To understand the function of probiotics in your system is to grasp what exactly they are and how different strains can assist in the tasks they’re designed to perform. Not all probiotics are made the same. Some of them come in supplement form, while others are packaged within certain foods, like homemade fermented vegetables, and can actually be quite potent. The common knowledge that eating cups of yogurt will achieve your daily probiotic requirement is admirable--however, there’s more that meets the eye, given most processed fermented foods don’t quite pack the punch.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products. Although people often think of bacteria and other microorganisms as harmful “germs,” many good bacteria such as probiotics are actually helpful.
Some good bacteria help digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, or produce and store vitamins.
What different strains of bacteria in probiotics?
Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common are bacteria that belong to the more familiar groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii. Once you read labels on foods or supplements that are probiotic in nature, it’s important to determine which strain carries the highest potency and which strains can specifically help certain health conditions in order to maximize the benefits.
Different types of probiotics may have different effects. For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus or any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing. The key is to know your specific condition, and knowing which probiotics can help.
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics may have a variety of effects in the body, and different probiotics may act in different ways. Following are some points to consider when shopping for probiotics and which dosage is optimal. Oftentimes, the higher the number of strains doesn’t necessarily translate to a better outcome.
In fact, probiotics contain these 8 essential benefits:
- Helps your body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms or helps your body’s community of microorganisms return to a healthy condition after being disturbed.
- Produces substances that have desirable effects.
- Influences your body’s immune response for the better.
- Treatment and prevention of some types of diarrhea.
- Can help ward off fungal infections.
- Assists in the prevention of some types of cancers.
- Aids in limiting irritable bowel syndrome occurrences.
- Decreases eczema or acne in children.
Are probiotics regulated?
Government regulation of probiotics in the United States is complex. Depending on a probiotic product’s intended use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might regulate it as a dietary supplement, a food ingredient, or a drug. Many probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval before they are marketed, which is why it is important to purchase them from companies that ensure independent certification and are made in a cGMP registered facility and adhere to only the highest manufacturing standards to ensure integrity and quality.
Dietary supplement labels may make claims about how the product affects the structure or function of the body without FDA approval, but they aren’t allowed to make health claims, such as saying the supplement lowers your risk of getting a disease, without the FDA’s consent. So let this be a flag if your bottle of supplements promises this.
The effectiveness of probiotics for health conditions
Probiotics have shown promise for a variety of health purposes, including prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, treatment of infant colic, treatment of periodontal disease, and induction or maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis.
Even for the conditions that have been studied the most, researchers are continually working toward finding the answers to how probiotics can solve the most basic of conditions, all the way down to the most severe of illnesses.
The following are some of the conditions for which probiotics have been effective:
- Gastrointestinal Conditions
- Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea
- Clostridium difficile Infection
- Diarrhea Caused by Cancer Treatment
- Diverticular Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Traveler’s Diarrhea
- Conditions in Infants
- Infant Colic
- Necrotizing Enterocolitis
- Sepsis in Infants
- Dental Disorders
- Dental Caries (Tooth Decay)
- Periodontal Diseases (Gum Disease)
- Conditions Related to Allergy
- Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Prevention of Allergies
- Upper Respiratory Infections
- Urinary Tract Infections
Given the magnitude of effectiveness in the above list of conditions, it stands to reason to include probiotics in your daily fare.
Are probiotics harmful?
Probiotics have an extensive history of safe use, particularly in healthy people. However, many researchers have studied the safety of probiotics in detail and have found no side effects. The risk of harmful effects of probiotics can be seen (although very rare) in individuals with severe illnesses or compromised immune systems, which is why it is always wise for individuals with major health conditions to let their doctor know before starting on a new supplement.
When you consider adding probiotics to your daily nutrition regimen, seek advice from your holistic healthcare provider first to ensure you receive the green light. And remember to start slow when introducing a probiotic or a new fermented food to your system. Most likely, you will see your health blossom!