Probiotic is a term used to refer to so-called friendly bacteria. Both friendly and unfriendly bacteria colonize the human gastrointestinal system. In a healthy person, friendly bacteria keep the unfriendly ones in check. Certain things can disrupt the balance of micro organisms, such as antibiotics, which kill any bacteria regardless of the type and can thus disrupt the balance within the body. Probiotics re-introduce friendly microorganisms through foods sources or supplements to restore the balance of bacteria.
Bacteria Strains in Probiotics
Several bacteria strains are included in probiotic foods and supplements. These include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus and other strains of lactobacillus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Some products on the market, such as the Align brand of probiotic supplements, claim to have actually created brand new strains of probiotics bacteria that are even more beneficial for health conditions. Probiotic supplements are often taken by people with irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal upset.
Each strain of probiotic bacteria provides different health benefits. That's why most experts recommend taking a supplement or eating a probiotic food that contains many different cultures. Health benefits of one strain may not transfer to others, so it pays to mix it up a bit and take different forms, or eat a wide variety of cultured and fermented foods to get the maximum benefit.
Food Sources of Probiotics
For centuries, people knew eating fermented food was good for health even if they didn't know why. Fermented foods actually contain beneficial pre-biotics (carbohydrates that probiotic bacteria feed upon) as well as numerous strains of probiotic bacteria. Fermented foods containing probiotics include kimchi, a type of sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetable krauts and products.Cultured products also contain probiotics. Cultured foods use a started bacterial culture to begin the fermentation process. Many dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain live and active bacteria cultures. Look for labels marked 'living and active cultures'. All yogurts contain some form of probiotic bacteria, with new name-brand types promising different strains to improve digestive health. Eat the yogurt well before the expiration date to ensure the highest amount of probiotic bacteria in every cup of yogurt.
Probiotic supplements offer friendly probiotic bacteria in a pill form. If you're considering a probiotic pill, look for enteric-coated capsules which dissolve in the intestines and bypass the stomach, delivering the friendly bacteria right to where they can thrive. Also look for supplements kept in the refrigerated section of the store; many of these contain higher amounts of living cultures than other supplements.
Be Aware of Safety Concerns
Probiotics in foods are thought to be safe for most everyone. If you're lactose intolerant, look for fermented foods such as fermented vegetables instead. People with very poor immune systems need to be careful when taking probiotics, and people with pancreatitis or a history of pancreatic disease are also warned to use care and caution with probiotics, especially when taking supplements. As always, read label directions and follow package directions when taking probiotics.
A Variety of Sources to Choose From
There are many types of probiotics on the market. Eating a variety of foods and incorporating probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt is one way to get your probiotics. Supplements are another. Either way, there's some proven benefits of taking probiotics and few, if any side effects or drawbacks.