When we hear the term ‘bacteria,’ we always think of bad things. Most people will tell you that bacteria will only make you sick. But do you know some bacteria are good for us and positively affect human health?
Probiotics are good bacteria. They are microorganisms (microbes) we consume for a healthy gut. And a healthy gut means a healthier body.
We get probiotics from fermented foods such as yoghurts and pickles. However, fermented foods aren’t the only source of probiotics. Milk, meat, cheese, fish, and vegetables are also great sources of probiotics. You can also get them from dietary supplements.
Are probiotics the same as prebiotics?
Prebiotics is another term that is often mentioned together with probiotics. Sometimes they are mistaken for each other, which is not surprising as only one letter sets them apart.
Although these two terms are related, they do not mean the same thing. We have already said that probiotics are microbes that promote the body’s optimal performance. On the other hand, prebiotics is non-digested fibres you get from food. These fibres serve as food for the good microbes in your gastrointestinal tract. They also help keep your gut healthy while preventing conditions like diarrhoea, bloating, constipation, gas, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Prebiotics serves as probiotics nutrition, and together, probiotic and prebiotic supplementation foster better overall health.
How do probiotics work, and why are they called helpful bacteria?
Probiotic bacteria work to maintain a healthy body balance. Think of it this way: there are many bacteria in our surroundings, and most of them are bad. One way or the other, they will get into our body, and we eventually start feeling sick because our body systems are no longer in balance.
Bad bacteria are warded off by probiotics. This way, you get better quickly. Because probiotic bacteria are mainly in the gut, they also prevent the bad microbes you consume from moving into your bloodstream.
Probiotics also help your immune system and combat inflammation. They are like little protectors keeping you from getting sick.
The great thing about probiotics is that they are always working. They are in your body, and never take a break.
Sometimes, we take antibiotics to ward off the pathogenic bacteria that cause sickness. These antibiotics also attack the good bacteria in our bodies. The probiotics you consume serve as replacements for these good bacteria that the antibiotics cleared.
What are some common types of probiotic bacteria?
Many good bacteria are grouped under the umbrella term of probiotics. However, we will take a closer look at some of the most important probiotic strains.
Bifidobacteria are an important probiotic group. They are mostly present in our stomachs and small intestines. Bifidobacteria line our gut walls to help ward off harmful bacteria from our bloodstream. They are also great for other essential body functions like digestion.
Bifidobacteria can be divided into Human-Residential Bifidobacteria (HRB) or non-HRB. HRB are bacteria species of human origin, while non-HRB are bacteria species found in animals.
Since HRB is naturally found inside the human body, it can survive and reproduce in the gut, whereas non-HRB cannot. HRB provides us with a wide range of health benefits.
Two types of HRB that can contribute to human health is
- Bifidobacterium Longum – Improves bowel movement and prevents upper respiratory tract infection.
- Bifidobacterium Breve – Reduces metabolic syndrome, including obesity.
There are several ways to consume HRB. One of the easiest ways is through probiotic supplements.
What are some common types of prebiotics?
Prebiotics work together with probiotics for a healthier gut. Like probiotics, there are different prebiotics, but Human Milk Oligosaccharide (HMO) is one of the most well-researched.
HMOs are prebiotics found in breast milk. They are an important solid component of breast milk and are the third most abundant solid component, just behind carbohydrates and fats.
Like all other prebiotics, HMOs serve as probiotics’ nutrients, indirectly strengthening your immune system. This positive effect on the body’s natural microbiome is why the immune system of breastfed babies is usually stronger.
Inulin is another type of prebiotic. It isn’t digested or absorbed in the stomach. It stays in the bowel and helps beneficial bacteria to grow. Plants naturally contain inulin.
Benefits of probiotics
Let’s look at some ways probiotics can improve your health.
1. Help you lose weight and belly fat
Probiotics are a great addition to any weight loss routine. Some probiotics line the walls of the intestine, preventing the absorption of dietary fat. The fats that are not absorbed are passed out as faeces, so you don’t gain weight from them.
Probiotics also aid the increase of peptide hormones like GLP-1 (Glucagon-like peptide 1). These hormones keep you feeling full longer by slowing digestion. It helps prevent blood sugar spikes after eating.
Research has shown that people taking probiotics have a higher chance of losing belly fat and decreasing body weight.
2. Prevent and treat diarrhoea
Probiotics are mainly found in the gut, where they help ensure that your food digests properly. Some strains of probiotics have also shown promise in treating diarrhoea and other digestive disorders.
Depending on the type and dosage, the probiotic you are taking might be a good treatment for several forms of diarrhoea and digestive disorders.
Probiotics have shown the greatest promise in the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in adults. However, besides antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, probiotics have also shown promise in treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and infectious diarrhoea.
3. Reduce gas and bloating
Probiotics can help reduce gas, functional constipation, and bloating. These common intestinal tract issues can cause a lot of discomforts, reducing the quality of life. Gas and bloating are usually due to the inability of your body to break down certain foods.
Probiotics prevent these gastrointestinal disorders by balancing your gut microbiome and enhancing digestive health.
4. Help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut
We have a healthy amount of good bacteria in our stomachs. These good bacteria are meant to maintain a healthy balance with the bad bacteria in our gut.
However, certain things we do might reduce the number of friendly bacteria in our gut. When we ingest bad bacteria, fall ill, or take antibiotics, we disturb this balance, and the effect is that we might develop allergies, digestive issues, and obesity.
Probiotics are a great way to balance the friendly bacteria in your digestive system, and we can get them from foods and supplements.
5. Improve nutrient absorption
Gut bacteria imbalance might mean your gut is not absorbing adequate nutrients for your body to function properly.
Studies have shown that probiotics are great for absorbing certain nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals. If you notice that you are suffering from a deficiency of these two micronutrients, consider taking probiotic supplementation to help boost absorption.
6. Improve some mental health conditions
Scientific evidence shows that the gut and the brain constantly communicate with each other through the gut-brain axis. The healthier your gut is, the less prone you are to mental health conditions.
Studies have shown that probiotics positively impact mental health disorders. It has shown promise in people with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
7. Improve mood and reduce stress
We have already stated that probiotics are great for mental conditions because of the connection between the gut and mental health. Studies have also shown that probiotics help improve your mood, prevent mood swings, and reduce stress.
8. Help keep your heart healthy
Probiotics can help keep your heart healthy. It is great for heart health because it reduces blood pressure and lowers LDL cholesterol. LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins, otherwise known as bad cholesterol.
Probiotics can influence our cholesterol levels by reducing the absorption of cholesterol from our food.
9. Reduce the severity of certain allergies and eczema
Probiotics seem to reduce the severity of eczema in infants. Studies show that children fed with milk supplemented with probiotics had a lower risk of eczema. This is also the case for children with mothers that take probiotics during pregnancy. Probiotics also seem to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions in people with dairy allergies.
10. Help boost your immune system
Probiotics are great for boosting your immune system. They directly improve your immune response by aiding the production of certain antibodies and other immune cells, improving your immune response.
Probiotics also increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut. These beneficial bacteria ward off bad bacteria and infections.
High levels of harmful bacteria put you at risk of infections; probiotics will help prevent these infections and stave off other illnesses like the common cold or flu.
The best way to benefit from probiotics
Probiotics have immense beneficial effects on the body and the mind, and the best way to benefit from them is to ensure that you consume adequate amounts.
Foods like milk, tempeh, pickled vegetables, and yoghurts are great sources of probiotics. However, these might not be enough as you do not eat these foods all the time. You also need to know that some probiotics do not make it to our gastrointestinal tract before our stomach acid destroys them.
To ensure you are getting enough probiotics to reap the numerous benefits, take dietary supplements that contain probiotics. Probiotic supplements can help rebalance the gut microbiome and help crowd out bad bacteria.