Perhaps you’ve seen a commercial touting a new product that’s full of probiotics, or you’ve seen them mentioned in a health-related magazine. It’s clear that probiotics are something good, but what exactly are they?
What Are Probiotics?
Surprisingly, probiotics are yeasts and live bacteria that do wonders for the digestive system. The word bacteria might throw you off — we’re typically supposed to wash and sanitize our hands in order to rid ourselves of the stuff, after all. Probiotics represent the lesser-known realm of good bacteria. They occur naturally in your body, although you can clearly get a healthy dose from foods on the market today, as well as healthy supplements.
How Many Kinds of Probiotics Are There?
If you had asked this question in the 1950s, a scientist might’ve told you that only four were identifiable. Today, there are many more known types of probiotics, each with a function that can make your stomach work more effectively.
Remember how there were only four types of identified probiotics until the 60s? You might find it incredible that, now, there are more than 50 known species of lactobacilli alone. Perhaps that’s why lactobacillus is considered the most common of all probiotics.
Different strands of lactobacillus perform different functions. For example, Lactobacillus GG has lessened abdominal pain in children with irritable bowel syndrome. It has also decreased diarrhea in children taking antibiotics. Adults can travel with ease if they’re nourished with this type of probiotic, too, as it has been known to lower the risk of contracting traveler’s diarrhea. And, interestingly enough, the GG strand also helped little ones fight against lung infections in public areas.
If we’re counting the number of strands that a type of probiotic has, Bifidobacteria comes in second place with 30 different species under its umbrella. This type of bacteria appears in babies’ intestinal tracts mere days after birth, and you can get them there even quicker if you choose to breastfeed your child.
Bifidobactreia resides in the colon, and it’s mostly credited with lessening the uncomfortable effects of irritable bowel syndrome. In the past, study participants have reported less bloat, straining and gas with the help of bifidobacteria. This probiotic is no one-trick pony, though — give it a try if you or your kids need help avoiding cavities. You can also add bifidobacteria to your daily routine if you need to lower your cholesterol or better your body’s glucose levels during pregnancy.
3. Streptococcus thermophilus
Do you miss milk? If so, try streptococcus thermophilus. Some studies have shown it to be a way around lactose intolerance, as it naturally creates lactase. If the name doesn’t clue you in, lactase is an enzyme that fights reactions to dairy products.
4. Saccharomyces boulardii
Saccharomyces boulardii makes its mark as the only yeast probiotic. It has an diverse span of treatment capabilities, from treating diarrhea to fighting acne.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the probiotics you’ll find in foods or of the effects that probiotics can have. Scientists continue their research on the topic, but there’s plenty of promising evidence that they do more than promote gut health. In fact, some strains have been used to both treat and prevent urinary tract and yeast infections. A probiotic can also potentially be used to lessen the effects of colds and flu, or prevent them altogether.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Clearly, the probiotics above have plenty of positive effects on the body, and you might be curious as to how they get this type of work done. You’re not alone if you’re feeling inquisitive on the subject, as scientists continue to study how probiotics function in the body.
They do know some basics now, despite ongoing research on the subject: Probiotics step in to replenish your body’s stores of good bacteria. It’s not often that you lose your supply, but some medical treatments, including the ingestion of antibiotics, can strip your reserves.
This good bacteria does good work once it’s in your system. Perhaps most importantly, probiotics fight the bad bacteria that might creep into your digestive system. The best news of all is that probiotics never overstep their bounds by eradicating too much bacteria from your system.
In fact, there’s another task that probiotics take on: keeping your system balanced with just the right amount of good and bad bacteria that it needs to stay healthy and defended against future issues or outside forces.
Where Can I Find Them?
Most people associate yogurts with probiotics, especially now that some brands revolve entirely around their inclusion of belly-bettering probiotics. It’s true that fermented dairy products like yogurt contain a wealth of probiotics, but you can find them elsewhere, too.
Everything from cereal and granola to juice and bananas to onions and garlic to honey to artichokes to candy and cookies can contain a dose of probiotics. It’s important to note that, despite containing probiotics, not all products will have a healthy effect — or any effect at all — on your digestive system. Try out a few different varieties until you find the one(s) that make you feel your best.
If none of the probiotic-infused foods make an impression on your palette, try a supplement for easy and often tasteless consumption.
Do I Need Them?
Probiotics sound pretty incredible, but so do lots of things that you don’t have to do in order to survive. It turns out that probiotics fall into the same category: they’re a great addition to your body’s inner-workings, but you don’t technically need them.
There’s no harm in trying out probiotics if you’re looking for a new or more natural way to treat a chronic digestional issue. They’re safe for everyone, including kids, expectant mothers and the elderly.
If you’re undergoing a health treatment that might compromise your immune system, such as chemotherapy, you should avoid probiotics, as they could boost the likelihood of you getting sick. That’s why it’s always best to talk to your doctor before adding probiotics into your dietary routine.