What Are Probiotics and How Do They Work?

What Are Probiotics and How Do They Work?


Let’s briefly summarize what probiotics are and how they work. Probiotics are something you often hear people talk about or hear in the mainstream media, but you may not understand what that means. This article is designed to quickly summarize the concept of probiotics.

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What are they?

Technically speaking, the term probiotics refers to the use of microorganisms to promote health. Typically, this includes bacteria and occasionally yeast and are often referred to as gut flora. Individuals attempting to utilize probiotics will consume these microorganisms in adequate amounts to confer some sort of health benefit. It is true that some bacteria cause disease; but there are other types of bacteria necessary for good health and digestion.

How do they work?

Our GI tract or gastrointestinal tract has native microorganisms that we have a co-beneficial relationship with. In other words, both the bacteria and the host get something out of the exchange. The bacteria have a place to live and we get some sort of other benefit. The benefits to us usually is nutritional and involves help in digesting and breaking down foods for improved absorption. This increases our bodies ability to absorb crucial nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

The most common bacteria come from two groups: Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium; however it is important to remember that there are many other types of probiotics. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel

Normally, that’s how it works. The concept behind taking probiotics is that we either have an imbalance of the normal flora of or gut or that we can alter that flora to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria available. This imbalance of good flora can occur after fighting off some type of infection or after taking antibiotics for some other purpose. Probiotics are available in certain foods or as a supplement.

Potential Benefits

Probiotics may be beneficial to the following (more research required):

  • Boosting the Immune system
  • Treating childhood diarrhea
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis ( type of infection and inflammation of the intestines mostly seen in infants)
  • Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea
  • Preventing pouchitis, an inflammation of the intestines that can follow intestinal surgery
  • Treating and preventing eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy
  • Treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Treating vaginitis
  • Treating diarrhea caused by C. difficile bacteria
  • Treating Crohn's disease
  • Prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut lining and growing there.
  • Send signals to your cells to strengthen the mucus in your intestine and help it act as a barrier against infection.
  • Inhibit or destroy toxins released by certain “bad” bacteria that can make you sick.
  • Produce B vitamins necessary for metabolizing the food you eat, warding off anemia caused by deficiencies in B6 and B12, and maintaining healthy skin and a healthy nervous system.

Best Dietary Sources

  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Fortified Milk
  • Sauerkraut (shreaded cabage)
  • Miso Soup (Japanese soup with fermented soybeans)
  • Tempeh (Indonesian, another soy based product)
  • Sourdough bread
  • Ginger Beer
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi (Korean dish with various fermented vegetables)
  • Kombucha (Chinese fermented sweetened black tea)
  • Chocolate and granola bars
  • Poi (Hawaii, made from taro plant)
  • Juices
  • Powders
  • Mircoalgea (superfood made from ocean-based plants)
  • Probiotic Supplements: Capsules

Are Probiotics Safe?

Generally speaking, probiotics are very safe. This is known because humans have been consuming sources of them for thousands of years. However, they may interact with certain medications and may have other risks in certain high risk groups such as the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. Make sure to talk to your doctor before adding them to you or your child’s diet.

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