Learn the basics about probiotics

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates believed all disease begins in the gut. Now, nearly 2,500 years later, research is slowly discovering the role gut bacteria play in health. Could Hippocrates be right?

Bacteria are usually thought of as something bad, as nothing more than germs that cause disease. However, your body is home to billions of bacteria, some bad and some good. When the bad start outnumbering the good, you may experience negative health symptoms. This is where probiotics come in.

The word probiotics literally means ‘life-promoting’. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, probiotics are, “Live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.” Friendly, live bacteria and yeasts are naturally found throughout your body, but the cultures found in certain foods, drinks, and supplements are known as probiotics.

Probiotics help keep a balance of good and bad bacteria necessary for good health. In a healthy gut, 90% of the bacteria are friendly, but when things like taking a round of antibiotics, eating the wrong types of foods, a lack of sleep, drug use, emotional stress, and certain disease and infection occur, the delicate balance of microflora in your body can be disrupted.

Studies have shown that as probiotics bring balance in the digestive system they’re able to help treat certain conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, and diarrhea caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or antibiotics.

Increasing research shows probiotics may also have a powerful effect on your immune system. Because of this, they help ward off colds and allergies; relieve skin conditions such as acne and eczema; and prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections and autoimmune disorders including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Probiotics may even play a role in weight control.

There are several types of probiotics, but the two most common are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. With more than 50 species, lactobacillus is found naturally throughout your body as well as in fermented foods like yogurt and supplements. The 30 different species of bifidobacterium are mostly found in your colon and are also present in certain dairy products. Other foods that contain probiotics include kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, pickles, miso soup, tempeh, and kombucha tea.

Each food source and supplement contains various types of probiotics, each with its own possible effect on your health. Some scientists claim the type of probiotic you take ought to depend on your sex, age, and symptoms. Food sources of probiotics are better for you than pills, since they combine other valuable nutrients along with the probiotic. But supplements are a convenient way to get a high amount of probiotics at once, so they may be a good option for busy folks.

As with other supplements, the health claims of probiotics aren’t backed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the FDA has enacted regulations that require supplements to be accurately labeled, free of contaminates, and manufactured in a safe manner.

If you suffer from a chronic illness, speak with your doctor before taking probiotics. Otherwise, probiotic foods and supplements are considered safe for most people. As research continues in this fascinating field, probiotics hold much promise for the future of health and wellness.

Your gastrointestinal tract is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms. These microscopic creatures have several important jobs in your gut. They help digest food, keep food moving through the intestines, absorb vitamins and nutrients, enhance the immune system, and process certain medications.

Whenever starting a new nutrition supplement, it’s always best to double check with your doctor just in case. They can give you a lead on which one is best for you and why. Knowledge is power!

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and the owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer

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