It’s a familiar story, you were looking forward to a long overdue lunch date with an old friend. Unfortunately, it will have to be pushed back yet again because you have a sudden case of the bubble guts. An upset stomach can put the brakes on any hot date and while you could take the over the counter remedy quick-fix; wouldn’t it be better to address the root cause of the upset rather than mask the symptoms? Imbalanced gut bacteria can cause indigestion, nausea, constipation and diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disturbances. That’s why maintaining a healthy gut is important for everyone. Besides avoiding stomach pains, a healthy gut can also contribute greatly to conditions such as a well-balanced immune system and good heart health. The question remains though, how do we keep our gut healthy?
One effective way to maintain a healthy gut is to make sure you have a regular intake of probiotics. Is the name familiar? It most probably is; most of us know that PRObiotics are healthy bacteria. However, let’s take it a step further and explore how this good bacteria improves overall health.
Probiotics are bacteria inside the body that work to help your gut function properly. Not to be confused with prebiotics (the dietary substances that promote the growth of good bacteria inside your body instead of the bad ones) or synbiotics (the product of combining prebiotics and probiotics or even antibiotics which is an antibacterial function that slows down the growth of bad bacteria to the point of even killing it). Probiotics are defined as microorganisms introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities. Although sometimes bacteria can be a term that we don’t want to associate to our bodies, there are plenty of good bacteria living inside us and one of them is probiotics.
How Were Probiotics Discovered?
Probiotics began its journey of discovery over a century ago when Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff started his study on centenarians (people who have lived over the age of 100). When he focused his study on the population of a small city in Bulgaria- he noticed that some inhabitants lived longer than others. After some research, Metchnikoff discovered that the people living in the Caucasus Mountains were drinking fermented yogurt drinks daily. When he delved further into this, he found that the fermented drink contained Lactobacillus Bulgaricus- the bacteria he theorized as a large contributor to the longevity of the lives of this group of Bulgarians.
Elie Metchkinoff’s study pioneered the research for probiotics. After his discovery, others began to look further into the study of the bacteria and helped bring probiotics to the position of prominence they hold today. Metchkinoff’s research findings served as a springboard for other studies and that together established the depth of probiotic knowledge we currently benefit from. , the main reason why many types and benefits of probiotics are now known. His research also prompted one of the most impactful products that we currently consume today which is Yakult- Yes, you read that right! One of the most commercially successful yogurt drinks was invented thanks to the fruit of Metchkinoff’s study.
Yakult came about when Japanese microbiologist Minoru Shirota developed a new type of bacteria called Lactobacillus casei Shirota. Shirota started the development of this new strain of lactobacillus with the belief that lactic acid in the digestive system could destroy bad bacteria in your gut which could result to an improvement of a person’s health.
Another famous product that came about with the discovery of probiotics is Kellogg’s Cereals. The co-founder of one of the most favored breakfast cereal brands is John Harvey Kellogg- who is also one of the earliest pioneers of probiotics. Kellogg, amongst being a co-founder and a pioneer, was also a surgeon, a missionary and an advocate for fermented food (like yogurt).
Probiotics was only given a proper name in 1965 thanks to D.M Lilly and R.H. Stillwell. They coined the term “Probiotics” during their research on microorganisms. The name probiotic literally means “for life”- derived from the Latin preposition “pro” which means “for” and the Greek word “bios” (biotic) meaning “life”. Probiotics was officially recognized in 2000 by the United Nations and the World Health Organization as an organism that “when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits on the host.”
Along with the many emerging studies of probiotics, many types of bacteria became known too. Every single one has a different benefit for your body- so read well before delving into the idea of probiotics consumption.
Lactobacillus – Arguably the most commonly-known probiotic. It is found in many fermented food like yogurt and can help digestion of lactose or the sugar found in dairy products. Lactobacillus produces lactase which helps break down lactose. It also produces lactic acid which helps control the number of bad bacteria in your gut.
Bifidobacterium – This type of probiotic can be found mostly in dairy products and is most commonly used in food and supplements offered to consumers. It was found to help ease conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Saccharomyces boulardii – is a yeast that can be found in probiotics. It helps combat digestive problems such as diarrhea.
Probiotics is found in both food and supplements alike- and with a simple look at the label, you can identify which specific one you are consuming. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t see the names, it is because the probiotic classification is represented by the letter B or L and then the strain is written out in its entirety (see list below). Probiotics strains are the subtypes of the organism and each one has a benefit of their own to the body. Depending on the type, the strain will be abbreviated as B. or L. then followed by the name of the subtype.
B. animalis – This particular strain helps in aiding proper digestion and combating bad bacteria that have somehow gotten into the food you are eating. It has also been theorized to help in boosting your immune system.
B. breve – Although not added into food, this strain lives in the digestive tract and fights off bad bacteria that can cause an infection inside your digestive tract. It helps the body in absorbing nutrients by processing out the sugars in food you consumed.
B. lactis – This subtype is gotten from raw milk and is an ingredient that serves as a starter for dairy products such cheeses and buttermilk.
B. longum – This strain can be found living in the gastrointestinal tract that serves as an antioxidant and helps the body break down carbohydrates consumed.
L. acidophilus – A subtype that is usually found in fermented food such as yogurt and soy products. This strain helps regulate digestion and can also be found in the small intestine.
L. reuteri – This particular strain can be found in the intestine and the mouth. Aside from helping the process of proper digestion, a study also found that the strain decreases bacteria in the mouth that could cause complications such as tooth decay.
As stated above, probiotics provide numerous health benefits for a person- but how exactly do they do it?
Probiotics are a helping hand in sending food you consume to your gut safely by aiding the organs that control gut movement. The community of microorganisms and other bacteria living in your gut is called the gut flora or the microbiota. The gut flora naturally manufactures vitamins inside of your body like Vitamin K and some B vitamins. If not properly maintained, the balance of gut flora organisms can cause numerous diseases including:
Type 2 Diabetes
Numerous heart diseases
Gut flora was also coined to be a “forgotten organ” because of the under-exploration of the organ as of late. Despite its impact on virtually every part of your body, scientists managed to leave gut flora out of the studies and research dedicated to our internal organs. Scientists have conducted experiments that produced results of a healthy and good microbiome that resulted to good health for living things. The gut flora have specific functions for your overall health:
The microbiota produces nutrients for your organs like Vitamin K, B and some amino and fatty acids.
Nutrients mentioned above are so essential to your health that even if you eat unhealthily, your body still finds a way to produce those vitamins naturally. Although not enough for the recommended daily nutrient intake, it still is a little bit of health handed to you by your body.
The gut flora is involved in the development of your immune system because most of your immune system is located in the gut.
It is coined as the “front door” to your body and helps the immune system create a band of protection from bad bacteria harming your immune system.
This refers to the physical barrier created by the gut flora- it prevents harmful bacteria from entering the digestive tract.
Going back to the importance of probiotics- good bacteria enables the protection and promotion of the well-being of your gut and immune system and most importantly, ensures that the gut flora still functions properly for your body.
To make a summary of diseases that probiotics help combat, here is a list of them:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Reduces gas and bloating
Some research has also noted that probiotics also fights off:
Pylori infections (Main drivers of ulcer and stomach cancer)
Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis)
Without proper and moderate probiotic intake, an unhealthy balance of bacteria in your organs may happen, causing an imbalance in your gut flora.
Deciding to incorporate probiotics into your diet? Try to consult with a doctor first to know how much probiotics is good for you. While probiotics are generally considered safe to consume, immunity and gut health varies from person to person. Therefore, food dependent probiotic support should be tailored to each individual’s unique dietary needs.
Another way to consume probiotics safely is to consume it naturally, foods that contain a high number of probiotics are highly accessible for everyone.
Yogurt – Probiotics mostly come from fermented products- including yogurt. It is considered to be one of the best sources of probiotics- filled with friendly bacteria, lactic acid and bifidobacteria. Eating yogurt can also combat diarrhea that is caused by a dosage of antibiotics. The sour taste of yogurt is caused by the bacteria turning some lactose into lactic acid- that is also why it is good for people that have lactose intolerance. In choosing what yogurt to consume, make sure to choose ones that have active or live cultures in its label because if not, the good bacteria that can benefit your gut health might have been killed already through the processing.
Sauerkraut – This dish is one of the most traditional food in Europe which consists of shredded cabbage that has been fermented in lactic acid bacteria. The sauerkraut is usually served as a side dish and has a fairly easy preparation- it is just a matter of aging. After finely shredding your head of cabbage, pour salt in its crevices and knead it until enough liquid covers all of it when put into a container and then stuff it into a jar for future serving. It has a sour and salty taste and only gets better the longer it ferments. The dish is rich in fiber, vitamins, sodium and iron.
Kimchi – One of the most famous Korean side dishes is not only jam packed with flavors but also good for the body. Kind of like sauerkraut, kimchi’s preparation starts with a head of cabbage, some seasoning and then the fermentation process. The seasoning includes red chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, scallion and salt. Kimchi contains the probiotic type lactobacillus which benefits digestive health. The dish is also high in vitamins, mineral and iron.
Miso – This traditional Japanese seasoning is a mix of soybeans and salt and the matter of fermenting. The dish could also include a mixture of soybeans, barley, rice and rye. The product of the fermented mixture is a paste that is usually used in miso soup and creates a savory-salty flavor. Miso is a good source of protein and fiber which makes it one of the most popular seasonings in Japan. It is also high in various vitamins and mineral which make for good breakfast food.
Pickles – Also coined as “gherkins” in Europe, pickles are cucumbers that have been pickled or fermented in a solution of salt and water. The natural lactic acid in the cucumber makes for an easier production of probiotics in the fermenting process. Pickles acquire a sour taste that makes for a good source of probiotics that helps better your digestive health.
Cheeses – Most type of cheeses go through a fermentation process but not all contain a good dose of probiotics. Since cheeses are mostly bought from the store (if you want to make one of your own, feel free to.), checking the label is important to know if it has a good amount of active culture in it. Having a live culture in a product means that the good bacteria survived in the process of making it. Some cheeses that are a good source of probiotics are mozzarella, cottage cheese and cheddar. Along with being a good source of probiotics, cheese is also packed with protein, calcium and vitamins. A study also found that controlled consumption of dairy like cheese may even lower the risk of heart diseases and osteoporosis.
The bottom line:
Probiotics are a group of microorganisms that are coined to be good bacteria for the body. Its main job is to maintain your gut health and to fend off any oncoming bad bacteria or any food that might contain disease-causing infections. The discovery of probiotics kicked off when a scientist who focused on the study of people who lived over a hundred years old, found out how certain inhabitants of a village lived longer than others. The name probiotics derive from the Greek words that translates to “for life”- hence the bacteria’s main use to be maintaining a healthy immune system for a person.
Probiotics is responsible for the invention of commercially successful products such as Yakult and Kellogg’s cereal due to the fact that both inventors of those products are scientists and are promoters of good health for a longer life.
It has types and subtypes that have their own different functions for both the gut and the immune system as a whole. Probiotics can be found in most fermented foods- fermentation is a process wherein an ingredient, mostly cabbage or beans are stored in a container for a long time with seasonings until they are coated with their very own lactic acid.
Probiotics works mostly inside the digestive tract- specifically the gut flora or the “forgotten organ” to fight off any harmful bacteria and produce its own good bacteria whenever the body needs it. It also helps maintain a good balance of microorganisms in your digestive system as well as stabilize it after a disturbance from antibiotics or a disease. Fermented food and dairy products are the main sources of naturally occurring probiotics but if you plan to purchase a supplement, consult a doctor first.
There are no evidence to support harmful side effects caused by probiotic intake. The dosage for supplements and the effect can vary from person to person. So, while there is not much harm in including probiotics into your daily diet, make sure to include organic products for assurance. For packaged products such as cheeses or yogurt, it is best to check the label and find the provided subtypes to look out for in probiotics.
Eating healthy is more than just losing weight- take the “healthy” part into consideration more because discovery of bacteria such as probiotics can help you to live a longer, healthier life. Sometimes we overlook the main purpose of diet and instead just focus on the physical aspect of it. Sure, it is nice to have an “ideal” body to look at but when it comes to your health, it is still better to take into consideration what you put inside your gut. Like gut flora, it is forgotten how much of an impact food can make into our digestive health. Those stomach pains might turn out to be more than just a call of nature but your body urging you to have a healthier diet.
While it is true that your body has some good bacteria in the gut that can help us absorb nutrients, it is still important to do our part and help in your body’s digestive functions by food that is good for you and your gut health. Take into consideration the many good things that probiotics provide for your body and take time to learn some recipes using the foods rich in it above. Always remember to keep a look out for what you eat and help your body function well because in the end, you will still reap the benefits of it.