There seems to be a lot of talk about probiotics lately, at least a lot more than there used to be. I hope to explain in today's post what probiotics are, how they work, and what you can do to get more of them in your diet.
A probiotic is what's often referred to as a "friendly bacteria." FAO/WHO defines them as "Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." Notice that any microorganism can be probiotic, and not just bacteria.
The most common types of probiotics are lactic acid bacteria. This includes the Genuses of Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, Lactococcus, and Streptococcus. The most common Lactic acid bacteria in proiotic foods and supplements is Lactobacillus acidophilus. Lactic acid bacteria eat lactose and other sugars and turn them into lactic acid. This is the bacteria that makes milk into yogurt. The bacteria eat the lactose and the resulting acid causes the proteins in the milk to coagulate and make it into the delectable gel
Probiotics work by pushing out the bad microorganisms. They compete with bad microorganisms and usually win.
Here is just a small list of the potential benefits of using probiotic supplements and probiotic foods:
- Managing Lactose Intolerance- Lactic acid bacteria eat lactose, not only in foods like yogurt, but in your intestines too. They may increase lactose tolerance in those that lack it.
- Preventing colon cancer - In lab tests, some strains of lactic acid bacteria seem to inhibit the occurrence of colon cancer.
- Lowering cholesterol - Many lactic acid are believed to lower cholesterol by their ability to break down bile in the intestines.
- Lower Blood Pressure - Studies have shown that milk fermented with various lactic acid bacteria may lower cholesterol.
- Improve Immune Function- There is much research showing that lactic acid bacteria boost the immune system not only by out competing pathogenic bacteria, but by actually stimulating the immune system.
- Helicobacter pylori- This is the bacteria that causes peptic ulcers. more studies are required however.
- Reducing inflammation- most likely due to cytokine regulation
- Improve mineral absorption - they breakdown mineral blocking phytates in the intestines, as well as in foods fermented with them.
This is a question I am often asked when I tell people about probiotics. While many foods are probiotic, like sauerkraut and yogurt with live active cultures, I think getting a good probiotic supplement is a smart move. You want to find a probiotic supplement with as many different species of microorganisms as possible. You can use this supplement to make homemade yogurt with more than just one or two species of bacteria, and you can make sauerkraut with more bacteria than normal just to name a few things you can do with. Of course there is no harm in just taking the supplement plain either.
I'll be back with more on probiotics soon!