The ABC’s of Probiotics

By Alexandra Lily Swanston

The ABC’s of ProbioticsWhat are the benefits of taking probiotics? Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem hard to swallow. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. Some digestive disease specialists are recommending probiotic supplements for disorders that frustrate conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Since the mid-1990’s, clinical studies suggest that probiotic therapy can help that several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women: self-dosing with bacteria isn’t as outlandish as it might seem. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms generally don’t make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.

How do probiotics work?
The main job of probiotics, or good bacteria, is to maintain a healthy balance in your body. Think of it as keeping your body in neutral. When you are sick, bad bacteria enters your body and increases in number. This knocks your body out of balance. Good bacteria works to fight off the bad bacteria and restore the balance within your body, making you feel better.

Good bacteria keeps you healthy by supporting your immune function and controlling inflammation. Certain types of good bacteria can also:

What are the most common types of probiotic bacteria?
Though there are many types of bacteria that can be considered probiotics, there are two specific types of bacteria that are common probiotics found in stores. These include:
– Lactobacillus
– Bifidobacterium

Probiotics are also made up of good yeast. The most common type of yeast found in probiotics is – Saccharomyces boulardii

What are some types of probiotic foods?
Getting probiotics from supplements is popular, but you can also get them from fermented foods. Here is a list of some probiotic foods that are super healthy:

1. Yogurt- yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics, which are friendly bacteria that can improve your health. It is made from milk that has been fermented by friendly bacteria, mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacterial. Eating yogurt is associated with many health benefits, including improved bone health. It is also beneficial for people with high blood pressure.

2. Kefir- kefir is a fermented probiotic milk drink. It is made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk. Kefir has been linked to various health benefits including bone health, help with some digestive problems and protection against infections.

3. Sauerkraut- sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. In addition to its probiotic qualities, sauerkraut is rich in fiber as well as vitamins C, B and K. It is also high in sodium and contains iron and manganese.

4. Tempeh- tempeh is a fermented soybean product. Commonly used as a high protein meat substitute (formed as a firm patty). Rich in vitamin B12.

5. Kimchi- kimchi is a fermented, spicy Korean side dish. Kimchi contains the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus, as well as other lactic acid bacteria that may benefit digestive health.

6. Miso- miso is a Japanese seasoning (most commonly used in miso soup) made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a type of fungus called Koji. Miso is a good source of protein and fiber. It is also high in various vitamins, minerals and plant compounds, including vitamin K, manganese and copper.

7. Kombucha- kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink. Since kombucha is fermented with bacteria and yeast, it does have health benefits to its probiotic properties.

8. Pickles- pickles are cucumbers that have been pickled in a solution of salt and water. They are left to ferment for some time; using their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria. Pickles are a great source of healthy probiotic bacteria which may improve digestive health.

9. Traditional Buttermilk- the term buttermilk actually refers to a range of fermented dairy drinks. Buttermilk is low in fat and calories but contains several important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium and phosphorus.

10. Natto- natto is another fermented soybean product, like tempeh and miso. It contains a bacterial strain called Bacillus subtilis. Natto is rich in protein and vitamin K2, which is important for bone and cardiovascular health.

11. Some types of cheese- although most types of cheese are fermented, it does not mean that all of them contain probiotics. It is important to look for live and active cultures on the food labels. Cheese is highly nutritious and a very good source of protein. It is also rich in important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorous and selenium.

Is it okay to take probiotics every day?
Since probiotics are typically sold as supplements and not drugs, the FDA does not have to regulate the health claims. However, research shows that daily use of probiotics is safe. While there are usually not many side effects associated with using probiotics, people may feel occasional bloating/gas or differences in bowel movements when they first start taking probiotics, it usually goes away with time.

It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional when adding supplements to your diet. It is especially important for people with cancer and immune deficiencies to consult with their healthcare provider before taking probiotics. Otherwise, most people can safely take probiotics!


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