A visit to the supermarket these days can feel more like walking through a pharmacy, with an ever-expanding range of milks, yoghurts, pills, powders and speciality foods promoting their “probiotic” prowess.
Advocates of probiotics have hailed them as the answer to all sorts of health issues and conditions. But what exactly are probiotics? And, more importantly, should you be taking them?
Probiotics are scientifically defined as “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. In simple terms, they’re “good” bacteria that are beneficial to the body.
Probiotics exist naturally in some foods (such as some types of yoghurt and fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut), but can also be taken in dietary supplement form.
While our digestive system ordinarily contains trillions of microbes, including both “good” and “bad” bacteria, sometimes the balance between these can get out of whack. Diseases, poor lifestyle behaviours (such as not eating enough fruit and vegetables, heavy drinking, smoking, and physical inactivity) and ageing can all disrupt this balance.
By many accounts, probiotics can improve the number and diversity of “good” gut bacteria that help to keep our digestive system healthy and working efficiently. As such, probiotics have been proposed to:
- reduce symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome
- boost immune health
- improve blood cholesterol levels
- reduce blood pressure
- improve blood glucose tolerance and diabetes control.
However, most scientific research on the health benefits of probiotic supplementation seems to have been done in people with existing health problems. Evidence supporting the health benefits of probiotics in healthy adults is very limited. Probiotic supplements are most likely to be consumed by the general (and otherwise healthy) population, despite this group receiving relatively little documented benefit.
We reviewed the scientific literature (45 original studies) on probiotic supplementation in healthy adults. Our findings, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that giving healthy adults live bacteria (either in yoghurt, capsules, or drinks) can have a few benefits:
1) it can increase the concentration of “good” bacteria. So, if an imbalance of digestive system bacteria does occur in healthy adults (due to poor lifestyle, the use of antibiotics, or ageing), probiotic supplementation may help restore the balance
2) it can reduce abdominal discomfort caused by irregular bowel movements and constipation
3) it can increase the population of “good” bacteria in and around the vagina. From the four studies conducted in this area, all four demonstrate improvements in vaginal lactobacilli after probiotic capsules or suppositories were used. This may help prevent urinary tract infection and bacterial vaginosis
4) there is some evidence that it can boost the immune system, and help reduce the incidence, duration and severity of the common cold. While the exact mechanism for this is not clear, probiotics might influence immune responses by stimulating production and improving activity of cells that fight respiratory infections. But only three studies have shown these benefits in healthy adults.
While this sounds like great news for probiotics, let’s not get carried away. Our review also found the changes appear to be short-lived. In other words, you need to keep taking the probiotic supplements for the effects to last. If you stop taking them, your gut bacteria are likely return to their pre-supplementation condition within one to three weeks.
You may be able to get longer-lasting changes by “feeding the healthy bacteria”. Like all living organisms, bacteria need food to survive. Foods that are high in dietary fibre, such as fruit and vegetables, can be used as energy sources (or so called “prebiotics”) for these bacteria.
We also found little evidence that probiotic supplements can reduce cholesterol in healthy adults. And there is little evidence to show that probiotics can improve glucose (blood sugar) and insulin responses in healthy adults. Taking probiotics won’t reduce heart disease risk, or prevent you from developing type 2 diabetes.
So if you have a poor diet (you eat too much take-away food and not enough fruit, vegetables and whole-grain products, or you drink alcohol too much and too often) and don’t exercise regularly, your digestive bacteria may benefit from probiotic supplements, though you’ll have to keep taking them to get lasting effects.
But if you are otherwise healthy, here’s some simple advice: take what you spend on probiotic supplements, and use it to buy and eat more fruit and vegetables.
About The Authors
Chris Irwin, Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Allied Health Sciences, Griffith University; Corneel Vandelanotte, Professorial Research Fellow: Physical Activity and Health, CQUniversity Australia, and Saman Khalesi, Lecturer in Nutrition, CQUniversity Australia
Delicious Probiotic Drinks: 75 Recipes for Kombucha, Kefir, Ginger Beer, and Other Naturally Fermented Drinks
With clear step-by-step directions, beautiful photographs, and more than seventy-five recipes, this is the ultimate guide to homemade probiotic drinks. You’ll find numerous recipes for:
Cultured vegetable juices
In addition, you’ll find recipes for making yogurt, smoothies, and kefir ice cream. Fermenting drinks may seem daunting, but Julia Mueller shows how it can be fun, much more cost-effective than buying ready-made drinks from the store, and delicious!
Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Good Books and Arcade imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of cookbooks, including books on juicing, grilling, baking, frying, home brewing and winemaking, slow cookers, and cast iron cooking. We’ve been successful with books on gluten-free cooking, vegetarian and vegan cooking, paleo, raw foods, and more. Our list includes French cooking, Swedish cooking, Austrian and German cooking, Cajun cooking, as well as books on jerky, canning and preserving, peanut butter, meatballs, oil and vinegar, bone broth, and more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
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In 1982, it was discovered that the vast majority of stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori, nasty little bacteria found in the gut. In spite of the evidence, it took the U.S. medical community ten years to accept this finding and change their treatment of ulcers. In 2015, scientists have come to an equally startling conclusion: An imbalance in the bacterial community of your stomach can cause not only ulcers, but also a host of other serious and painful disorders― from allergies to diabetes to osteoporosis. Now, best-selling health author Martie Whittekin has written The Probiotic Cure, a guide to overcoming many of our most common health issues. The Probiotic Cure is divided into two parts. Part One is designed to explain what our internal flora is and how it works in our gut. It examines what comprises this living community, specifically focusing on the natural balance of bad and good bacteria. It details how this community can become unbalanced from a poor diet, a toxic environment, or a number of medications, causing negative consequences for your health. It then goes on to explain how balance can be restored safely and effectively by using probiotics―good bacteria that are readily available in supplement form. Part Two provides a listing of the most common health disorders that may arise from a bacterial imbalance. Each entry includes a look at conventional treatments for the disorder along with the probiotics approach. Practical suggestions and points to consider are offered so that you can make the best decision possible for your well-being. Hopefully, it will not take another ten years for the medical community to recognize the power of probiotics. But with this book in hand, you can benefit today from groundbreaking research. The Probiotic Cure provides a safe, natural, and wonderfully effective alternative approach to treating many of the major health problems of our time.
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Probiotics are essential and without them we couldn't sustain life. They: -Make vitamins vital for life -Send signals to the immune system -Are gatekeepers into our body and hinder pathogens, bad bacteria and viruses -Improve gastrointestinal motility and function -Fight against chronic inflammation -Produce short-chain fatty acids that maintains our gut health -Release small molecules(metabolites) that impact the brain
Many diseases are caused by inflammation of the skin, lungs, joints and other tissue and can all be because of a bacterial imbalance since they effect our immune system. Newest studies show that intestinal bacteria connect to ADD, OCD and Alzheimers.
This books gives you the knowledge about everything there is to gut flora, Probiotics and their health benefits. It also teaches you what you can do to prevent those diseases with the right gut flora balance.
What’s going on in your gut? The complete guide to Probiotics and the health benefits they offer