements :
Enterococcus Faecium – These bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals alike. They can kill harmful microbes and are highly antibiotic-resistant. This strain can reduce the duration of diarrhea symptoms, as well as lower bad cholesterol and LDL levels in the body. They offer some of the best benefits of taking probiotics.
Leuconostoc Mesenteroides – Used in food processing since the industry has existed, this bacteria is ingested through various kinds of foods, both in live and dead forms, as well as metabolites. Some strains have proved to help people suffering from liver disorders.
Streptococcus Thermophilus – While it may sound similar to the bacterial strain that causes strep throat (streptococcus pyogenes), it isn’t related. It’s helpful at treating and preventing intestinal disorders as well as lactose intolerance. It also works in harmony with other gut bacteria.
Lactobacillus – These friendly bacteria are found in our genital, urinary and digestive systems. Many dairy products are rich in the acidophilus probiotic strain and other beneficial types. They help our bodies fight off a wide range of disorders and build better immunity.
Bacillus Coagulans – This is another bacteria that is beneficial at treating gastrointestinal complaints and diarrhea. It is also good in increasing the efficiency of vaccines and improving the immune system. Like Lactobacillus, it helps our bodies produce lactic acid and is often used in industrial applications.
Saccharomyces Boulardii – This is actually a fungus. It is a type of yeast that is known for its medicinal and anti-inflammatory qualities. This yeast is used to treat conditions like diarrhea, and to fight bad microorganisms such as E. coli and salmonella.
Bifidobacterium – There are over 30 strains that naturally live in our bodies. This bacteria helps fight certain kinds of diarrhea. It can also neutralize toxins and maintain the health of good intestinal microflora. It’s abundantly found in the intestinal tracts of infants who are breast fed. Most probiotic supplements have live strains of this bacteria.
When choosing your probiotic supplements, make sure to choose those that offer most of these strains. That ensures you always get health benefits of taking probiotics.
Probiotic Supplements for Restoring Gut Flora
Today, you can find probiotic supplements in various forms. They include probiotic pills, capsules, powders, and liquids. There are also different supplements to choose from. Supplements differ based on the strain of probiotic bacteria that is present in them. They may also differ based on the number of beneficial microbes that they contain.
Even if you prefer eating probiotics as food, you may need to take supplements to help with specific conditions from time to time. So, it helps to know what these are.
Here’s a quick overview of probiotics supplements:
Other than the obvious difference in the way they are ingested, these forms also vary in terms of dosage, potency, serving size, etc. So, it is important to spend some time selecting those that are right for you.
By CFU’s (Colony Forming Units) – This is a term we use to describe how much bacteria a certain probiotic supplement has in a specific dosage. This ranges from 1 billion to 60 billion, depending on the product and the recommended dose. It defines how many live bacteria will be available to your system.
By Types (Strains of Bacteria) – Note that specific health conditions can be best solved by specific strains of bacteria. This is because each strain of bacteria acts in a unique manner. For this reason, it is important to pick strains that are likely to meet your health needs in the best way.
For the best health benefits of taking probiotics, I still think you need to focus on strains that address your specific health need.
When most people hear the word ‘probiotics’ they think of yogurt and probiotic supplements. But, the term is actually used to describe a whole host of foods that contain beneficial microbes. Are you curious to know what foods can give you the benefits of taking probiotics? Well, here they are:
These foods can help a lot in restoring gut flora. But, to see their full potential you need to make them part of your daily diet.
Who Should Take Probiotics?
Probiotic microbes are a ‘do-good-for-all’ kind of group. Remember that they’re present in practically everyone’s bodies. We all need the health benefits of taking probiotics. The recommended probiotic foods can be classified as follows:
Probiotics for Men
Probiotic foods and probiotic supplements can help keep your digestive, urinary and immune system in a good condition. Probiotics are also effective at treating most chronic conditions in older men. Examples are high blood pressure, cholesterol, weight gain, liver disorders, and gastrointestinal complaints. All in all, they help to maintain better health.
Probiotics for Women
Vaginal probiotics are effective in fighting bacterial vaginosis and other gynecological ailments. Vaginal probiotics treat yeast infections. Note that probiotics for vaginal health aren’t the only ones recommended for women. Different foods and supplements can aid overall health, weight maintenance and more.
Probiotics for Children
Probiotics for kids help to reduce the occurrence of childhood allergies. They can also help to improve immune responses. Probiotics for infants are get transferred to their bodies from the mother’s body during birth. Breastfeeding also leads to higher levels of baby probiotics (remember the Bifidobacterium we mentioned above?).
Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that are alive in your gut. They function symbiotically with other microorganisms to keep your body healthy and active. When can we call a microorganism a probiotic? First, it must be alive when ingested. Second, it must have and deliver health benefits to the host. For probiotics to give us enough health as we expect, we have to eat them in adequate quantities.
People commonly believe that bacteria cause ailments and infections. But this isn’t true for all of them. Most people are still not aware of the health benefits of taking probiotics. It’s an established fact that there are some species of probiotic bacteria that are actually beneficial for the body. They are especially important when it comes to the digestive system, where they do most of the heavy lifting.
Our digestive tracts contain over 1000 kinds of intestinal flora. They help us break down what we eat and increase the absorption of nutrients. Probiotic supplements and foods have the kind of bacteria that work in helping you sustain a healthy gut. These bacteria stimulate the juices and enzymes that cause our digestive organs to function well.
Many species of these beneficial microorganisms help with many different functions. These include the processing of fiber that collects in the colon. They then turn it into short chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetate. The wall of the intestines survives on these fatty acids to do many metabolic functions.
Probiotics also help maintain the population of good bacteria in the body. They play an active role in fighting and lowering bad bacteria. Primarily, they do this by creating a hostile environment where pathogens cannot thrive. They also work synergistically with other beneficial microbes to crowd out bad microorganisms. For me, this is the pillar of all the benefits of taking probiotics.
Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system aids in removing toxins and wastes. It also helps cells better absorb necessary nutrients. This, in turn, helps the body receive more nutrition from the food that passes through it. Probiotic bacteria also trigger immune responses from the body, leading to better immunity.
There are many universal benefits of taking probiotics, which makes them important for everyone. There is no age or gender limits to their consumption. In fact, probiotics even play a significant role in the health and wellness of pets and farm animals. The only thing you need to consider is the dosage and strain that is appropriate. You consider that based on factors like age, weight and, existing medical conditions.
Probiotic bacteria are believed to cure a wide range of health problems. Included conditions range from constipation and diarrhea to preventing and fighting off a cold. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten so used to the idea of all bacteria being bad. Somewhere along the way, we started working on getting rid of everything that we consider foreign to our system. Now we know better, the health benefits of taking probiotics and the good live bacteria in our gut cannot be anymore.
The trouble is a lot of those “unwanted house guests” who live in our gut and other parts of our bodies, are actually really good for us. In fact, they help our system run well and efficiently!
Benefits of Taking Probiotics: Wrapping Up
A lot can be said about the health benefits of taking probiotics. Researches have proved that probiotic supplements and foods are important to gut health and general health.
The fact that both the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have endorsed probiotics speaks volumes. Here is an excerpt from the Food and Nutrition Paper: “The experts agreed that adequate scientific evidence exists to indicate that there is potential for the derivation of health benefits from consuming food containing probiotics.”