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Natural Sources and Health Benefits of Probiotics

Written by
Dr. Lekshmi Rita Venugopal
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Apr 24, 2017 and last reviewed on Jul 28, 2022   -  5 min read

Abstract

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.

Natural Sources and Health Benefits of Probiotics

Introduction:

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.

How Do Probiotics Work?

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:

  • Nonspecific mechanism.

  • Species-specific mechanism.

  • Strain-specific mechanisms.

  1. 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.

  2. Species-specific mechanisms include vitamin synthesis, bile salt metabolism, enzymatic activity, gut barrier reinforcement, and toxin neutralization.

  3. 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.

What Are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?

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.

How Do Probiotics Improve Digestive Health?

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.

What Are the Different Strains of Probiotic Bacteria?

The different strains of probiotics have different benefits, but most of the benefits come from two strains, which are:

  1. Lactobacillus: Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most commonly used probiotic.

  2. 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.

What Are Some Natural Sources of Probiotics?

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.

How Should Probiotics Be Stored?

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.

Is It Safe To Use Probiotics?

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.

  • Sick infants.

Therefore, it is always good to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement.

Conclusion:

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions


1.

Which Natural Food Products Are Rich in Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacterias that help to keep balance in the body. Some of the food products that are rich in probiotics include -
- Yogurt.
- Buttermilk.
- Sourdough bread.
- Cottage cheese.
- Tempeh.
- Sauerkraut.
- Miso soup.

2.

What Are the Advantages of Probiotics?

Probiotics stimulate the healthy balance of bacteria in the abdomen and help digest food. Some of the advantages of probiotics include the following -
- It helps in improving intestinal health.
- Reducing the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
- Helps prevent and treat bacteria.
- Also helps in reducing the severity of certain allergens.

3.

Does Honey Act as a Probiotic?

It has been found that raw natural honey also contains probiotics that help maintain gut health. It acts as a biologically active substance with antimicrobial activity. It acts as both probiotic and prebiotic and is beneficial for humans and animals that inhibit the growth of pathogenic microflora in the gut.

4.

Is It Safe to Take Probiotics Daily?

Probiotics can be taken daily. These are usually recommended daily as these help in promoting the health of the digestive system. Sometimes, they can cause allergic reactions, and the patient should consult the doctor before taking probiotic supplements.

5.

When Should Probiotics Be Taken?

Some probiotic manufacturers recommend taking probiotics on an empty stomach and some after eating a meal. However, there is not that much difference, and these can be taken at any time. But according to various studies, the most effective time to take probiotics is on an empty stomach, or as advised by the physician.

6.

What Are the Best Foods for the Gut?

The best food products for maintaining a healthy gut environment are ginger, oats, yogurt, onions, apples, black beans, avocados, and green leafy vegetables. This helps sustain all the essential bacteria to uphold gut health and help maintain other functions, such as digestion and prevent other health conditions, like diarrhea.

7.

What Nuts Are Considered Probiotics?

Nuts help feed the gut bacteria as the nuts and nuts skin are rich in probiotics. The nuts which contain abundant probiotics include -
- Pistachios.
- Almonds.
- Walnuts.
- Peanuts.
Along with that, the origin and composition of nuts also affect the levels of bacteria in the gut.

8.

What Are the Signs of the Need for Probiotics?

Probiotics help in treating various types of digestive system conditions, which are the indication for taking probiotics, such as:
- Abdominal pain, stool changes, or excess gas and bloating.
- Chronic fatigue and sleep disturbances.
- Mood disturbances, depression, or anxiety.
- Skin disorders.

9.

Does Probiotics Help in Detoxing the Body?

Probiotics help detoxify the body by helping increase the number of good bacteria in the body. This helps in the absorption of nutrients effectively in the body. Along with that, it also helps remove waste and toxins from the colon and helps reduce the risk of colon cancer

10.

How to Know if the Probiotics Are Working?

When a person takes high-quality protein supplements, they may experience positive body changes, such as improved digestion. This is the first, most noticeable change that a person starts to experience. Along with that, changes like better mood and clearer skin are also indications of the effect of the probiotic.

11.

How to Clean the Stomach and Intestine Naturally?

Some homemade remedies or other natural processes that can be used to clean the stomach and intestine naturally include -
- Drinking lukewarm water.
- Eating food rich in water content.
- Eating a high-fiber diet.
- Drinking juices, such as apple, lemon, and vegetable juice.

12.

How Long Does It Take To Heal the Gut?

The time for healing guts depends upon the severity of the condition and may vary from patient to patient. Generally, it takes around three to four days to treat normal gut problems. However, building a healthy microbiome in the gut can take up to six months.

Last reviewed at:
28 Jul 2022  -  5 min read

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