Probiotic supplements have been around for years now and are widely used for digestive health and other potential health benefits. These products come in various forms including capsules, drinks, powders, and gummies, but are also found in certain foods. Incorporating probiotics in daily diets continues to expand in the population and is trending to be an estimated $17.4 billion market by the year 2027. What really are probiotics, and how do they affect your overall health? How could they be incorporated into healthy lifestyles?
All about the Microbiome
In general, bacteria tend to get a bad rap. Microorganisms have a nasty reputation for making people sick. In reality, your body is home to a mix of many different types of bacteria that are essential to health and well-being. These “good guy” bacteria live on your skin, in your mouth, throughout your digestive system, and elsewhere in and on the body. They can help improve immune function, digestion the absorption of nutrients, and can help interfere with “bad guy” bacteria to prevent their multiplying into potential problems.
Various strains of “good” bacteria in your gut are responsible for helping to breakdown fats and proteins consumed. The human digestive tract is home to well over 500 different genera (or genuses), which are types of bacteria vital to nutrient digestion and absorption. The population of good and bad bacteria living in your digestive tract is called your “gut flora” or microbiome. Out here, bacterial cells outnumber human cells 10:1.
Here’s Dr. Gail A. Cresci, PhD, RD, LD, CNSC, and member of the AdvoCare Scientific Medical Advisory Board describing this incredible system in more detail.
How Probiotics Help
When combinations of diet, stress, illness, or medications throw gut flora off balance, discomforts and health problems may result. Probiotic products may help your gut flora return to a healthier balance after being disturbed by disease or medication. While probiotic products can contain various types of bacteria, and even some yeasts, two big hitters are groups (genera) Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Many times, these two organisms are common ingredients in probiotic supplements. Some probiotic products also contain ingredients called “prebiotics,” that help to favor the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics in Foods
Beneficial bacteria are also naturally present in certain foods or added during production. Let’s discuss a couple of foods that include probiotics – yogurt and kombucha.
- Yogurt is one of the most well-known food sources of healthy microorganisms. Yogurt is produced from milk that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus). Look for yogurt with “live or active cultures” listed on the label.
- Kombucha is black or green tea fermented by bacteria and yeast. This beverage continues to gain popularity in the U.S. due to its probiotic benefits. Evidence of its probiotic benefits related to the fermentation process are promising, but other potential benefits, such as anxiety reduction and immunity boosting, still lack scientific evidence. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi also contain healthy lactic acid bacteria that can help support healthy gut flora.
Do you spot a theme there?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. When active beneficial bacteria or yeasts remain in food products in the diet we may reap health benefits.
Choosing to include probiotic supplements and/or foods into our diets can have positive effects on our health, but it is important to discuss those effects with your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing specific digestive problems or abdominal discomfort, please consult your physician to address your symptoms and any underlying issues that could be causing them.