What Exactly is a Probiotic?
Probiotics are foods like yogurt,
they are real, live bacteria!
Don’t worry, though, the bacteria in probiotics are extremely good for you (1), just like yogurt. Read on to learn more!
There is an exact definition of a probiotic.
live microorganisms, that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host – Source
A probiotic is actually the opposite of an antibiotic. Probiotics are in foods and supplements designed to bring in new, healthy, living bacteria to your digestive tract.
Your digestive system is full of good bacteria (contains trillions of them!), and they are remarkably important for your overall health. In fact, without them (or enough of them) has been linked to many diseases we suffer from today.
This is not saying that probiotics will cure cancer; What I am saying is that without probiotic bacteria, certain illnesses can become much more likely.
This can have significant consequences on your health.
Having a healthy population of gut bacteria can do wonderful things for your health.
There are many ways to hurt our gut bacteria. One of the most substantial ways is by taking antibiotics.
Some naturally probiotic foods are:
- Kefir milk (exceptionally potent!)
Many other foods are great for the different types of probiotic bacteria as well. Click here to read more on the specifics of foods for probiotics!
Probiotic bacteria is a generic term. There are numerous types of probiotic bacteria, but can be broken down into two main types.
Two of the most common types are:
- Lactobacillus – This is the most common probiotic bacteria found in yogurt, as well as other various fermented foods. These bacteria can help with diarrhea. They also may help people who are lactose intolerant.
- Bifidobacterium – are much less common but plays a hugely important role. They occur naturally in the large intestine. Bifidobacteria help to fight harmful bacteria in the intestines and also help to give the immune system a boost. Additionally, there is growing evidence that indicates bifidobacteria can help reduce concentrations of certain carcinogenic enzymes in the digestive tract. (can help to mitigate cancer-causing proteins)
- There are many other families of probiotic bacteria. Still, I believe that is too detailed for this post.
Don’t confuse probiotics with a prebiotic – they are both good for you but are different supplements.
A prebiotic is food for the bacteria already in your gut, whereas probiotics are more living bacteria to re-home in your tract
For reference, here are some prebiotic foods:
How do Probiotics Work?
There is still a lot of research going on to figure out the science between how healthy gut bacteria play a role in health and how probiotics help your gut health.
Right now there are a couple of ways they have figured out that probiotics work:
- It’s possible to lose some good bacteria. Probiotics help replace them. One way we can lose them is by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t discriminate between bacteria that are healthy for us, or bad for us; they just kill all. Probiotics are widely used in the medical field after a patient gets antibiotic treatment.
- Not all bacteria are helpful; many make us extremely sick, such as e-coli, which is very common in our digestive tract. Probiotics can help keep a healthy balance and allow more “good” bacteria to thrive and push out more of the “bad.”
Taking probiotics is essential because it helps to get your gut bacteria level to a healthy level. It provides actual bacteria and the environment they need to thrive. This makes your gut environment better for the bacteria to live there as well.
There are two main types of gut bacteria, and both have many subspecies. I don’t want to get that in-depth because it is just honestly over the scope of what you guys need to know. And I am not a microbiologist anyway!
Benefits of Probiotics
Along with other things, probiotics help to send food through your gut by affecting the nerves that control your gut movements.
Some common conditions probiotics may treat are:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
Newer research is also showing that probiotics are potentially helpful for problems in other parts of your body. For example, some people say they have helped with:
- Skin conditions, like eczema
- Preventing allergies and colds
- Urinary and vaginal health
- Oral health