Until recently, only serious nerds knew that the body needed “good bacteria” to function properly. But thanks to the proliferation of probiotics in supplements, and encouragement by nutritionists to eat foods rich in these good bacteria, the public has become quite familiar with coming across the term “probiotic”. But what is probiotics? Why did we just start taking them recently? How did our bodies survive this long without them, or is this term simply an old phenomena that just got a new millenial rebranding? Let’s take these one questions one at a time.
What Are Probiotics?
To get a proper probiotics definition, you’ll need to understand how the body works normally. The human body is made up of both good and bad microorganisms. The good microorganisms provide certain functions to the body, like aiding with digestion, producing vitamins and protecting the immune system from damages inflicted by bad bacteria. Basically they keep your system balanced by countering the activities of harmful microbes.
Probiotics benefits are just as similar to those provided by the good bacteria found in various parts of the body. The term itself – which means “for life” – has been in existence since the 1900s, when Elie Metchnikoff, a Nobel Laureate, suggested that instead of relying solely on the good bacteria found in the body, people could consume additional good bacteria themselves to improve their health. And it only took a few decades for this idea to become mainstream. So in essence, they supplemental yeast and good bacteria. They’re something you’ll want to take after a round of antibiotics, as they can replace the bacteria that have been killed off by the drug.
Prebiotic Vs Probiotic
As similar as they both seem, these two terms are very different, but work together. Prebiotics are a sort of indigestible nutrient you consume – could be indigestible carbonhydate or fiber. These indigestible nutrients then serve as nutrients or fertilizers for the probiotics in your body. Even probiotics can work without prebiotics, experts have suggested that good bacteria are even more effective when they have nutrients. A food can contain both probiotics and prebiotics – these are usually known as synbiotic foods.
Prebiotic foods include fiber dense foods like asparagus, chia seeds and green banana. So a synbiotic food can be a blend of a probiotics food like kefir mixed with chia seeds.
Types Of Probiotics
As is common with biotics, there are different classes of good bacteria, each providing different functions. Sometimes a specific type will have a strand that is more beneficial than others from the same specie. Hence you want to take the strand that is most beneficial for you. Here are a few common probiotics and their functions.
– L. Acidophilus: Perfect probiotics for acne, diarrhea and vaginal health
Found mostly in milk, these perfect biotics can survive the digestive passages and live in the intestine. There have been several studies showing the benefits of these microbes in treating lactose intolerance and vaginal infections. Further studies, like those conducted by an Italian clinical study on 300 patients, showed that L. Acidophilus was one of the active ingredient in clearing acne.
– L. Rhamnosus: Great for treating Atopic Eczema
This is one of the most extensively studied bacteria with studies done on both adults and kids. These trials have shown that pregnant mothers who take this supplement during childbirth reduced the chances of their kids developing atopic ezcema in half. A secondary function of this bacteria is in treating diarrhea.
– L. Plantarum: Best for treating inflammation
Once it colonizes in the the gastrointestinal tract, these microbes have been shown to suppress inflammation in the gut and regulate your body’s immunity. So if you’re feeling bloated or have abdominal pain, try this strand of lactobacilus.
– L. Casei: Reduces anxiety
Some of the perfect biotics review have shown a correlation between increased L.casei (by about 24 billion) and reduced anxiety and depression. Although this strand alone won’t treat clinical depression, it can be used as a major component.
– B. Lactis: Boosts immune system
Clinical trials comparing the effects of B. Lactis and a placebo, found that those on the bacteria had a tremendous increase in their antibodies.
– B. Longum: Improved brain function, prevents constipation
These bacteria is found even in babies, and it’s responsible for fermenting sugar in the belly. Because it also stabilizes the acidity levels in the gut, it’s suggested for constipated people. Additionally, mixing this bacteria with milk have shown increased memory function and decreased stress levels.
– B. Bifidum: For gastrointestinal support
Even though this is naturally found in the body, too much stress, certain types of diets and time can deplete your body of it. It’s known for preventing pathogens in the intestinal tract from forming colonies.
– B. Breve: Anti aging
This strand decreases the environmental effects on your skin – so it protects the skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s Ultra Violet rays. Note that it isn’t claiming some fountain of youth benefits, just offering protective benefits against the sun.
S. Thermophilus: Improves skin texture
This bacteria should not be confused with the strep bacteria responsible for sore throats. S. Thermophilus in conjunction with other perfect biotics has been known to increase ceramides in the skin – lack of which can lead to dry brittled skin. It’s alsom responsible for protecting the skin against tissue infection and excessive chemicals.
A lot of fermented foods contain natural probiotics, so you don’t have to go diving for probiotic supplements if you have a busy schedule. Some of the best probiotic foods are surprisingly easy to come by.
- Yoghurt: is essentially fermented milk. It contains both lactobacilus and bifidobacterium – both of which help with indigestion. Those with lactose intolerance will benefit from consuming this greatly. Note that some yoghurts may be so over processed that they kill the bacteria in them, so only buy yoghurts with live bacteria.
- Pickles, or fermented cucumbers, contain natural lactic acid bacteria in them. Pickles made from apple cider vinegar do not contain live bacteria – only those made with salt and water.
- Cheese – some specific types of raw cheese contain live bacteria, so make sure you read the labels carefully before buying.
- Fermented Soybean products like Natto, Miso and Tempeh – all of which are Japanese and Indonesian native products which contain live bacteria.
How Probiotics Work
Some strains of probiotics work in unique ways, and although scientists have not yet exhausted their studies of these good bacteria, here’s a general understanding of how they work. They start off by maintaining the optimal number of microorganisms to keep you healthy by working against those undesirable bacteria that inhibit their growth. They then stimulate your immune system to work at peak. In the process of performing these functions, you will start noticing certain benefits. These benefits are just your body’s normal response, but had been suppressed by bad bacteria.
Benefits Of Probiotics
From the different strains listed in the “types” section above, the probiotics benefits can easily be observed. Here are a few of them, in case you skipped that part.
- Helps prevent digestive disorders caused by infections, like diarrhea and inflammation, and antibiotic drugs.
- Prevents certain skin reactions like atopic ezcema in babies. It also save guards infants against colic.
- Taking probiotic supplements can also prevent allergies during flu season by strengthening your immune system.
- There have been several oral and skin (anti aging and hydrating) benefits associated with taking probiotics supplements.
- Treats vaginal infections. A scoop of yoghurt filled with yeast, placed directed in the vagina can help treat infections by balancing the pH levels.
What To Look For When Buying Probiotic Supplements
Regardless of the benefits a product claims, you need to do your due diligence to ensure that the product will do what it says. Some companies over process their products so that the bacteria in them die before they get to you. Here are a few things to take note of before bringing out the greens.
- That the strain of the bacteria used in making the supplement performs the function indicated by the firm. Lactobacillus probiotics are well known for their digestive properties, so question supplements that use them, but claim anti aging benefits.
- The number of colonies in the product.
- Ensure the label clearly states “live” or “active” bacteria present.
- Check out the clinical trials and research associated with a supplement, to verify their authenticity. Basically, educate yourself on a product first instead of buying it based on adverts.
Unlike most drugs, the FDA doesn’t regulate the companies manufacturing even the best probiotic supplements. It’s usually up to you to ensure that the product you’re buying is labelled truthfully. Most at times firms who want to be misleading will exclude their ingredients, or provide incomplete information about them – for example claiming they have a certain bacteria in their probiotic pills, but failing to tell you these bacteria aren’t alive – which renders them useless.
Moving forward, you’ll be seeing a few probiotic reviews, from the ingredients they contain, to their claims. Colony Forming Units (CFU) refer to the number of bacteria in a probiotic supplement – it’s the unit of measurement, so take note of it.
Plexus contains 5 primary strains of bacteria (2 billion CFU), all of which have been known to help with constipation, diarrhea and some other bowel syndromes. Aside from the live bacteria, the pill also contains secondary ingredients like grape seed extract, which have been linked with weight loss. Other secondary ingredients have been known to support mental health by decreasing anxiety and depression. As one of the top Amazon probiotics, plexus is costs $55.75 for 60 counts of pills – that’s about $0.97 per pill. There are a few upgrades, which cost more, but a standard plexus shouldn’t cost you more than a dollar per pill.
This GNC’s women solution is a multi-strain probiotic, with 30 billion CFUs. It has been clinically shown to help with urinary tract infections, immune system support and digestive tract support – all thanks to the cranberry extract included. For $32.99, you get 30 servings – which is approximately $1.1 per serving (slightly more expensive than plexus).
Tropicana Probiotic Juice
Because your body absorbs liquid faster than other states (e.g solid), Tropicana developed a juice line with 1 billion active cultures per serving. It’s a 100 percent juice with no additives (no added sugar of flavors). It comes in 3 distinctive flavors – peach passion fruit, pineapple mango and strawberry mango. A 32 oz bottle of tropicana probiotic juice costs $3.49, with some stores offering discounts. At this price, it is one of the most expensive probiotics.
Ultimate Flora Probiotic
You can get anywhere from 25 billion to 90 billion active cultures per serving, depending on the type of ultimate flora you buy. Renew Life, women’s care contains 10 multi-strains of bacteria designed to cater to feminine issues – like keepinng the vagina healthy. A 30 day serving costs about $23.5, or $0.78 per pill.
Side Effects Of Probiotics
Probiotic side effects are not very definitive – mostly because there haven’t been a lot of clinical trials done on them. And even tests done are limited to just lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains.
Regardless, many firms make claims about the benefits of combining multi-stains of under studied probiotics.
In most cases, healthy people, even if they don’t experience the benefits claimed by a certain supplement, will have little to no side effects (flatulence at most).
In unhealthy patients, or those on medications, there have been some adverse effects recorded, like infections and weakened immune systems. Hence sick people are generally advised not to consume probiotics unless they get the go ahead from their health care providers.
People, especially pregnant and nursing mothers, are generally adviced to inform their doctors of their decision to use probiotics before they start taking them. Note that in as much as probiotic supplements aren’t government regulated, those made in the United States have a guideline of good practices they’re meant to follow. Hence it helps to know the country a probiotic supplement is manufactured before buying.