Everything you need to know about probiotics
Domlur, Bengaluru Mar 5, 2017
For a majority among us, the moment we hear the word, “Bacteria”, our mind conjures images of something repulsive, as bacteria have a reputation for causing disease. What majority among us don’t know is that there is increasing scientific evidence that we can treat and even prevent some of the ailments, especially those of the digestive system with live bacteria called probiotics. Not to forget the fact that the human body is filled with bacteria, which are both bad and good.
Probiotics, because of their contribution to a healthy gut in humans, are often called ‘helpful’ or good bacteria. Though naturally present in the body, you can also find probiotics in certain foods and other dietary supplements. Friendly bacteria help absorb all the essential nutrients from the foods and promote digestion.
A probiotic is marked ‘Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG’. The first name represents the genus while the second name indicates the species within the genus. The third name (or number) refers to the particular strain within that species.
It has only been two decades that people have started to take note of probiotics and all the health benefits associated with them. Their claim to fame being promoting better digestive health, probiotics, in today’s times, are found in almost everything you buy from your local grocery store, be it chocolates or yoghurts.
How do probiotics work?
Researchers have been at finding out how exactly do these probiotics work. And studies show that these may be a few ways in which probiotics benefit your entire system:
- Your body loses some of its good bacteria when you are on a course of antibiotics. In such cases, probiotics help replace the same.
- Probiotics bring in the equilibrium in the level of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ bacteria, thus keeping your bodily functions optimized.
- They enhance gastrointestinal function and motility
- They produce growth and coagulation factors
- They contribute to the synthesis of Vitamins K and B
- Thwart the growth of pathogens and other ‘bad bacteria’
- They metabolize compounds/drugs from plants
- They help regulate and modify secretion and utilization of intestinal mucus
What are the types of probiotics?
‘Probiotics’ is generally used as an umbrella terminology consisting of different types of bacteria. Most of the bacteria primarily belong to two groups and come with different benefits. Consult your doctor on the type that should fit your bill:
Lactobacillus: This is the commonest of the lot. This is the one that is present in yoghurt and other foods, primarily the fermented ones. Different strains of these bacteria cure diarrhea and lactose intolerance.
Bifidobacterium: Present in certain dairy products, these help people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other related conditions.
The most common causes of an unhealthy gut:
- Medications, primarily antibiotics
- Being subject to excessive stress
- A poor diet consisting of alcohol, preservatives, sugar, over-eating, inadequate fiber intake and excessive consumption of processed foods
- Aggressive therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Excessive consumption of proteins derived from animals
- Impaired gut motility
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics help you reap the benefits of a healthy gut by easing the flow of food through the gut. There have been studies to figure out the types of probiotics that would work for different health conditions. However, some of the common symptoms and conditions these treat are:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Diarrhea related to antibiotics
- Diarrhea caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses
Other conditions that greatly benefit from the consumption of probiotics include:
- Skin conditions such as eczema
- Vaginal and urinary health
- Preventing colds and allergies
- Oral health
Probiotic food sources
The main sources of probiotics include:
The usual safety concerns
Probiotics are classified as ‘foods’ by FDA and not as medications. Unlike other drug manufacturers, makers of probiotic supplements do not have to attach safety labels to their products nor give an account of how they work. Hence, it is best to consult your doctor for more and reliable information.
In general, probiotic foods and supplements are safe for most people. However, people with an impaired immune system or other severe underlying health conditions shouldn’t be taking them. Take your doctor’s word before zeroing in on any. In rare cases, you might experience minor side effects such as bloating, gas, diarrhea and an upset stomach for the first few days after you have started consuming them. In case of any allergic outbreak, it is recommended to stop taking them.