You may have heard or seen probiotic supplements in the news or at your local grocery store but essential information of this amazing digestive enzyme can go unnoticed. In this paper, we will be exploring what a probiotic is, where they come from, consumption, and what happens when a healthy digestive tract has the proper amount and type of probiotics.
What is a probiotic?
According to the definition given by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." Probiotics are well known as “good” bacteria or live cultures that help to fight off the “bad” bacteria in our body. Some of these “good” bacteria are naturally found in our bodies. They also provide health benefits for the gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotics Vs Prebiotics
You may have heard about prebiotics as well. Prebiotics are the “good” bacteria’s promoter, they promote the growth and activity of probiotic bacteria in the gut, in other terms probiotics feeds on prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers, some examples are inulin, oligosaccharides, and polydextrose which are found naturally in plant-based food. Some processed food may also have prebiotics added.2
Where Can I find Probiotics?
Most fermented foods like kombucha or dairy products such as cheeses, kefir and yogurt are well-known sources of probiotics. Kefir and yogurt products need to contain “live and active cultures on the label to show that they contain probiotics. These “good” bacterias contain strains to promote gut health. Those who are lactose intolerant, have a milk allergy or vegans, should look for non-dairy yogurt or kefir with live and active cultures. Besides dairy products, fermented foods with live cultures are also good sources of probiotics. Some popular items are kimchi, unpasteurized sauerkraut and pickles. Some soybean products such as miso, natoo, and tempeh. Some cereals or nutrition bars also have probiotics.
Types of probiotics and function
There are different strains and bacterias that are identified in probiotics. The most known and reported as beneficial bacteria are the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which can be found in yogurt, kefir and some other dairy products with live, active cultures. Each strain and bacteria may have different functions to benefit our health. As mentioned earlier, probiotics promote GI health, some probiotic cultures may help support your immune system and may help the absorption of calcium and magnesium. There is more ongoing research about probiotics' benefits and their relationship between probiotics and certain diseases.
Myths of using probiotics supplements
There are no general guidelines for the number of probiotics or prebiotics to be consumed. The U.S. dietary guidelines encourage people to consume more vegetables and fruits. Most of the prebiotics and probiotics can be found in our daily intake of food. Increasing the intake of vegetables, fruits and probiotic foods helps to promote gut health. Even though there is no evidence to show that overconsumption of probiotics may cause complications, there may be certain strains that will compromise the immune system. Since there is insufficient evidence in some clinical conditions, make sure to ask your doctor for advice when you are thinking to purchase probiotics supplements.