Probiotics, an Essential Element for Gut Health
Many people have heard of the term probiotics. Others have also heard of prebiotics, but sadly, not many know their exact meaning. In fact, many people actually consider them to be the same. Nothing could be further from the truth for pro and prebiotics have different roles, different functions, and completely different meanings. Let’s just say this, probiotics the good bacteria, whereas prebiotics is the food for that good bacteria. Here we discuss the basic differences between these two commonly used remedies and understand how they actually contribute to our health.
As a definition, probiotics are actually microorganisms, usually bacteria that are introduced into the body for beneficial reasons. This is because, generally, our body is lined with bacteria, which is actually beneficial for the body. These bacteria prevent the harmful species from growing and causing diseases. Furthermore, some bacteria also provide valuable nutrients that the body cannot make by itself, for example, vitamin K.
On the other hand, prebiotics can be defined as nutrients that promote the growth of the beneficial organisms in the gut, without being digested or absorbed by the human body. Hence, these nutrients serve as the food for the bacteria, helping them grow and flourish. They are just as important as having the bacteria themselves.
What makes a good probiotic?
Now that you know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, let’s dive into the details. There are a number of probiotics out there, but not every kind is good. How do you tell the difference between good and bad probiotics? Well, certain characteristics outline good probiotics and should always be considered when buying one. Here we describe certain primary reasons that make a good probiotic.
· Shelf life, a good probiotic has an adequate shelf life so that it is still effective when you buy it. This also means that the probiotic has an adequate number of viable organisms. Of course, if you need the probiotic to work, it should have sufficient delivery so that your gut is colonized by the good bacteria adequately.
· Minimal side effects, probiotics are prescribed in cases of infection and usually in a situation of diarrhea. At these times, it is important for the body to have as much rest as possible. Exposing it to toxic effects results in further worsening of the condition, hence, probiotics should be without any significant side effects.
· Survive gut transit, the probiotic will have to. Pass through radical conditions, including the acidic stomach and the alkaline duodenum before it reaches its site of action. It should be able to survive these places in order to produce a beneficial effect.
· Adapt to the healthy flora already present, a good probiotic doesn’t displace the healthy bacterial colonization of the intestine. Instead, it should remove the toxic organisms to help create a stable gut environment.
What makes a bad probiotic?
Now that you know what a good probiotic is, separating the good ones from the bad ones are relatively easy. Clearly, a bad probiotic is one that has a low number of viable organisms and is easily destroyed by the extreme acidity or alkalinity in the gut. A probiotic that disrupts the natural environment of the gut or drastically changes the composition of the gut flora is bad also. You need to augment the bacteria in your gut and get rid of the bad ones, not transplant the entire colony of your gut. Hence, you need to be cautious when opting for the probiotic and choose the one that is best for you.
Are there different types of probiotics?
There are a million different kinds of bacteria and surely, there is a considerable amount of variety in the probiotic world as well. Different strains of probiotics have different functions and are needed in different diseases. What works against a particular condition may not be effective at all in others. Considering that our entire body has different types of bacteria in different places, during disruptive phases they do require that the colonies are replenished with a species that is similar to their normal habitat. In addition to this, different probiotics have different functions also. For instance:
1. Bifidobacterium is used for intestinal problems and limiting the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine. It also supports the intestine and breaks down lactose to provide the body with absorbable constituents. Hence, it is often used in lactose intolerance and when replenishing gut bacteria in gastroenteritis.
2. Lactobacillus, this species is commonly found in the small intestine, mouth, and vagina. It works by producing lactic acid that inhibits the growth of toxic organisms. It is a common probiotic prescribed in UTIs and bacterial vaginosis.
3. B. animalis, found in yogurt, aids digestion and is also helpful for protection against food borne bacteria. It also boosts your immune system and helps your body fight against numerous pathogens.
Which foods provide probiotics?
So, where do we get these probiotics from? Well, supplements are not the only source. Probiotics are also present in a number of foods that you can use to supplement your diet. Here are some natural foods that are excellent sources of some useful microorganisms that can work wonders for your gut.
· Yogurt, homemade yogurt is one of the best species of probiotics. Especially the live cultured yogurt contains an array of useful bacterial strains that can replenish the microbial flora of the gut immediately. However, certain yogurts contain high fructose syrup, artificial sweeteners, and flavors, which undermine its nutritional significance. The yogurt, then becomes more of an ice-cream instead of a probiotic substitute.
· Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage that has an abundance of nutritional bacteria and an extraordinary ability to reduce symptoms of allergy. At the same time, it is rich in vitamins A, B, C and E, providing you with all the necessary nutrients for maximum relief of symptoms.
· Miso soup, a Japanese medicine commonly used to aid digestion. It is a soup of fermented rye, rice, and beans, coupled with some miso to produce a probiotic rich meal.
· Kefir, another reliable source of probiotics, made from fermented kefir grains mixed in goat milk. This is a delicious supplement, especially for children that help cure diarrhea, bloating and stomach upsets caused due to disruption of the gut flora.
· Microalgae, if you are a smoothie person, this is a great ingredient to add to your daily diet. Microalgae include spirulina, blue green algae and other species that contribute promising strains of probiotics to your diet.
· Pickles, an excellent and delicious source of the microflora in the body. However, homemade pickles bear a higher percentage of probiotic value than industrialized versions, simply because homemade fermentation doesn’t kill the useful bacteria. Add some natural pickles to your diet for fast replenishment of the gut flora.
· Supplements, commercially available supplements are fast providers of useful bacteria. The doses are monitored by professional doctors and adjusted according to the needs of individual patients.
The consumption of food on a daily basis leads to a buildup of radicals. Also, ingestion of harmful bacteria in many foods lead to our exposure to a number of different bacteria that can potentially cause damaging effects on the body. Not only this, gut health is important for overall health also. This is because gut health is associated with better absorption of nutrients and a good barrier between the outside and the inside world.
Once this barrier is compromised, the harmful bacteria can invade the wall and leak into the system to cause diseases. Furthermore, bacterial colonization of the gut is important as well. Once the healthy flora is washed out due to any reason, it leaves the area clear for invasion by harmful pathogens like Clostridium deficile. These bacteria can release damaging toxins that could result in systemic shock. Hence, gut health is an important part of our life and probiotics are foods that can help us maintain it.
Will vegan diets need probiotics?
People on specific diets like vegan Paleo or keto diets are under strict diet regulations and may find it difficult to look for a compliant probiotic. However, like every other person, they too need probiotics just as much as any other individual. A diet shouldn’t stop you from pursuing health. For vegans, a good probiotic choice can be sauerkraut or pickled vegetables. Kampuchea tea and fermented soy products can act as valuable sources of probiotics. Of course, as a final option, you can always opt for supplements that have large viable doses, providing you with adequate microflora to keep your gut healthy.
What to look for in a great probiotic?
Now that you understand the entire story behind probiotics, let’s move to how you decide to choose one for yourself. Natural foods can be eaten without much fuss. You can opt for ones that suit your palate and agree with your digestive system. When it comes to supplements, there are certain things you need to keep in mind.
· The strain of probiotic, as mentioned above, different strains serve different purposes. You need to understand your disease before you opt for a supplement. It is wise to opt for a doctor’s visit at this point as he will be able to tell you which strain of probiotic will suit you perfectly.
· Packaging and delivery, probiotics are basically bacteria and they need sterile, unbroken packing for them to be effective. Look for products that have good packing and production dates that are close to the present day. This will ensure that the bacteria are viable and of good quality.
· Expiration dates, just like production dates, expiration dates are important also. You should never consume any medicine that has expired and this stands for probiotics also.
Clearly, probiotics are a valuable aid to treat gut problems and other infections in the body. Everybody needs some replenishing every now and then, particularly after a course of antibiotics, diarrhea or vomiting. Your gut health is necessary for optimum functioning of the body and probiotics can help you maintain that optimum health. Consider adding this useful microflora to your daily diet. They will help your gut and immune system for sure.