You may have seen probiotics in the supplement aisle of your local store and listed in ads for yogurt. Probiotics are special microorganisms that are beneficial to the body. Many people associate all bacteria with the disease, but a healthy body contains several varieties of bacteria and other organisms necessary for normal function. Supplementing with probiotics is believed to assist the body in several ways.
Types of Healthy Bacteria
Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and S. cerevisiae are among the several types of bacteria you will find in probiotic supplements. Of these, there are several different strains. On yogurt and supplement labels, you may see a strain of lactobacillus indicated with L followed by another Latin name. L. acidophilus is a common one found in yogurt.
“Live and active cultures” indicate the good bacteria are live and active, which is a positive thing. The purpose of ingesting probiotics is to introduce healthy bacteria into your system where colonies will then multiply. Dead bacteria are useless for that purpose.
Benefits to Digestion
A healthy digestive tract contains over 500 types of microorganisms. Most of this help keep the body healthy by promoting nutrition absorption and keeping harmful bacteria from proliferating. When the digestive system is out of balance, as may be indicated by digestive upset, taking supplemental probiotics can help.
Probiotics are used as part of the treatment for diarrhea, lactose intolerance, and even irritable bowel syndrome.
Benefits to the Immune System
Probiotics may benefit the immune system by giving it a small challenge. Just as a muscle strengthens only when challenged, the immune system can weaken if it has nothing to work on. One result of an unchallenged immune system is allergies.
When to Take Probiotics
Most advocates of probiotics suggest taking them every day either as supplements or in foods. Although research is still being done regarding probiotics’ health benefits, the daily ingestion of these substances causes no harm.
Some people start probiotic therapy during or after taking a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics often deplete the good bacteria along with the bad and create an imbalance in the body. This depletion is why yeast infections are more common after antibiotic therapy. Without the usual microorganisms that keep yeast colonies small, it rapidly grows.
Probiotics are beneficial and safe for most people. However, if you are taking immunosuppressant medicines or have an autoimmune disease, you should ask your doctor before taking probiotic supplements.
What to Look For
If you decide that probiotic supplements may be right for you, there are several things you should look for. Probiotic cultures can lose effectiveness over time, so pay attention to expiration dates. Buy known brands only. Supplements are not as well regulated like medicines. To ensure you are getting quality products, buy from brands that have been established for a while. These companies have a lot invested in the products they sell and quality control may be higher.
Probiotics have been consumed in food form, such as yogurt, for a long time. As more research is performed to discover new health benefits, it is likely we will witness more products containing these microorganisms.