With nutrition and health, it happens all the time: Suddenly, certain fads or foods hit the spotlight. And while sometimes it may lead to a misinformed public blindly following a new fad (i.e. The Cabbage Soup Diet, The Ball Diet, etc.), occasionally a few healthful gems are unearthed. One actually beneficial example: probiotics. Though probiotics were discovered back in the early twentieth century (and recognized as healthy bacteria way before that), it is only in the last few years that probiotics have made it big. So, we now know that probiotics are good for us, but what exactly are they?
What They Are
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, have a health benefit on the host, aka our bodies. These bacteria naturally live in our stomach and intestines, which keeps us healthy and functioning. In fact, it has been estimated that there are over 400 species of probiotics supporting our bodies, and the human body actually consists of more bacterial cells than human cells. The intestinal microflora, which refers to the variety of bacteria in our intestines, is highly specific for each individual. These friendly bacteria begin to accumulate in our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts from infancy, and tend to remain fairly stable over time. However, our microflora develops in stages throughout our lives and are affected by diet, illness, and even environmental factors. This is important since optimal gut and digestive health is necessary for the absorption of nutrients and for removing toxins. For this reason, many health professionals feel that ingesting probiotics to further ensure GI health is beneficial.
Where We Get Them
Probiotics can be found in supplements and in certain foods such as some yogurts, kefir and miso soup. and other dairy products. One such supplement I recommend is Align®, which helps naturally maintain your digestive balance*. For any probiotic product, make sure to check the label to see what strain of probiotic is inside, the suggested serving size, what health benefits it claims (hint: if a claim seems to good to be true, it probably is) and proper storage conditions. Also, avoid products that say “heat treated after culturing” since heating live cultures destroys them and will be of no benefit to you. Finally, the potency, or amount, of probiotics is also important since a certain number of cells are required to attain the benefit. The amount needed varies depending on the strain of probiotic, but typically ranges from 100 million to 10+ billion cfu/dose (aka how many live microorganisms are in each serving). Check to see if the label states how many viable organisms are in the product. The World Gastroenterology Organization has a lot of information regarding what probiotics are best to treat what ailments, including dosage suggestions, which can be found here on page 13.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics are a current trend that is actually healthy for our bodies. Taking a supplement or including one serving of yogurt or another food with probiotics per day, can really help you reap the benefits.
|*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.|