Probiotics are any foods or products which contain different types of microbes that are needed in the digestive tract. Most of us think that all microbes are bad but this is not so. There are many different species of bacteria that are needed in our gut to maintain a healthy digestive system. There is now more evidence that this optimal balance of different gut microbes may in fact help with extra-intestinal conditions like allergies and respiratory infections. While our body does its utmost to maintain these microbes, sometimes it needs help in the form of probiotics.
Always consult with a doctor before starting any product known to be a probiotic. Repeated use may not be beneficial for your health. Sometimes probiotics can be a problem especially if the wrong types are used, if used in excess and if a person has a weak immune system. Below are some of the myths and facts about probiotics.
A healthy gut is free of microbes
Babies are born with a sterile gut but this lasts for only a short period. A healthy human gut has about 100 trillion microorganisms. In fact about 30% of the weight of the feces that you pass is due to bacteria and other microbes. Cell for cell, you have 10 times more microbes in your gut than all the cells that make up your body. And these microbes are not there for no reason. It plays a role in the absorption of some nutrients and for the growth of the inner lining of your bowels. A healthy balance of these naturally occurring microbes can also keep harmful microbes at bay and thereby prevent intestinal infections.
Probiotics are a gimmick
Some consider probiotics as a alternative health gimmick or quackery. They believe that it is just the health product industry and natural health practitioners trying to promote these products without any scientific evidence to back their claims. But this is untrue. Probiotics are not just helpful but actually essential for digestive health, especially in this day and age where a modern lifestyle and regular antibiotic use affects the optimal balance of microbes in the gut. Overgrowth of some of these good microbes can be a problem. Nevertheless there are times when the benefits of probiotics are not scientifically substantiated and may in fact be exaggerated.
Probiotics are the same as prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics are two terms that are sometimes confused with each other. A probiotic contains the good microbes and its spores which can the colonize the human gut. The main microbes found within effective probiotics, be it foods or products, are Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium species and Saccharomyces boulardii. Prebiotics contain substances which are helpful for the microbes to grow and thrive within the gut in proportions that are beneficial to health. These prebiotics are non-digestible meaning that it is not digested in the gut or absorbed into the body. It remains in the gut. Unrefined barley, raw oats and acacia gum are some natural food sources of prebiotics.
Yogurt is the only probiotic food
There are several different types of foods that contain these good bowel microbes. Yogurt is only one source and is probably the best known and most widely consumed globally. Certain cheeses, miso, sauerkraut and acidophilus milk are some of the other natural food probiotics. Foods that are heavily processed, laden with preservatives and not fermented usually do not contain these microbes. However, if you prefer to go with a non-food item then you can purchase probiotic capsules or liquids from a pharmacy. It is important to purchase a reputable product. Many products on the market claiming to be probiotics are not effective for its intended purpose.
Daily use of probiotics are necessary
The microbes that are healthy for your gut can maintain itself once properly established and not disturbed by certain foods, lifestyle factors, drugs and diseases. You do not have to replace it daily. While most probiotics may not be harmful if consumed daily, it is not necessary to do so specifically for your digestive health.
However, if you have antibiotic associated diarrhea or other illnesses caused by an imbalance of your good bowel bacteria, then you may have to use a probiotic daily for just a few days. Usually 5 days of probiotics is sufficient but in severe cases a longer period of probiotic use may be necessary. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist about a reputable brand of probiotic and how to to use it properly.
Diarrhea is a sign of an imbalance
There are several different causes of diarrhea but it is one symptom of a disturbance of the bacteria in your bowels. You may also experience bloating, excessive flatulence and abnormally loud stomach noises. There is one specific type of gut problem that occurs as a result of your bowel bacteria being disturbed. This is known as antibiotic associated diarrhea or pseudomembranous colitis.
It occurs in people who use antibiotics and is more likely to happen when you use stronger antibiotics or take antibiotics for long periods of time. The antibiotics destroy your good bowel bacteria. It may sometimes allow ‘bad’ microbes to temporarily colonize your gut or some of the good microbes to overgrow. A probiotic will restore the balance and the diarrhea will then resolve shortly thereafter.
Probiotics help with disease prevention
Probiotics have been shown to be helpful in preventing, treating and even managing a number of different diseases. It has an obvious benefit when it comes to your digestive health. But probiotics may be beneficial for other disease outside of the gut as well. The research is still ongoing but there is more evidence to suggest that the bowel bacteria are in fact important for your overall health.
It seems that probiotics are beneficial for your immunity in general and can help with allergic conditions like asthma and eczema. There is also some evidence to suggest that it can play a role in preventing repeated respiratory tract infections and other common childhood infections. However, it is interesting to note that probiotics may not be helpful for all digestive tract conditions.