By Themar Fakhouri
The word "bacteria" usually gets a bad rap in today's media. It is often associated with disease and illness, which is not completely false. But what if I told you that bacteria can be beneficial, too? The term "friendly flora" means exactly that.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are micro-organisms that live in your gut, or colon, which are beneficial to your health. They work by controlling how much "bad" bacteria grows in your gut and restoring the balance between good and bad bacteria functioning in your gut (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018). Probiotic foods are food products that have added bacteria cultures (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018. This means that when you eat a yogurt, for example, that says “live active cultures” on the packaging, there are some added strains of probiotics that travel down through your GI tract (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018). The term prebiotics is also a common term, but don’t get it confused with probiotics! The difference is simple: prebiotics are functional foods you consume that are not broken down in your body. They travel straight to your gut where they are broken down and digested by the bacteria already living in the colon (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018). Essentially, you are feeding the existing population of bacteria in your gut. Foods that are adequate for probiotics, on the other hand, is consuming new bacteria, which also travels down to your gut. This is repopulating the bacteria in your gut, so adding more people to the party!
How are they Beneficial to Our Health?
You might be thinking, how are creepy crawlers in my gut going effect my health, let alone help it? Well these little critters have a greater impact than most people realize. Evidence shows that a healthy population of probiotics in your gut...
- Helps with a stronger immune system (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018)
- Helps reduce "bad", or LDL cholesterol levels (Thushara et al., 2016).
- Helps prevent cardiovascular disease (Thushara et al., 2016).
- Improves the function of your digestive system (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018)
- Can help alleviate lactose intolerance (Kechagia et al., 2013).
-Helps maintain reproductive health (Kechagia et al., 2013).
- Lowers risk of cancer (Kechagia et al., 2013).
How & When to Consume Probiotics
Friendly flora can be found in a wide variety of food products, so consuming probiotics can be made easy for people with all types of diets. Considering it's a bacteria, probiotics are often found in fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, or soy products (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018). But if you want to consume probiotics and are looking for some more diverse food options, probiotics exist in foods such as kombucha, dark chocolate, yogurt, and kefir (Journal of Probiotics & Health, 2018).
The consumption of probiotics has gained some popularity in the past few years, and now we are seeing tons of products- ranging from fruit juice to granola- with added probiotics. But how do we know which ones are effective? The way in which the probiotics are processed and packaged makes a huge difference in the efficacy of the microorganisms. One important factor that contributes to the maintenance of the added probiotics is the pH of the food product (Kechagia et al., 2013). This makes foods products such as soft cheeses optimal for the delivery of probiotics through the gastrointestinal tract (Kechagia et al., 2013).
On the other hand, probiotics are not only offered through food; they can be found encapsulated in pills to make it easy and convenient for daily consumption. But are these pills really doing the job they are meant to do? New technological advancement, like microencapsulation, allows the bacteria to live inside a pill until consumed (Kechagia et al., 2013). Although this is possible, the most effective choice would be to consume probiotics from food sources that are kept refrigerated so the cultures stay alive.
Thushara, R. M., Gangadaran, S., Solati, Z., & Moghadasian, M. H. (2016, February). Cardiovascular benefits of probiotics: A review of experimental and clinical studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26786971
Kechagia, Maria, Basoulis, Dimitrios, Dimitra, Konstantina, & Maria, E. (2013, January 02). Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/481651/
Journal of Probiotics & Health Open Access. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.omicsonline.org/probiotics-health.php
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