The Benefits of Probiotics & Where to Find Them
You’ve probably seen the word ‘probiotics’ plastered across supplement bottles and health magazines, but you don’t quite know what they are or what they mean. A quick Google search can get you some very basic information, but at Zhou Nutrition we’re hoping to give you everything you could possibly want to know about probiotics. If you’re wondering, “should I take probiotics?” or, “what can probiotics do for me? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about probiotics.
Our bodies are the host of numerous bacteria. Like, trillions. Some are good, some are bad. And depending on how many we have of each type, we experience good or bad health. The overwhelming majority of these organisms are what we call good bacteria because they live in peaceful harmony with us, not only in our gut but also in our upper respiratory tract, on our skin, and our urogenital areas. These beneficial microorganisms have many names: microflora, microbiota, gut flora or due to the latest media blitz, they are now also known to the general public as probiotics. These probiotics live in large colonies, where they feed, divide and die on a daily basis. They are primarily lactic acid producing bacteria and they benefit us in a multitude of ways.
Did you know that an entire ecosystem of microorganisms reside in various colonies throughout the 20 to 30 feet of our entire digestive system? From the mouth, ears, and throat all the way down to the colon. They are estimated at 100 trillion strong—more than all of the cells in the body 10 times over. And yet, we may not even be aware of their existence until we start to exhibit unhealthy issues.
It is estimated that the colony which resides in the colon weighs approximately 3-5 pounds. There are 300 to 1000 different species living there, but the species that live there varies depending on our geography, diet, and culture. And our body’s relationship with those species is symbiotic, meaning we provide those probiotics with a place to live and things to eat, and in return they try their best to keep us alive and well.
Our probiotic colony is of vital importance to our well being. Not only do some species help us maintain a healthy mouth and gums, but in our digestive tracts, they help with the breakdown and the absorption of micronutrients and produce crucial vitamins. They’re also involved in keeping our bowels regular. Since the majority of the immune system is located in the gut, the bulk of the probiotic colony also contributes to immune function. Studies show probiotics help reduce the effects of diarrhea in children and travelers and they may help people suffering from peptic and duodenal ulcers and bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Probiotic treatment has also been recommended to restore the balance of the microflora down south for women and help with common problems such as urinary tract infections, vaginosis (it’s not a made up word, we promise), inflammation, and yeast infections caused by antibiotics, spermicides or birth control pills. Lactic acid producing probiotic bacteria have also been reported to control the overgrowth of pathogenic microorganisms in the human digestive tract and prevent their transfer to the urogenital tract. Probiotics also help produce vitamins, such as vitamin K2, folic acid, biotin, and B12. In other words, our probiotic bacterial colonies are necessary to our well being.
Like all life forms, probiotics have a lifespan, which is typically about a week. It is estimated that 60 percent of our daily bowel movements comprise dead and dying bacteria, so it is vital to maintain a healthy colony that replenishes itself continuously and it’s necessary to feed it with its favorite prebiotic foods in order for it to divide and thrive.
EVERYONE! A baby is born with a sterile gut. Over time, the baby accumulates bacteria from nursing, hand-to-mouth touching, crawling on the floor, its environment, contact with other children and adults, and the food and beverages that it consumes. As a baby grows into adulthood, the colony perpetuates itself unless disease, antibiotic use or overgrowth of yeasts and/or pathogenic bacteria overwhelm it and the colony dies off, much to the body’s distress. Our probiotic colonies are of vital importance to us because a large part of the immune system is located in our gut. Estimates vary as to how much of the immune system is located there; reports have it from a conservative 60% to a high of 80%. The majority of the immune system is comprised of lymphoid tissue called MALT (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue). While MALT is found all over the body, the largest mass is found lining the walls of the entire length of the small intestine. This mass is called gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT for short. GALT houses various immune cells called lymphocytes (T-cells, B-cells, macrophages, and M-cells) that apprehend antigens, which cause the immune system to react and produce antibodies to destroy invaders before they pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream where they can then travel throughout the body causing mayhem. Our beneficial probiotic bacteria are instrumental in developing this immune system tissue.
Foods—Fermented dairy products have been the primary source of probiotics for over 4,000 years. They are believed to have first been cultured in Turkey, Iran, and India from goat and sheep’s milk. Today, yogurt is global and can be found in a drinkable form as “kefir,” with fruit or sweetener, or as Greek yogurt, which is a thicker “strained” version. Buttermilk is another good source of drinkable probiotic bacteria. Whether you like your yogurt full fat, 2 percent (low fat) or nonfat, the three primary strains of bacteria used to make yogurt are Lactobacillus delbrueckii (L. bulgaricus), Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Some manufacturers also use other types of bacteria to give their yogurts a unique marketing edge.
Any yogurt that is refrigerated will still contain a combination of probiotic bacteria that were used to make the yogurt; however, few if any, list the number of probiotic bacteria that they contain. Some people with mild lactose intolerance are able to consume yogurt because the bacteria the enzyme lactase to digest the lactose and break it down into glucose and galactose. Yogurt has also been used in soups, salad dressings, and ice cream, but be aware they may not contain any probiotics. And don’t be fooled, you also won’t find any probiotics in “yogurt coated” pretzels or candies.
Supplements—Probiotics in supplement form can be found in dairy and non-dairy liquids, tablets, capsules and enteric-coated capsules that protect the organisms on their journey through stomach acid. Probiotic supplements include the name of the probiotics, as well as the amount of probiotics in millions or billions on their labels. Most products need to be refrigerated, as the bacteria need to stay in suspended animation until released in the intestines. And seeing as many manufacturers cannot guarantee the amount of probiotics in their product after it is shipped from their warehouse, many will list “*at the time of manufacture” after listing the quantity. Some list their probiotics as “shelf-stable”; however, it is best to get your probiotics in the refrigerated section of the store. If a probiotic claim it is shelf-stable it may be microencapsulated. Not all probiotics are cultured on or in milk products, so for those who desire dairy-free probiotics, look for a dairy-free claim on the label. Probiotics in capsules generally are more stable than those already in liquids, so the use-by date on liquids will be much shorter, and they MUST be refrigerated.
There is one probiotic that is shelf-stable and heat-resistant and does not require refrigeration. This is a spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus coagulans, formerly known as L. sporogenes.
This type of bacteria is perfect to take with you on a tropical vacation. Spore-forming means that it is self-encapsulating, which is why it is heat-resistant. While it is capable of colonizing in the colon, it does not adhere to the intestinal walls and is flushed out after a few days, so it is important to replenish these bacteria daily if you take it on vacation with you.
To make sure you are getting the optimum amount of probiotics when purchasing supplements here are some tips:
According to market researcher Euromonitor International, probiotic food and supplement sales are forecasted to almost double in the next five years in the U.S. and they’re gaining in popularity worldwide. Expect more foods using the heat tolerant Bacillus coagulans to appear in the marketplace as usage patents are being pursued. Probiotic enhanced baked goods, soups, cereals, desserts, and beverages are sure to garner space on store shelves.
Another trend will be combining probiotics with prebiotics in yogurts and supplements. Prebiotics are inulin, an indigestible starch from Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and oligosaccharides. They’re short-chained sugars that are only digestible by colonic probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are probiotics’ favorite foods. Look for the word “symbiotic” on labels, which indicates a combination of probiotics and prebiotics acting in synergy.
Watch for non-dairy beverages, such as juices, alternative kinds of milk (almond, rice, soy), which are already available and a growing category for niche segments of vegetarians, vegans and those with intolerances to dairy products. Some of these products contain highly specific strains, such as Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07, Lactobacillus paracasei, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, which are intended to promote healthy digestion and immune function.
Another trend may be an increased public awareness for specialized probiotic strains specific to the upper respiratory tract. The Streptococcus salivarius K12 strain is a specific probiotic that only exists in the mouth and throat.
They help control the proliferation of bacteria that causes bad breath and upper respiratory infections such as strep throat and sinus and ear infections by crowding them out. The strain is also reported to help support healthy gums and teeth. Look for lozenges that can be sucked and gums that can be chewed for several minutes to be the delivery form for these probiotic bacteria.
The rapid acceptance and use of probiotics in foods and supplements are attributable to the public’s recognition that probiotics may be the key to the prevention of the many digestive issues that plague us today. With more research into how individual, strain-specific probiotic affect various digestive issues and help restore health, probiotics are certainly the “superfood” of the future.
Many foods that you might not think of containing naturally occurring probiotic bacteria: fermented foods, such as (raw) sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso; cheeses, such as Gouda, and soft cheeses, like goat cheese and brie; certain types of refrigerator pickles (not the ones canned with heat in a brine solution); kombucha tea, which contains a variety of probiotic bacteria and yeasts; and various raw fruits, mushrooms and vegetables.
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