The “good” bacteria offer a variety of benefits for your digestive and immune systems
Having a healthy immune system is critical to protecting us from a range of diseases and one way to achieve this is by including probiotics in our diet.
As viruses like Covid-19 ravaged the globe, the importance of probiotics has become even more important.
Many studies have shown that these “good bacteria” can help balance the intestinal flora and produce protective substances that can stimulate the immune system to fight off vermin.
Here is an overview of the friendly bacteria that live in our intestines, stomach, and gastrointestinal tracts.
What are probiotics?
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “living microorganisms that, when administered in sufficient quantities, provide a host with a health benefit”.
Probiotics are basically living “friendly” bacteria in food or dietary supplement form that have the ability to alter the balance of our own intestinal bacteria.
The health benefits of probiotics
There are thousands of research articles on the benefits of probiotics. These include improved protection against gastroenteritis, reduced inflammation (hence the association with Covid-19) and strengthened immunity.
In addition, recent research has shown that probiotic bacteria could help control the development and progression of colon cancer. While there is some evidence that probiotics are helpful in lowering cholesterol, there is limited evidence that they lower blood pressure and help with psoriasis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Many chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer, have been linked to an imbalance in gut bacteria. The right level of intestinal bacteria plays a role in defending against viruses such as Covid-19.
Probiotics in food
Probiotics are found in many fermented foods, including kefir (fermented milk), kombucha (fermented sweet tea), kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), tempeh (fermented soybean patties), miso (fermented soybean paste) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), as well as yogurt.
Probiotics can also be found in supplements and special drinks like Yakult.
Experts recommend combining probiotics with prebiotics – dietetic substances that increase the number of “friendly” bacteria and encourage their activity. The most accessible prebiotics are tea, onion, garlic, and banana. These have been shown to help bring our gut microbiota back into balance. Prebiotics are like fertilizers for live probiotic microbes that are already in the gut.
Who should take probiotics?
People whose diet tends to be low in fiber, fruit and vegetables, and high in animal protein should have these gut-strengthening bacteria in their diet.
If, on the other hand, you are satisfied with fruit and vegetables five times a day and eat two to three servings of high-fiber foods such as whole grain bread, pasta and rice or high-fiber breakfast cereals and a few servings of fermented foods per week, you should have a healthy intestinal flora. Everyone else should consider adjusting their diet or taking a probiotic supplement.
Dietary supplements can be taken if the diet lacks immunity-enhancing microorganisms.
Even so, it’s easy to get plenty of probiotics in your diet by including natural sources, fortifying them with prebiotic foods, and making sure you get plenty of fiber from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and yogurt.
Which probiotics should you be taking?
Probiotics, which contain lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, are the best researched and have the best evidence of safety and effectiveness.
Product quality varies, however, with some probiotic products being very well researched and others not.
Any Health Concerns?
People with immunosuppression (people who take immunosuppressants in connection with organ transplants) should avoid probiotics because even “good” bacteria, which would be harmless to most people, can cause infection in people with a weakened immune system.
Apart from this group of people, probiotics do no harm to young children either. In fact, foods with natural probiotics have been eaten by people all over the world for thousands of years.