Fact Sheet: Probiotics

Learn more about the “good bacteria” that can boost your immune system, improve your digestion and much more.

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Probiotics are essential to basic human nutrition. Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the human gut. These “good bacteria” are used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions, but particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract. 

Our gut is home to over 500 bacterial species. These “visitors” form a bioreactor, which facilitates digestion, provides nutrients, and helps form the immune system. Some important nutrients made by this bioreactor include several B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids. Up to 10% of an individual’s daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria in your gut.

Furthermore, probiotics can provide multiple benefits for your immune system. When probiotics are abundant in your body, it’s harder for bacteria that cause illness to get a foothold. Some also keep you healthy by making bacteriocins, which suppress the growth of harmful bacteria.

It’s time that you learned about some of the little friends that help you in so many ways. (They won’t get offended if you happen to mispronounce their names.)

  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus can be found in many yogurts and soft cheeses. It was discovered by the Bulgarian doctor Stamen Grigorov, hence the name bulgaricus. It helps to convert lactose and other sugars into lactic acid, which may be particularly helpful for those who are lactose intolerant.
  • Streptococcus thermophilus has nothing to do with strep throat, which is caused by a completely different bug. These friendly bacteria are also used to make yogurts and cheeses, and they even assist Lactobacillus bulgaricus by making nutrients that assist with growth.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei both convert lactose into lactic acid – also helping the lactose intolerant. Research has indicated that L. Acidophilus may also be helpful at reducing cholesterol levels.
  • Bifidobacteria is a family of bacteria that has been studied for its ability to prevent and treat various gastrointestinal disorders, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. In addition to making lactic acid, it also makes some important short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed and metabolized by the body. There is also some experimental evidence that certain bifidobacteria may actually protect the host from carcinogenic activity of other intestinal flora.

Some yogurts contain the aforementioned bacteria; however, because they are sensitive to oxygen, light, and dramatic temperature changes, make sure to look for yogurts with “live and active cultures.” Many commercial yogurts are heat-treated or pasteurized, resulting in the loss of these valuable cultures. Learn more about the smart way to shop for probiotics.

If you are seeking non-dairy yogurt options, there are several that contain live probiotic cultures. Yogurts made from rice, soy and coconut milk are available on the market and also contain added probiotics that can provide the same benefits. Other alternative sources of probiotics include eating fermented foods like Brewer’s yeast, miso, sauerkraut, or micro algae. Whatever the source, always look for “live and active cultures” on the label.

If you want to supercharge your probiotic friends, you may want to feed them with prebiotics. That’s P-R-E-biotics. They nourish the good bacteria in your gut in order to keep them healthy against the bad bacteria. They should go hand-in-hand with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including bananas, whole grains, honey, garlic and onions. Try to get two to four servings of these prebiotic-rich foods a day.

In order to reap the full benefits of taking probiotics, some experts recommend taking probiotic-rich food or a probiotic supplement for a minimum of two weeks – try it and see if you notice a difference!