According to many health professionals, probiotics have numerous benefits, especially for those who are susceptible to gastrointestinal issues. When we think of probiotics, most of us immediately think of yogurt with ‘active cultures.’ But, these gut-friendly bacteria are available from other sources, including yeasts and fermented foods, and can be very useful in preventing a wide variety of GI conditions by balancing both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that are naturally present in our gastrointestinal systems. If you have Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, or Celiac Disease, probiotics are a must!
In 2001, the World Health Organization defined probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The key here is the word ‘live.’ To do their job, probiotics must be alive when they are consumed or administered. The two most common and popular probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifodobacteria, both of which have been extensively studied by medical and nutritional researchers. A typical serving of probiotic rich food can provide you with billions of beneficial microbes.
Good and Bad Bacteria
The typical balance of bacteria in our system should be around 80% ‘good bacteria’ to 20% ‘bad bacteria.” The large intestine is inhabited by hundreds of billions of types of bacteria that help digest food, absorb nutrients, and keep ‘bad’ bacteria in check. If this ratio gets out of balance, you are very likely to suffer some negative effects including diarrhea, cramping, and even fatigue.
One of the most common reasons for this ratio to become unbalanced is when you need to take antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, a urinary tract infection, or sinus infection. The antibiotics will kill the bacteria that are making you sick, but they will also wipe out the natural bacteria that live in your intestinal system. At least 35% of individuals who take antibiotics will end up with a case of diarrhea.
To prevent this from happening, many health professionals recommend that you begin taking probiotic supplements as soon as you start taking antibiotics. Some studies indicate that this can reduce your chances of getting diarrhea by nearly half. Even if you do get diarrhea, it is likely to be of shorter duration than if you had not consumed probiotics. Check with your physician or medical provider first, but probiotics are widely believed to be safe for both adults and children while on antibiotic therapy.
Another situation when your gut ratio may become unbalanced is during travel, especially when traveling out of the country. The typical cause is an infectious organism, like the bacteria enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). ‘Bad’ bacteria usually comes from food or water that is contaminated by feces, and this bacteria will settle into the intestinal lining, overcoming your good bacteria, and releasing a toxin that causes cramping and diarrhea. It is possible that probiotic use before and during your trip could help prevent this type of travelers diarrhea. However, even if you need antibiotics to treat the condition, supplementing your diet with Lactobacillus probiotics may help reestablish the balance in your gut more quickly.
Other Health Benefits of Probiotics
Several recent studies have indicated that regular consumption of probiotics (such as those found in a daily carton of yogurt) may help improve brain function, and may also lessen anxiety and depression. This is a brand new area of research that is causing significant excitement with mental health professionals. Research is showing that there is an established connection between the brain and the gut that may have a direct impact on mental health. Recent studies show a correlation between probiotic use and a reduction in anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and stress. More research is needed to understand how probiotics are tied to an improved mood, but there is no indication that probiotics have any negative side effects.
Probiotics are shown to help with digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, and bloating. Probiotics can also be an important therapy for those who suffer from frequent urinary tract infections. The same principles apply as for digestive health, in that the ‘good’ bacteria found in probiotics can line and protect the urinary tract from ‘bad’ bacteria. Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate the immune system. Eating a diet that includes lots of probiotics may increase lymphocyte production, which is an excellent indication of an increased immune response.
Foods that Contain Probiotics
Try eating at least one serving per day of one of these foods:
- Homemade Sauerkraut
- Certain Soy Beverages
When homemade sauerkraut was examined in a laboratory, it was found to have trillions of beneficial bacteria in it, far more than commercial brands. A four ounce serving of homemade sauerkraut was comparable to over 100 typical probiotic capsules! For the past 5000 years, every traditional culture has developed a way to ferment foods, to make them last longer, and to provide a regular source of probiotics. Some examples include kefir in Russia and Turkey, kimchi in Korea, sauerkraut in Germany, lassi in India, and natto (or fermented soybeans) in Japan. Each type of traditional fermented food provides billions and billions of probiotic units.
To make your own sauerkraut, follow this recipe:
Finely shred one head of cabbage, then add 2 tablespoons of mineral salt and stir until the salt is evenly spread throughout the cabbage. Then let the cabbage mixture rest for at least one hour until the cabbage liquid seeps out. Afterwards, pack the cabbage in a mason jar making sure that the cabbage is covered in the cabbage liquid, leaving around 1 inch of space between the cabbage liquid and the lid of the jar. Let the mason jars brew in a dark space for five to seven days. Some people like to wait up to two weeks. Then place the sauerkraut jars in the refrigerator to slow down the fermenting process.
Have one serving daily to increase the level of probiotics in your system. Sauerkraut is delicious on sandwiches, as a side dish to meats like corned beef, chicken and pork chops, and can also be used as a topping on Asian-style noodle soups and stews.
I have tried a lot of different brands of probiotics and right now I personally use the Ultimate Flora probiotic with the 50 billion live cultures. This reduces a lot of GI issues that I have.
What are your thoughts on the health benefits of probiotics? Do you have a certain brand that you like? Feel free to comment below.