Probiotics contain live microorganisms and are considered to have various health benefits when consumed. This article explains more about its health benefits and natural sources.
Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria in our gut. The word 'Probiotic' is derived from a Latin word 'Pro' meaning 'Promoting,' and the Greek word 'Biotic,' which means 'Life.' Probiotics are live microorganisms in the gut with several health benefits. Many kinds of bacteria are probiotics, and you can get them from food or supplements. Maintaining a healthy digestive system requires more than just taking probiotics. Eating habits, stress level, level of activity, sleep, etc., are all important in determining your digestive health.
The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is colonized by many microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi, and protozoa. The activity and composition of these gut microorganisms (intestinal microflora) can affect human health and cause disease.
Probiotics will be very effective, usually in the gastrointestinal tract, which may influence the intestinal microbiota. Probiotics can quickly colonize the human gut mucosa in highly individualized patterns, depending on the baseline microbiota, probiotic strain, and gastrointestinal tract region.
Probiotics also exert health effects by three mechanisms:
The nonspecific mechanisms vary widely among each strain, species, or even genera of regularly used probiotic supplements. These mechanisms will inhibit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract by promoting colonization resistance, improving intestinal transit, or helping normalize a troubled microbiota, producing bioactive metabolites, and reducing the luminal pH in the colon.
Species-specific mechanisms include vitamin synthesis, bile salt metabolism, enzymatic activity, gut barrier reinforcement, and toxin neutralization.
Strain-specific mechanisms are rare and used only by a few strains of a given species, including cytokine production, immunomodulation, and effects on the endocrine and nervous systems.
By using all these mechanisms, probiotics have wide-ranging influences on human health and disease.
Probiotics have several health benefits like:
It boosts the metabolism and helps in weight loss.
It improves the immune system and decreases allergy.
Produces substances that have desirable effects.
It maintains hormonal balance, especially in women.
It is a mood regulator.
It promotes digestion.
It helps the body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms even after being disturbed.
It helps in the prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis and sepsis in premature infants.
It is used to treat periodontal disease.
Probiotics improve digestive health by:
Promoting digestion and proper absorption of essential nutrients.
Maintaining a healthy gut flora.
Synthesizes vitamin K in the gut, which is necessary for the body's coagulation factors.
Protects against harmful bacteria and neutralizes the toxins.
Reduces gas and bloating discomfort.
Improving diarrhea and constipation.
Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
Protecting premature babies from gut diseases.
Relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Treatment of infant colic.
Improving lactose intolerance.
Inducing or maintaining the remission in ulcerative colitis.
The different strains of probiotics have different benefits, but most of the benefits come from two strains, which are:
Lactobacillus: Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most commonly used probiotic.
Bifidobacterium: Bifidobacterium longum is one of the first strains to materialize in a baby's gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotics are naturally occurring gut microbes, but multiple factors, including stress, antibiotics, and environmental toxins, can affect the natural flora. This just means that we cannot take them for granted as their balance can easily be disrupted. That is why it is so important to get as many of these good guys into our system as we can. Probiotics are obtainable naturally through diet or by taking supplements. There is no research available that says which of the two is a better choice. We also have no information regarding what quantities of probiotics can reap maximum benefits. Lack of evidence stating the efficacy and safety of supplements makes probiotics from natural sources a healthier bet.
Some of the natural sources of probiotics are:
1) Yogurt: Yogurt is prepared from milk fermented with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. It is a good source of probiotics. However, when buying yogurt, always look for live active cultures, as some have killed bacteria due to pasteurization.
2) Kefir: Kefir is prepared from fermenting milk with kefir grains, lactic acid bacteria, and yeast cultures. It is better than yogurt, and people with lactose intolerance can eat kefir with no problems.
3) Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that lactic acid bacteria have fermented. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
4) Kimchi and Tempeh: These are fermented dishes containing lactobacillus.
5) Natto: Natto is a fermented soybean product, such as tempeh and miso, which contains a bacterial strain called Bacillus subtilis and a high amount of vitamin K2, which helps to prevent osteoporosis and heart attacks.
6) Sourdough Bread: Sourdough bread is made with a sourdough starter, which functions like yeast and contains plenty of lactobacilli. It also has a low glycemic index and does not spike up blood sugar levels.
7) Cheese: Cheese like gouda and mozzarella contains live active cultures.
8) Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a good source of probiotics.
Most of the probiotic strains are very fragile. They need to be protected from heat, oxygen, light, and humidity because they can start to break down or die if exposed. It should be stored in a refrigerator in a particular place. Refrigerating them can make them viable and provide the full benefit of the probiotic.
Since the microorganisms used as probiotics are already present naturally in your body, probiotic foods and supplements are usually considered safe. Initially, they may precipitate some allergic reactions, like mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence and bloating after taking them.
Certain people need to use probiotic supplements with caution. Because there is a risk of infection in some people with:
A critical illness.
A weakened immune system (for example, those who are going through chemotherapy).
History of recent surgery.
Therefore, it is always good to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement.
It is not easy to know which probiotics are effective and which are not. And how much should be taken by the people, or who would be most likely to benefit from probiotics? Researchers are still working to find out the answers to these questions.
Last reviewed at:
30 Aug 2021 - 5 min read
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