Probiotics are prolific in food and dietary supplements because of their potential in treating a multitude of health issues from common digestive problems to more severe inflammatory diseases. Probiotics are common enough in food that they have been ingested unintentionally in ancient times from naturally fermented food such as honey, fruits, and berry juices . In grocery aisles, you may have noticed food and drinks such as yogurt, kombucha, and kefir advertised as having health benefits from probiotics.
Before we delve into sources of probiotics and their associated health benefits, let's understand what they are, how they function, and the mechanism in which they influence other functions in the body. You will find that you can improve your gut's bacterial ecosystem (a.k.a. gastrointestinal microbiome) by eating fibrous plant foods, complex carbohydrates, fermented food, and taking probiotic dietary supplements.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria that naturally exist in our body, and they are particularly abundant in our gastrointestinal tract. In fact, there exist approximately trillions of bacteria belonging to 1,000 different species and composing of 5,000 strains in our digestive system . Everyone's gut has a unique population of bacteria that limit or support digestive functions. Variables that affect gastrointestinal microbiome include "age, diet, environment, genes, and medication" [see also 6]. These factors may have negative or positive outcomes. For instance, some medications including antibiotics may impair gut microbiomes. A good or bad diet also creates a favorable or toxic ecosystem for bacteria in the body . Thus probiotics sourced from food and over-the-counter dietary supplements can be utilized to support a healthy gut and overall immune system .
How Do Probiotics Function in the Body?
The colony of bacteria in the body is essential in maintaining physiological processes, most notably the conversion of food to essential nutrients and subsequent transport of nutrients in the body. It normalizes cholesterol levels and aids in the synthesis of Vitamin K which plays a role in hemostasis (coagulation of blood and repair on damaged blood vessels) . It also protects the gut from harmful pathogens by colonizing the mucus layer of the gastrointestinal tract in a process referred to as colonization resistance, thus boosting gut immune system . Probiotics also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities that fight various diseases throughout the body .
Health Disorders and Diseases Linked with Impaired Microbiota
Everyone's microbiome is unique but healthy individuals have a blend of similar beneficial bacteria in their bodies . Imbalanced or impaired microbiota (i.e., dysbiosis) links to various digestive diseases and disorders including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Clostridium difficile colitis . Dysbiosis is also linked to metabolic syndrome (e.g., hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, obesity and type-2 diabetes) , and psychiatric disorders including depression . Although research needs expansion to identify the specific function of particular strains, probiotics are collectively known to help with essential functions in the body .
Probiotics in Food
Like all living organisms, bacteria require a healthy ecosystem. When we eat diets high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, we encourage a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria in our body to thrive and multiply . We can also introduce live bacteria in our system by consuming fermented food.
Probiotics are abundant in some fermented foods because healthy bacteria activate the fermentation process in fruits, vegetables, and milk products. For example, lactic acid bacteria including Bifidobacterium lactis and/or Lactobacillus acidophilus are utilized in common yogurt products . When we ingest these products we benefit from the living probiotics contained in them.
Probiotics in Dietary Supplements
When gut microbiome is thrown out of balance by a combination of factors including age, diet, environment, genes, and medication, the body's overall health declines. Sometimes probiotics from ingested food are not enough to support and maintain the body. For those with an imbalanced gut ecosystem, probiotic supplements provide an excellent source of beneficial bacteria to promote holistic wellness.
". .. only probiotic supplements with live bacteria can deliver health benefits."
Probiotic supplements have millions of beneficial bacteria from different strains. However, the most important feature to keep in mind when selecting a product is that only products with live bacteria can deliver health benefits. There are various brands that offer probiotics in the market, some of which are equipped with different delivery systems that keep bacteria alive.
The MAKTREK Bi-Pass Technology is one of these delivery systems that prevent the breakdown of probiotics by stomach acid. It is achieved by placing live bacteria in acid-resisting capsules with seaweed extract. This delivery system ensures that probiotics stay alive and potent even without refrigeration. Only living probiotics are capable of performing metabolic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant side effects, so make sure that you get your money's worth when buying probiotic supplements.
Summary of Probiotics' Health Benefits
Probiotics are living bacteria that exist naturally and most abundantly in the gastrointestinal tract. They have metabolic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties crucial in maintaining holistic wellness. Gut microbiome converts food to essential nutrients which are vital in all body functions. Probiotics also attach to the mucous membrane of the digestive tract and improve gut immune system capabilities. It helps with maintaining cardiovascular health and studies demonstrate its positive effect on cholesterol levels. It's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant capabilities deal with targeting disease-causing pro-inflammatory compounds which are known factors to various degenerative disease .
Are you still unsure if you need to supplement your diet with probiotics? Consult with a healthcare professional and find out more about probiotics and your specific healthcare needs. After that, follow your gut, and it will lead you to the right decision.