A couple of decades ago, few people had heard of probiotics. Now they’re one of the biggest phenomenons in the natural health industry. To see for yourself, visit your local drug store, and you’re likely to see a dizzying number of probiotic supplements in different forms, from capsules to powders to liquids.
If you’re a newcomer to probiotics, you may be wondering what all of the fuss is about—or perhaps even what they are. That’s understandable. There’s a whole lot of misinformation and unsubstantiated science out there about probiotics. We’re going to tackle that in this article and, hopefully, by the end, you’ll have a better understanding of the what probiotics are, who needs them, and what they can do for you.
What are they?
Let’s start with the basics. Probiotics are live yeasts and bacteria.
“Bacteria?” you ask. “Aren’t we supposed to avoid that?”
Not altogether! Some bacteria are actually good for you and can perform helpful functions in your body. When you take antibiotics, they can actually deplete some of the good bacteria in your body, but probiotics can help replace that bacteria. Probiotics can also help with the balance between bad and good bacteria in your body to keep your health in tip-top shape.
Who discovered them?
Those who benefit from these microorganisms (or microbes) known as probiotics have Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff to thank. The 19th-century scientist was the director of the prestigious Pasteur Institute in France, and he won a Nobel Prize. He was also the guy who figured out that poor people in rural Bulgaria were much healthier than rich European city slickers, and he attributed this to the fact that they drank a lot of sour milk—which contained a lot of probiotics.
So technically, probiotics have been lauded for their health benefits since the 1800s, but they really became popular in the 1990s when scientists began researching the “gut microbiome,” which is the world of microbes that lives in our GI tract. They learned that probioitics can play a critical role in balancing out the bad and good bacteria in our gut, which can help with digestive issues and even immunity, metabolism and mood.
So what specific benefits can probiotics provide?
Certain types of probiotics have been shown to be effective in:
Treating irritable bowel syndrome
Reducing diarrhea as a side effect of taking antibiotics
Treating ulcerative colitis
Reducing the effects of colic
Some studies have shown that they can improve immune health, mood, urinary and vaginal health, and skin conditions such as eczema. They have even been associated with reducing risks for colds.
Can I get probiotics through the food I eat?
Probiotics are found in:
Yogurt (especially Greek yogurt)
Kefir (a fermented milk drink made from kefir grains)
Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.)
Most people find it difficult to eat enough of these items to get the probiotics they need, which is why they turn to supplements.
Should I try them myself?
Some people take probiotics to maintain good health or keep their systems balanced. Others take them to improve specific health conditions detailed in the bulleted “benefits list” above.
If you feel that you would benefit from probiotics, talk to your doctor before taking them as there are some contraindications for people who have certain pre-existing conditions. If you have a weakened immune system, you may not be a candidate for probiotics.
How do I find high-quality probiotics?
Probiotics are a $40 billion industry in the U.S., and there’s a significant range of products to choose from. Be aware that not all probiotic supplements are created equally. Some contain bacterial strains that won’t do much for you at all. Others claim to contain things that aren’t actually in the supplement. How can they get away with this? The challenge here is that most probiotics are regulated as dietary supplements, not as medication. Hence, they have a lower standard and far looser oversight.
To ensure that you are choosing the best probiotic supplements, make sure that you are getting the right strain or probiotics for the right malady. (There are lots of different strains, and they perform different functions). Read about the strain that you are considering taking, and make sure that there is solid scientific evidence behind it.
If you decide to proceed, read the labels of prospective natural supplements carefully to make sure that they contain what you are looking for (and what your doctor recommended).
Is more better?
Probiotics are clearly having a moment, and that has led some supplement makers to take it to the extreme, touting billions of CFUs (colony-forming units) with each dose. While probiotics have been associated with many exciting health benefits, they should be taken judiciously. Overdosing on probiotics can lead to bloating, nausea, and gas.
What’s in the future for probiotics?
Good stuff in the form of genetic engineering. Scientists are able to create enhanced probiotics to function in just the way our bodies need. Probiotics are being developed that can break down toxins in the food we eat, improve the body’s resilience in the face of disease and produce nutrients in forms that our bodies can digest and absorb.
These engineered microbes give scientists a far greater ability to reach a desired end and to test to see if they are on track (and manipulate if they don’t quite measure up). Scientists are hard at work exploring the possibilities of probiotics to relieve everything from irritable bowel syndrome to cancer.
Disclaimer: The health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. VitaminsOnly strongly recommends to consult health care professionals for any questions concerning your health.
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