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Probiotics - All You Need to Know

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Probiotics are living microorganisms that can produce various health benefits when ingested as foods or dietary supplements.

Medically reviewed by

Neha Suryawanshi

Published At November 23, 2023
Reviewed AtNovember 23, 2023

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and certain yeasts that promote overall health when ingested in adequate amounts. Probiotics are naturally available in fermented foods and other products that incorporate them or are taken as dietary supplements. The supplements include different species in the same product, called broad-spectrum probiotics.

These microorganisms are usually considered good microorganisms and have the same properties as other good microorganisms found in the body, such as helping digestion, destroying disease-causing cells, providing vitamins, etc. Probiotic foods are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. Probiotics should have the following characteristics: they can be isolated from the human body, live in the gut after being ingested, provide health benefits, and are safe to consume.

What Are the Types of Probiotic Bacteria?

There are several microorganisms included in probiotics. The commonly used bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Several bacteria used as probiotics are Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus. Different probiotics have different health effects on the body, so the right probiotics have to be chosen based on their effects.

What Are the Sources of Probiotics?

Probiotics can be taken in the form of foods or supplements.

  • Foods: Probiotics are found in certain foods that are part of a routine diet. Fermented foods are rich sources of these beneficial probiotics. Fermented foods like yogurt contain live microorganisms that can survive throughout their shelf life. These microorganisms do not survive during intestinal transit as they can not handle the hydrolytic enzymes that cause small intestine degradation. Other microorganisms, like legitimate probiotics in yogurt, can survive during intestinal transit. Fermented foods like cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and fermented apple cider vinegar. Fermented drinks like kombucha and kefir can add enough probiotics to the diet.

  • Dietary Supplements: Probiotics can be added through dietary supplements such as capsules, powders, liquids, and other forms. These dietary supplements contain different strains of microorganisms rather than single strains. Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFU). The products are labeled with probiotics quantity at the end of the product’s shelf life. These supplements can be taken along with prebiotics to improve their effects. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that are the food source of probiotics and include inulin, pectin, and resistant starches. Synbiotics refer to supplements that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.

How Does Probiotics Work?

The intestinal microflora includes microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can influence human health. Probiotics mainly act on these intestinal microflorae, where these probiotics get organized in some patterns depending on their nature. These probiotics provide health benefits through three mechanisms non-specific, species-specific, and strain-specific.

  • Non-Specific Mechanisms: The non-specific mechanisms exert their effects by resisting the growth of pathogenic intestinal microflora, producing bioactive metabolites, and reducing the pH of the colon.

  • Species-Specific Mechanisms: Species-specific mechanisms act by producing vitamins, reinforcing the intestinal barrier, metabolizing bile salt, and neutralizing toxins.

  • Strain-Specific Mechanisms: Strain-specific mechanisms are rare and act by producing cytokines and affecting the endocrine and nervous systems.

What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?

There are several health benefits to probiotics, including.

  • Atopic Dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease and a common form of eczema. Probiotic supplementation with Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Propionibacterium strains helps reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis. Subspecies of each strain may not produce the same effects as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus paracasei, which reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis, but the other variants do.

  • Acute Infectious Diarrhea in Children: It is characterized by having liquid stools with an increase in the frequency of bowel movements at least three times per day and fever or vomiting. Probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii shorten the duration of acute infectious diarrhea.

  • Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea: The most common adverse effect of antibiotics is diarrhea. Antibiotic-associated diarrhea can alter intestinal microflora’s metabolism, reduce colonization resistance, and improve bowel movements. Probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: It is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal system and comprises ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Probiotics help reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel disease by managing the intestinal microflora that gets altered in this disease. Some studies have suggested that probiotics only affect ulcerative colitis, not Crohn’s disease.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: It is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal system characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in stool form. It is associated with a higher amount of Enterobacteriaceae. Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium help improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

  • Cardiovascular Disease: Cardiovascular disease occurs with higher cholesterol levels in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) and has a risk factor of increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which helps the cholesterol move from the blood to tissues, and decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which helps the cholesterol move from the tissues to the liver for excretion. Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing the hydrolase activity of bile salt, which can reduce serum cholesterol levels, improving the cholesterol binding in the small intestine thereby reducing the absorption of cholesterol and reducing cholesterol synthesis.

  • Obesity: Probiotics help reduce body weight by altering the intestinal microflorae, which play a role in nutrient and energy consumption from food. The effects of probiotics depend on probiotic microorganisms and an individual’s characteristics.

  • Inflammation: Probiotics help to reduce inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of several diseases.

  • Depression: Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium reduce depression by improving the symptoms.

  • Allergy: Probiotics also reduce the allergic response by improving mucosal barrier function.

  • Immune Function: Probiotics help boost immunity, reducing infections like the common cold.

  • Blood Pressure: Certain strains of probiotics help regulate blood pressure.

  • Skin: Probiotics also help reduce skin problems like acne, and rosacea.

Conclusion

Probiotics are more than simply a passing craze in health; probiotics are necessary to keep the bacteria in the gut balanced and healthy. Probiotics have a huge impact on general health, supporting immune function, promoting mental wellness, and improving digestive health. Through the consumption of foods high in probiotics or the use of premium supplements, people may harness the potential advantages of these tiny superheroes and encourage a happier, healthier life.

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Neha Suryawanshi
Neha Suryawanshi

Nutritionist

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