Commonly referred to as “good bacteria” or “friendly bacteria”, probiotics are live microorganisms that are believed to help aid digestion and provide protection against harmful bacteria. Probiotics are found in certain foods, such as some yogurts and dietary supplements. If a product says “live and active cultures” on the label, it typically contains probiotics. Probiotics strive to create a balance between the helpful bacteria and harmful bacteria within your “gut” or intestinal tract.
Although more research is needed, studies indicate that probiotics may be helpful for a number of conditions, many of which have to do with colon health. For instance, some probiotics have been associated with improvements in conditions like diarrhea (including traveler’s diarrhea), lactose intolerance, colon cancer, presence of helicobacter pylori, inflammation, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Others areas where it’s thought that probiotics have a beneficial effect include cholesterol, blood pressure, immune function, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, mineral absorption, inflammation, prevention and reduction severity of colds, and prevention and treatment of eczema in children. Once taken, probiotics help to colonize the intestines with helpful bacteria.
Probiotics protect you from a number of different bacteria strains. Bacteria strains in the human digestive tract are numerous — consisting of approximately 400 types of microorganisms. The two most common are Lactobacillus (Lactobacillus acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium, and are typically found in probiotic supplements. Lactobacillus acidophilus is believed to be the most common bacteria strain. Lactobacillus acidophilus is helpful to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lactose intolerance sufferers because it helps to break down lactose. It also helps to improve your intake of vitamin K and helps support a healthy immune function.
Likewise, Bifidobacteria longum helps to keep your digestive system operating smoothly. It helps to block the growth of the “bad” or harmful bacteria. Like lactobacillus acidophilus, B. longum helps to boost the immune system. B. longum helps you have better digestion and absorption of foods.
A number of factors can disturb the bacteria balance in the digestive tract, including medical, lifestyle, and diet issues. Disturbance factors include oral antibiotic therapy, inadequate dietary fiber, environmental toxins, and stress.
Side effects of taking a probiotic tend to be temporary and mild. The most common side effects are gas and bloating, which go away after a few days or week of taking probiotics. You should speak with your doctor know before starting a probiotic regimen, especially if you are on an immunosuppressant medication.
Overall, there’s a growing body of evidence that probiotics may provide a number of health benefits, including treating and even preventing illnesses with foods and supplements containing live bacteria. More research is needed, but the evidence to date is promising.