Probiotics, prebiotics, symbiotics, dietary fiber, lactobacilli, bifidobacteria. A lot has been written and said in the past few years about these important ingredients that have almost become synonymous with health. The word probiotic, used to describe “useful” bacteria, has been in use since the 1960s. According to the definition by the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms (so-called good bacteria) that have a positive effect on the health of the host if applied in the right amount.
Nowadays, probiotics are a subject of numerous studies, and their beneficial health effects are well documented in scientific research. A Russian bacteriologist Metchnikoff discovered probiotics when he noticed the positive effect of microorganisms on human health. He especially saw it in people who consumed big quantities of yogurt, kefir, and other products that contain lactic acid bacteria, i.e. fermented products.
The Balance of Probiotics and “Bad” Bacteria
Probiotics play an important role in the digestive system. They provide the necessary conditions for optimal functioning of the gut microflora, i.e., a group of microorganisms that live in the last part of our digestive tract, our colon. There are around 38 billion live bacteria in our gut, but not all of them are dangerous, and some of them are even useful or good. It is the “good” bacteria, or probiotics, that are very important for the health of the digestive system.
It is very important to highlight that the intestines are not just a digestive organ, but also the most important organ of the body’s defense system because around 70% of our immune system is in them.
So, the entire body will benefit from a positive action on the balance of probiotics and “bad” bacteria in the intestines. Numerous factors can disturb that balance, such as:
– inevitable stress,
– irregular and imbalanced diet,
– psycho-physical exhaustion, or
– chronic diseases, and we should not forget the use of medications, especially antibiotics.
The consequence of disturbed balance is an increase in the number of “bad” bacteria, which can often lead to many health issues, the most frequent ones being:
– a deficit of important vitamins and minerals (due to the limited absorption from the intestines), but also
– reduction in the immune system function.
In other words, our gut microflora is subjected to changes, and it should be regularly rebuilt, i.e., properly taken care of – also by taking probiotics
Beneficial Effects of the “Good” Bacteria – Probiotics
Science keeps progressing, and new benefits of consuming probiotics are being continuously found with constant research and the importance of introducing them into one’s everyday diet is being confirmed. The beneficial effects of probiotics are:
- impede the growth of “bad” bacteria;
- benefit people with lactose intolerance
- allow the synthesis of vitamin K and some vitamins B;
- strengthen the immune system;
- lower cholesterol;
- lower blood pressure;
- prevent and treat diarrhea;
- relieve inflammation caused by inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and/or Crohn’s disease).
- help to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome;
- prevent the growth of harmful bacteria triggered by stress.
The proven clinical role of probiotics is for them to prevent gastrointestinal problems in patients who take antibiotics. It should be kept in mind that all the effects have not been proven by clinical studies, but the importance of probiotics for human health is unquestionable.
Adverse Reactions to Probiotics
Although probiotics are generally accepted as safe, we should be aware that every body is different and that continuously taking probiotic dietary supplements is not required. In fact, some probiotics can cause allergic reactions. These may include headache, bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea that may last several days.
Which Foods Are Probiotic?
Probiotics are available naturally in some foods, in dietary supplements, or added to foods, mainly fermented dairy products. Since the traditional preparation of yoghurt, kefir, cheese, and sauerkraut involves lactic acid bacteria, these foods are valuable probiotic sources, although their effects might have not been clinically proven.
Experts recommend a change in dietary habits and lifestyle as the best, most acceptable, and long-term solution for a healthy digestive system and optimal balance of probiotics and potentially dangerous bacteria. This is the best and at the same time a long-term solution for a healthy digestive system, and thereby better overall health and wellbeing of the entire body.
Read what else you can do for healthy digestion and a strong immune system!
Many foods are naturally rich in probiotics, including:
- YOGHURT AND KEFIR – excellent probiotic sources that are also suitable for the lactose intolerant.
- SAUERKRAUT – look for non-pasteurised sauerkraut with live active bacteria cultures.
- PICKLED CUCUMBERS – look for those pickled in brine rather than vinegar.
- SOME TYPES OF CHEESE – although most cheese is produced by fermentation, it is not necessarily probiotic. Probiotics survive cheese maturation only in certain types of cheese, for instance gouda, cheddar, and mozzarella.
In addition to including these foods in the diet, experts also recommend consuming leek, buckwheat, polenta, and oatmeal, which boost the digestive system and help to maintain a healthy microbiota balance.
Frequently asked questions
1. What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (so-called good bacteria) that in adequate quantities have a beneficial effect on our digestive system, and thereby our health.
2. Why are probiotics so important for our health?
Probiotics help in keeping the balance of gut microflora. This way they ensure having enough “useful or healthy” bacteria in our intestines.
3. What are the positive effects of probiotics?
Probiotics, among other things, prevent the reproduction of bad or harmful bacteria, enable the body to produce certain vitamins (B, K…), lower the cholesterol level and blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce the inflammation in bowel diseases, alleviate the irritable bowel symptoms, etc.
4. Can probiotics also have negative effects?
Some probiotics can cause an allergic reaction, especially headache, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. These symptoms can last for a few days.
5. In which foodstuffs can probiotics be found?
Probiotics can mostly be found in kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and some kinds of cheese, such as gouda, mozzarella, or cheddar.