Probiotics are live microorganism and yeasts that are beneficial for our body, mainly our digestive system. Most times, we take these as germs harmful for the body. But our body is replete with bacteria – good and bad. Probiotics are known as ‘helpful’ or ‘good’ bacteria as they keep the gut healthy. You can get probiotics in form of supplements, drinks and in food like yogurt.
What are probiotics?
If you don’t know much about what are probiotics, we are here will all the information about the good bacteria, from its working process, its types to health benefits, side effects.
How do probiotics work?
Researchers are investigating to find out the exact working process of probiotics. Some known ways in which probiotics help our body include:
On taking antibiotics we kill the good bacteria in our body along with the bad ones. Taking probiotics after antibiotics intake helps replacing them with good bacteria.
Probiotics balances the bad and good bacteria ratio in the body.
What are the types of probiotics?
There are several bacteria that are categorized as probiotics, all having unique benefits. However, the two main groups that divide probiotics into different types include:
Lactobacillus: It is the most popular type of probiotics that can be easily found in yogurt and various other fermented foods. Different strains of these bacteria can help in recovering from diarrhea and digesting lactose (the sugar found in milk).
Bifidobacteium: It is a type of probiotics found in dairy products. It helps in easing the conditions of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and various other conditions.
Adding to the types of probiotics, Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of yeast found in probiotics that helps to fight diarrhea and several other digestion issues.
What does probiotics do?
Probiotics help us pass the food through the gut by affecting the nerves controlling our gut movement. Some common health issues that probiotics fight include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
- Infectious diarrhea (caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites)
Research shows that probiotics are useful for various other parts of our body. It is inferred that people have seen benefits from probiotics in treating
- Vaginal and urinary health
- Colds and allergies
- Skin conditions, such as Eczema
- Maintaining oral health
How to use probiotics safely?
The Food & Drugs Association regulates probiotics in form of foods and not medications. Probiotics supplement manufacturers do not need to prove the products are safe, as it is the case for drug manufacturing companies.
However, it is important to consult a doctor before consuming probiotics. Generally, probiotic foods, drinks and supplements are considered safe, though some people shouldn’t take them, like people suffering from serious health issues or immunity problems.
There are cases of negligible side effects like diarrhea, bloating, upset stomach, gas for the initial days of consumption but as the body gets acquainted with it, it works well. In case you notice any sort of allergic reactions, see your doctor immediately and stop taking the probiotics.
Do they have any side effects?
Believing the history of probiotics, it has been a safe food source since years, especially for healthy people. However, there have been not been any strong inferences from studies on the safety of probiotics in a better way.
The main side effects of probiotics are seen in people with weak immune systems or serious illnesses. If the intake of probiotics is considered for premature infants or serious ill people, the risks of probiotics are probably weighed against its benefits.
The possible side effects of probiotics include:
- Development of harmful elements by the live microorganisms
- Transfer of the antibiotic resistance genes to microorganisms found in the digestive tract from probiotic microorganisms
- Several other infections and health risks
What are the health benefits of Probiotics?
Probiotics for your gut
There’s a complex community of microorganisms in the gut known as microbiota or gut flora. To your surprise, the gut contains innumerable different kinds of microorganisms, almost thousands of them as per some estimated calculations.
These microorganisms include yeasts, viruses and bacteria. Bacteria make for the most of the majority. Maximum amount of gut flora is found in our colon or large intestine, the last part of the digestive tract.
The Forgotten Organ
You might not believe, but our gut flora’s metabolic activities are much similar to that of an organ. This resemblance made scientists name it as “forgotten organ”. Our gut flora performs several significant functions for maintaining good health. It produces vitamins like Vitamin B and Vitamin K. It also has the capability of converting fibers into some short-chain fats like acetate, butyrate and propionate that perform various metabolic functions and feeds the gut wall.
These short-chain fats are also responsible for stimulating the immune system and strengthening the gut wall. It helps in prevention of unwanted substances from getting into the body and provoking a response from the immune system.
However, every organism present in the gut are not friendly. The gut flora depends highly on our diet. An unbalanced gut flora can lead to several health problems such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression, colorectal cancer, metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer’s.
Probiotics, along with probiotic fibers, helps balancing the gut flora, ensuring it functions properly.
Probiotics and digestive health
There has been a lot of research on how probiotics affect our digestive health. Strong evidence indicates that the probiotic supplements can be helpful in curing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. People taking antibiotics for a prolonged period of time often encounter the problems of diarrhea. This can happen even after the eradication of the infection completely.
This is because many natural bacteria or good bacteria in the gut are killed by the antibiotics. This shifts the gut balance, giving place to harmful bacteria.
Using probiotics can work in curing the conditions of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). It is a common disorder, ultimately reducing bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea and various other similar symptoms. In some studies, these are also helpful in working for inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Probiotics are known to fight Helicopter pylori infections that drive stomach cancer and ulcers.
If you are facing digestive issues that you feel are difficult to cure, taking a probiotic supplement can be a good option. However, talk to your doctor before consuming it.
Probiotics and weight loss
Obese people tend to have different gut bacteria than lean people. What’s interesting is, animal studies found that fecal transplants from some lean animals can help obese animals lose weight. This made many scientists believe that our gut bacteria are a significant part in identifying the body weight. Though it is still to be tested and proved, but probiotics strains show being of some aid for weight loss.
In a particular study, almost 210 people having central obesity were given probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri for 3 months, which resulted in around 8.5% reduction in their belly fat. However, when they stopped taking the supplement, they put on the belly fat back in a time of one month.
Believing some more evidence, it is suggested that Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus can help in obesity prevention and weight loss, but still more research is to be done.
To the contrary, there have been some animal studies that indicate the role of some probiotic strains could result in weight gain.
Probiotics and vaginal health
Probiotics can also be of great help in managing your urogenital health. Same as the intestinal tract, the vagina is an equally balanced ecosystem of a woman’s body. Naturally, the Lactobacilli strains keeps it too acidic for the microorganisms to survive, but the system can get out of balance for various reasons, such as including spermicides, antibiotics and birth control pills. In females with urogenital problems, probiotic treatment can restore the balance of microflora. The most common urogenital problems include yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infection.
There are women who eat yogurt and some even insert it in the vagina to get rid of vaginal infections such as yeast infection. It is a traditional remedy which is not completely supported by science. Vaginal and oral administration of Lactobacilli may prove to be useful in treating bacterial vaginosis, but no enough evidence is available to recommend probiotics over more trusted conventional approaches. It is important to treat vaginosis as it can further lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and pregnancy-related problems.
Even though probiotics are considered safe, they are naturally present in our digestive system, it is not recommended to get probiotic treatment without consulting your doctor. There’s no other way to judge the safety of the unidentified supplement.
Other health benefits of probiotics
Anxiety and depression: The probiotic strains of Bifidobacteium longum and Lactobacillus helveticus have been capable of reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety in people diagnosed with clinical depression.
Inflammation: Probiotics can reduce systematic inflammation, which is the main reason of several chronic disease.
Blood Pressure: Probiotics can also show positive results in reducing blood pressure to the normal level.
Blood cholesterol: Many probiotic strains have shown to lower the bad LDL cholesterol levels, sometime total cholesterol level too.
Immune function: Different probiotic strains have the ability to improve the functionality of our immune system, which mostly results in reduced risk of health issues, like common cold.
Skin health: Though not too strong to completely believe, but there have been some evidence that it can help in treating the conditions of skin problems like rosacea, acne, eczema and a few more skin disorders.
In the United States of America, most probiotics is mainly regulated in form of dietary supplements that do not require undergoing approval and testing process, unlike drugs. The manufacturers must take the responsibility of selling a safe product with all the labels on it completely authentic. However, they give no guarantee if the type of bacteria labeled on the product will be helpful for the reason you are buying it. Health benefits of probiotic supplement is strain-specific and not all of them are helpful. So, it is best to consult your doctor or a probiotic specialist and health expert before including probiotic supplements in your daily diet.
Benefits of taking probiotics through supplements
Taking probiotics in form of supplements has its own distinctive advantaged, which not many of us know. Read on to have an idea how probiotic supplement can be useful for you:
It makes you more targeted
Probiotic supplements allow an individual to have better control over the particular bacteria strains they take, which addresses a specific health issue. As per research, a strain of lactobacillus acidophilus, DDS®-1, is very useful in relieving lactose intolerance symptoms. To the contrary, GG, a strain of lactobacillus rhamnosus, helps in controlling the symptoms of diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
It can offer more probiotic diversity
Supplements are not just available in issue-specified bacterial strains, but also offer you a chance to choose from a multi-strain blend for microbial diversity in comparison of a food product, such as yogurt that contains one or two strains only.
Many supplements are sweetener-free and allergen-free
There are several probiotic supplements that are free from all the common allergens such as wheat, dairy, soy and gluten. So, it can fit into anyone’s diet, as opposed it so many dairy-based and soy-based probiotic rich foods.
Not just this, probiotic supplements also help you avoid sweeteners and added sugar that are commonly found in probiotic foods like kombucha, yogurt and kefir. It is an important factor to consider while choosing between probiotic foods and probiotic supplements, as added sugar can affect the balance of the beneficial bacteria in your body.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that helps our digestive system. Probiotics strains have got several health benefits in treating gut problems, helping in weight loss, maintaining vaginal health and more. However, there is a lot to be found in research to prove their role in a healthy lifestyle.