The term probiotic has become very popular these days. From being advertised on TV to being sold at all grocery stores and being recommended by physicians, probiotics are suddenly everywhere. But what exactly are probiotics? Probiotics are live bacteria yeasts that are said to be beneficial for your digestive health. Probiotics are also known as good or helpful bacteria since they keep your gut healthy by naturally increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are generally found in supplements and many yogurts. In fact, probiotic yogurts are today one of the most common ways of consuming a probiotic. However, many people often wonder if probiotics are really as beneficial as they are being made out to be. So can probiotics really help your digestive health? Or are they just the latest health trend that has become popular around the globe? Let’s find out.
What are Probiotics?
We do not tend to think of bacteria as being beneficial. In fact, when we fall sick, we often have to resort to taking antibiotics in order to kill the harmful bacteria causing the infections. We are also in the habit of using antibacterial lotions and soaps more than ever. While there is no doubt that harmful bacteria can cause problems, the right bacteria when placed in the right place is also known to have many health benefits. This is how probiotics are so beneficial.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) that help increase the growth of good bacteria in your gut, thus helping to prevent and also treat many diseases. Probiotics promote a healthy digestive tract, thus also giving a much-needed boost to your immune system. The healthy benefits of Probiotics have been studied widely and their action upon the gut has also been documented. This is why probiotics are often known as friendly, healthy or good bacteria.
The word probiotic means ‘promoting life’. Consumed at just the right level, probiotics are known to aid digestion and also improve the absorption of nutrients in the body. While Probiotics can be found occurring naturally in many fermented foods and cultured milk, it is also possible to find manufactured probiotic supplements on the market today. Our bodies need many types of microorganisms to keep it in working order and keeping us healthy. Probiotics can lay a big role in this as these are the good bacteria we actually want within our system.
Can Probiotics Really Help My Digestive Health?
Probiotics are known to aid in the digestion process, particularly if you are facing digestive issues such as: constipation, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, colic, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis.
Studies that have been undertaken on probiotics have so far been small in scale and therefore, do not tell us about exactly how probiotics work in aiding digestion. This is why we still have a lot more to understand about how probiotics work and how effective they are amongst various populations. Due to the lack of exact data, there is also no exact information on how to administer probiotics in the form of supplements, or what the exact dosage should be. Nevertheless, Probiotics are considered to be safe for consumption, though there are some dietary factors that need to be considered. These include:
- Probiotics are known to lower the pH level in the colon, this is what makes the stool move faster through the colon.
- People suffering from constipation are known to have a different digestive ecosystem, wherein the microorganisms in their intestines are known to differ from those who do not have constipation. Probiotics are known to help repair this ecosystem, thus helping with constipation.
- Probiotics are also known to provide relief if you are suffering from antibiotic-related diarrhea. This is because while antibiotics kill off the good bacteria also in our gut, probiotics help replenish the same.
- Probiotics are known to help you better absorb the protein from your food, along with the other vitamins and minerals.
However, the thing to keep in mind is that not all probiotics are the same. There are several types of probiotics and more research needs to be conducted to better understand the differences and benefits that can be derived from each type of probiotics. Most of the research that has been done so far revolves around the strains Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. In fact, in 2010, a study found that both these strains of bacteria were effective in providing relief in constipation.
As research is lacking on the other strains of bacteria, using any probiotics not using these two strains of bacteria might prove to be unsafe.
How Effective are Probiotics?
The efficiency of probiotics also depends on several factors. The biggest factor is that as probiotics are consumed orally by mouth, the efficiency of the product depends on how well they are able to stand up to the highly acidic atmosphere of the gastrointestinal tract and the stomach. If a probiotic is of a good quality, then it will pass through your stomach in an intact form and move on to your intestines where the nutrients from the probiotic will get absorbed. Probiotics carry out most of their healing work in the intestines itself.
How Can You Use Probiotics to Better Your Digestion?
To begin with, if you want to reap the benefits of Probiotics, especially for your digestion, then you need to increase your consumption of probiotics. You can increase the consumption of probiotics either through food or by taking supplements. There are many foods that contain probiotics naturally. Some of these include: Kefir, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Greek yogurt, Kombucha, Tempeh, Pickles, Miso, traditional buttermilk and some types of cheese such as Gouda, mozzarella, cottage cheese, etc.
It is recommended that you increase your probiotic intake slowly and watch out for any negative effects, if any. You should also watch out for the positive effects to understand whether or not probiotics are benefiting you. As mentioned above, there are many different strains of probiotics and each one acts differently. Therefore, you can experiment with different types of probiotics to figure out which one suits you the best.
What is the Recommended Dose of Probiotics for Better Digestive Health?
The recommended daily dose of probiotics should be between 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units). As an example, a cup of Kefir contains around 15 to 20 CFUs. When you start having probiotics for the first time, you should start from 1 CFU and slowly increase the daily dosage. In case you are taking probiotic supplements, then the CFU will be mentioned on the bottle. Keep in mind that probiotics need to be taken before eating or along with your meal. Do not take probiotics after you have eaten. Also, before you buy probiotic supplements, it is more beneficial to include probiotics from natural food sources in your meal. This is because foods that contain probiotics have a variety of bacteria strains.
There is a definite positive association between consuming probiotics and having a better digestion. This has been proven to be true for people of all ages. Healthy digestion is also known to improve your mental and physical health, boost your immune system, and also provide you with a better quality of life. If you want to reap the benefits of probiotics, then slowly start introducing them in your diet through natural food sources that contain probiotics.
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