A Beginner’s Guide to Probiotics
You’ve probably heard some friends sharing about their newfound love for probiotics. Whether you’ve read about it on social media or learned about it during conversations, probiotics are slowly finding a way into more and more people’s lifestyle. While it seems like just another wellness bandwagon, there’s more to probiotics than being a hip trend. There are several reasons backed by Science behind people’s attraction to these gut-friendly products.
Learn about the basics of probiotics and see how you can benefit from this healthy trend.
What are probiotics?
Derived from the Latin word pro and the Greek word bios, probiotics literally means “for life”. Its name truly speaks about the many wonders it can do to promote a person’s health and quality of life. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in adequate amounts”.
These living microorganisms are classified into different strains, which are identified by genus, species, subspecies and an alphanumeric designation that identifies a specific strain. For example, in the popular probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus is the genus. The species is rhamnosus, and GG is the strain designation.
Though the long scientific names of probiotic strains and species sound intimidating, the concept of how these live microorganisms may positively affect your health is quite simple. According to the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO), probiotics affect the intestinal ecosystem by interacting with the host in various metabolic activities and immune function. These mechanisms help prevent the colonization of disease-causing microorganisms, improve the intestinal environment, strengthen the intestinal barrier, reduce inflammation, and increase immune response.
Where can I get probiotics?
Long before probiotics became popular on social media, you’ve already been taking in some amount of these good bacteria. Dairy-based foods like cheese, ice cream, fermented milk, buttermilk, milk powder, and yogurts contain probiotic strains. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, for example, are found in many of the yogurt and cultured milk products sold in the market nowadays. Likewise, even nondairy food like soy-based products, cereals, nutrition bars, and a variety of juices can be sources of probiotic strains.
Aside from food and drinks, you can also get probiotics from various probiotic-containing products available commercially such as dietary supplements, natural health products, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs.
What health benefits can I get from probiotics?
The main reason more and more people aim to include probiotics in their diet is the list of health benefits these healthy microorganisms can provide. According to an article on health benefits of probiotics published in ISRN Nutrition journal, there is increasing evidence supporting claims of the beneficial effects of probiotics, including improvement of intestinal health, enhancement of the immune response, reduction of serum cholesterol, and even cancer prevention. However, while some of these health benefits are well documented, others still need further studies in order to be established.
Good for digestive health
Probiotics are best known for the positive effects they have on the gut. According to an article on probiotics for humans published in the Nutrition Bulletin journal, there are a range of digestive health benefits tested in randomised controlled trials for some probiotics. These include management of symptoms of constipation, management of symptoms of lactose intolerance, reduction of incidence and duration of common infectious gastrointestinal diseases, and prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Additionally, published studies confirm that probiotic treatments help reduce abdominal bloating and flatulence, according to WGO’s Global Guideline on Probiotics and Prebiotics. Likewise, studies suggest that some probiotic strains may manage symptoms and improve the quality of life of those with functional abdominal pain.
Reduces risk of developing eczema
Aside from being gut-friendly bacteria, probiotics can help prevent eczema. As stated in the an article on probiotics for human use published in Nutrition Bulletin journal, several studies suggest that probiotics reduced the risk of developing eczema in infants when consumed by women during the last trimester of pregnancy, when taken by breastfeeding mothers or when given to infants.
Improves immune response
WGO’s Global Guideline states that there is suggestive evidence that several probiotic strains are useful in improving immune response. Evidence suggestive of enhanced immune responses has been obtained in studies aimed at preventing acute infectious disease and studies that tested antibody responses to vaccines.
What do I look for in a probiotic supplement?
While you surely eat probiotic-containing food, you may also want to consider taking probiotic supplements to make sure you’re getting enough to reap the health benefits. However, taking probiotics is not as simple as taking your usual vitamin supplement. Prior to getting your first probiotic supplement, you need to know and consider several things such as the dosage, the strain that you need for a specific health benefit and the shelf life of the probiotic supplement. Thus, it is best to do your own research and check the label of the product.
Before buying probiotic products, carefully look for information such as genus and species identification, strain designation, viable count of each strain at the end of shelf-life, recommended storage conditions, and recommended dose that should be based on induction of the claimed physiological effect.
According to WGO’s Global Guideline, the probiotic dose varies depending on the strain and product. Generally, over-the-counter probiotic products have a range of 1–10 billion colony-forming units (CFU)/dose. Based on an article published on Nutrition Bulletin journal, it is recommended to choose probiotic products that have been tested in human studies with positive outcomes for the health benefit you want.
Learning about the basics of probiotics is just the first step towards a healthier you. Now that you know what these good bacteria can do for you, start making it a part of your lifestyle.