There is a lot of controversy surrounding probiotics. Someone believes that he is able to treat diseases, and someone doubts that products with them are beneficial.
We decided to find out what counts as probiotics, what foods contain them, and whether they bring benefits.
What are probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria that are proven to benefit the human body. The most common are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Other microorganisms can also be classified as probiotics, such as the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
For the first time the term “probiotic” was introduced by the Nobel laureate, biologist Ilya Mechnikov. He suggested that the bacteria in yogurt might have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome. After that, scientists continued to explore the idea and use the term “probiotic” – which means “for life.”
In the human gut, probiotics compete with harmful bacteria, inhibit their growth, and maintain the protective barrier of the intestinal wall. Thus, they reduce the likelihood of inflammation.
What foods contain probiotics and are they beneficial?
The main source of probiotics in the diet is fermented foods. For their production, sourdough with microorganisms and sugar, which is food for them, are usually used. Bacteria eat simple carbohydrates, multiply, and secrete compounds that give it that characteristic taste. All you need to know about fiber.
Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, pickles, miso, cheese, sourdough, or sourdough bread.
Not all fermented foods contain live bacteria. For example, cheeses are pasteurized, and sourdough bread is baked at a high temperature. Beneficial bacteria die under these conditions.
Evidence is now emerging that even dead probiotic bacteria can provide benefits. But in any case, they are not considered probiotics. Scientists suggest calling them paraprobiotics.
To be considered probiotic, a product must contain at least 107 live microorganisms (CFU) per gram or milliliter by the end of its expiration date.
Such marking can be found in the description of the composition, however, not all manufacturers of fermented products indicate the content of beneficial bacteria.
Why is gut microflora important?
Normally, the microbiota performs many functions that ensure a comfortable life for a “large” organism:
- Protects the gastrointestinal tract from colonization by pathogenic microbes.
- Promotes digestion.
- Regulates intestinal peristalsis.
- Neutralizes toxic substances.
- Participates in the synthesis of useful substances (B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin K, etc.)
- Stimulates local immunity.
The boundaries of the concept of “normal microflora” are rather blurred: not all bacteria can be calculated and classified. Moreover, each person forms an individual set of microorganisms with which he lives all his life.
Do bacteria survive in the stomach?
The human stomach is an unfavorable environment for probiotics. Therefore, the more bacteria in the product, the higher the likelihood that some of them will survive and reach the intestines.
Studies show that the survival of bacteria in gastric juice is improved in the presence of simple carbohydrates: glucose, fructose, sucrose, and lactose. Lactose is a kind of sugar found in dairy products.
Plain yogurt or kefir with enough microorganisms can be a good source of probiotics.
It is not worth adding sugar specifically to improve the survival of bacteria, since it does not contain useful trace elements. Instead, you can add fruit and get an extra serving of vitamins and fiber.
How to increase your proportion of probiotic bacteria if you are lactose intolerant?
Lactose intolerance is observed with lactase deficiency. When this enzyme is low, whole lactose enters the large intestine and begins to interact with microbiota bacteria, which causes unpleasant symptoms.
Lactose intolerance manifests differently in different people. Some people cannot drink cow’s milk, but tolerate fermented milk products and cheese, while others cannot tolerate anything that contains lactose. In the latter case, you can ask your therapist or nutritionist about enzyme preparations that help the body break down lactose. You can also shop probiotics with Mr Vitamins.
Lacto- and bifidobacteria, like many other beneficial bacteria, feed on prebiotics – certain types of fiber. Therefore, if for some reason you cannot or do not want to eat probiotic foods, you can add prebiotic-rich foods to your diet.
Onions, tomatoes, bananas, leeks, apples, asparagus, garlic, and rye bread contain a type of prebiotic that bifidobacteria feed on.
Should I include probiotics in my diet as a supplement?
In medicine, probiotics are used to reduce the risk of Clostridium difficile infection when taking antibiotics. Clostridium difficile is a bacteria that can lead to diarrhea and life-threatening complications.
According to an analysis of 39 studies, taking probiotics during antibiotic treatment reduces the risk of developing a Clostridium difficile infection by 60%.
If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics for you, ask them about the need for probiotics in your particular case. For people with severe illness and weakened immune systems, the risks of taking probiotics may outweigh the benefits.
For people without diagnosed diseases, probiotics are considered safe, but so far there are no convincing studies that in this case they give any positive effect.