The craze for probiotics started a few years back. All of a sudden, they were everywhere--in our yogurt, in special fermented drinks and foods, and in neat little bottles of pills found in most grocery and drug stores. Recently, probiotics have even found their way into skincare and beauty products. But what do we really know about these neat little microbes?
Probiotics are bacteria. If you didn't know that, I'm sorry to break it to you. That's right, we are shelling out big bucks for germs! Well, in actuality, there are good bacteria and bad bacteria, and probiotics are the "good" bacteria commonly found in the intestinal system. There are actually bacteria that live all over the body. Just take a random swab on your skin and you will probably find a ton of these organisms. But the bacteria in your gut seem to be the ones that make the biggest impact on your overall health.
Everyone's combined microbiome (mixture of bacteria and other microorganisms in the body) is unique. Some research suggests that when disease and illness happens, the microbiome of the body changes as well. People who are sick may lack certain strains than people who are healthy. An excessive amount of certain types of gut bacteria will cause your body to create more fat and slow down your metabolic system. Certain types of gut bacteria can even lower the body's inflammatory response, so a lack of that type of bacteria is generally found in people who tend to have autoimmune or inflammatory bowel disorders. There are even studies who tout the relationship between gut bacteria and brain function, relating to diseases like Alzheimer's, dementia, and Autism. The possibilities are endless, but suffice to say, the human body exists in an entirely co-dependent situation with bacteria.
So why take Probiotics? Probiotics probably are not necessary for everyone. The reason is that, even if the supplement is able to survive the stomach acid and go straight into the gut, likely the relatively small amount of probiotic bacteria will not make a huge difference for people who are already relatively healthy. However, there are some cases where Probiotic supplements can be significant.
1. Antibiotic use (or abuse) can cause a large portion of the gut flora to die off, leading to lowered immune response, and general GI discomfort such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Supplementing with Probiotics for a period of time after discontinuation of antibiotics is generally a good idea.
2. People who have chronic GI related disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel, Inflammatory Bowel, Crohn's Disease, or Ulcerative Colitis generally tend to benefit from regular Probiotic use, possibly due to the fact that they may be generally lacking in certain types of probiotic bacteria which may be causing their chronic GI symptoms.
3. Some studies find that certain probiotics are extremely helpful with newborns, especially premature babies, whose intestinal flora may not have developed, to reduce preterm infant mortality chances by helping improve their ability to digest milk/formula.
Is there another solution besides taking Probiotic supplements? How about getting them directly from food instead! In fact, fermented foods like Kimchi, sauerkraut, Kefir, yogurt, Kombucha, miso, etc. are not only delicious, but are generally considered to be awesome health foods, not just for the good bacteria they provide, but also for their other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.