Are probiotics another health trend?
Given that probiotics can be found in most places that sell packaged food (even our local farmers’ market sells probiotic juice shots), you may think they’re just a fad. After all, they’re everywhere. From bottled drinks to granola bars to infant formula, probiotics are being added to food and beauty products left and right.
The wellness industry is onto something. But we’re here to tell you it’s so much more than just a craze. Probiotics replenish your body’s good bacteria, a facet of wellbeing we’ll always need.
So, how do you choose a probiotic? But first, let’s start with the basics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are tiny living organisms. They include certain bacteria and yeasts, usually found in fermented foods or dietary supplements. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. These microorganisms, which consist mainly of bacteria, are naturally present in fermented foods, but they may be added to other food products and are available as dietary supplements.
Bacteria tends to get a bad rap, but remember that you have two kinds of bacteria in (and on) your body—good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that help keep your body healthy and working well. This good bacteria helps you in many ways, including fighting off bad bacteria when you have too much of it. In essence, probiotics are part of a larger picture concerning bacteria and your body: your microbiome. Think of a microbiome as a diverse community of organisms, like prebiotics and probiotics, that work together to keep your body healthy.
Prebiotic vs. probiotic.
Probiotics can easily be confused with prebiotics. Although they’re both important for human health, let’s differentiate between the two. After all, they have different roles. Found in certain foods or supplements, probiotics are beneficial bacteria. Probiotics, on the other hand, are types of fiber that feed friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These substances come from types of carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. The beneficial bacteria, in your gut, eat this fiber. They’re typically complex carbohydrates (such as inulin and other fructooligosaccharides) that microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract use as metabolic fuel.
Although you don’t need to take a prebiotic for probiotics to work, taking a prebiotic may make your probiotics more effective. In essence, prebiotics may support a healthy gut—offering better digestive health, fewer antibiotic-related health problems, and other benefits. Despite less research on prebiotics than on probiotics, some studies indicate their efficacy.
The power of a diverse microbiome.
At any rate, eating balanced amounts of both probiotics and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of bacteria to keep your gut microbiota healthy. And many factors, including the foods you eat, can impact the type of bacteria found in your digestive tract.
Generally speaking, a diverse microbiome is considered healthy. This is because the more species of bacteria you have, the more health benefits they may be able to contribute to. In fact, several studies show that elderly people possess a more diverse gut microbiota than younger adults.
Between long-living Chinese, Japanese, and Italian people, all cohorts revealed diverse and balanced gut microbiota. Whereas, disturbed gut microbiotas with dysbiosis were observed in the elderly who suffer from different comorbidities.
How to improve your gut biome.
Given that we all want to live long, healthful lives, let’s dive into simple ways to improve your gut microbiome.
- Eat a diverse diet, rich in whole foods and antioxidants. A diet consisting of different food types can lead to a more diverse microbiome, which is beneficial for your health. When in doubt, cook the rainbow.
- Prioritize the Mediterranean diet. There are a variety of reasons to eat like the Mediterraneans do, but mainly because of the emphasis on vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes. These are high-fiber, gut-friendly foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Eating a range of fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources, is shown to improve gut health.
- Choose fermented foods. Fermented foods, like plain yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh can benefit the microbiome. They enhance its function and reduce the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
- Add in prebiotics. As mentioned, prebiotics is key. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics, but they can also be found on their own. Resistant starch can also be a prebiotic. If eating an unripe banana sounds unappetizing, you can also benefit from prebiotics by eating cooked and cooled potatoes and rice. The cooling turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches.
- Increase your intake of probiotics. One of the most powerful ways? Taking a probiotic supplement.
Why taking a probiotic supplement can transform your health.
When it comes to showing your gut some love, consider incorporating a probiotic supplement. Ongoing research shows that taking a probiotic not only supports a healthy gut, but it can also contribute to decreased levels of anxiety, depression, and more. The gut-brain connection is fascinating, evidence in itself of the power of a high-quality probiotic supplement. Furthermore, the right probiotic supplement can keep your vaginal bacteria balanced, your digestion humming along, and your immune system supported.
The common probiotic species.
Your bowels host an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms from more than 500 different species. That’s a lot. To simplify, the most commonly consumed probiotics are strains of two main species: Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. These species are also the most studied of all probiotics. Bifidobacteria are commonly used in foods and supplements. They’re thought to:
- Support the immune system.
- Limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine.
- Help in breaking down lactose into nutrients the body can use.
Lactobacillus is the species of bacteria that produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar. These bacteria also produce lactic acid, which helps control the population of bad bacteria. It also serves as muscle fuel and increases the body’s absorption of minerals. Lactobacillus bacteria are found naturally in the mouth, small intestine, and vagina.
The common probiotic strains:
Probiotic strains are genetic subtypes of species. Each probiotic strain has a different effect on the body. These are six common strains of probiotics that you’ll find on food and supplement labels:
Bifidobacteria Animalis — this strain helps aid digestion and fight food-borne bacteria. It’s also thought to boost your immune system.
Bifidobacteria Breve — this strain lives in your digestive tract and in the vagina. In both places, it fights off infection-causing bacteria or yeast. It helps your body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars. It also breaks down plant fiber to make it digestible.
Bifidobacteria Lactis — this is derived from raw milk. It’s an ingredient found in some infant formula, but it also serves as a starter for buttermilk, cottage cheese, and other cheeses.
Bifidobacteria Longum — this strain lives in your gastrointestinal tract. It helps break down carbohydrates.
Lactobacillus Acidophilus — this strain is found in the small intestine and in the vagina. Like bifidobacteria breve, it helps digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria. You can find it in yogurt and fermented soy products, such as miso.
Lactobacillus Reuteri — this strain is found in the intestine and mouth. Studies have shown that it decreased the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay. It’s also thought to help the digestive system.
What to look for in a probiotic supplement?
When purchasing a probiotic product, check the label for the type of species and strain to make sure they align with your specific health needs. Look for language that indicates there are live and active bacterial cultures. Locate the amount of CFUs (colony forming units), which are the number of live and active microorganisms in each serving. For overall health, reach for a probiotic with multiple strains.
Some probiotics require refrigeration, some are shelf-stable. Always look at the product packaging to see whether or not the probiotic needs to be stored in the refrigerator. If you travel frequently or prefer to store your supplements at room temperature, choose a product accordingly.
11 best probiotic supplements:
If you’re not sure how to choose the right probiotic for your health goals and lifestyle, we put together a list of our top 11 probiotics. Whether you’re looking for the best probiotic for gut health, mental health, acne, we’ve got you covered.
Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that helps keep your body healthy and working well. This good bacteria helps you in many ways, including fighting off bad bacteria when you have too much of it, helping you feel better. Probiotics are part of a larger picture concerning bacteria and your body — your microbiome. Our goal is to not only provide entertainment but tips and advice on how to improve your overall wellness and health, living a happy and comfortable life, at zero cost.