The role of gut microbiota in health and disease is getting a lot of attention lately. The microbiome is a community of trillions of good and harmful (“bad”) microorganisms in your body. In a healthy body, the good and bad microorganisms are in balance. There are some factors that may cause an imbalance in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis) such as illness, medications, the environment, and diet. Dysbiosis lowers immunity and makes you more susceptible to disease. The benefits of women’s probiotics when taking antibiotics are commonly known. And, evidence supports the usage of probiotics to treat diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. Many recent studies show that gut microbiota plays a large supporting role in human health by stimulating immunity and having a beneficial effect on heart health, inflammation, and diabetes. Diet has a big influence on the type and amount of microorganisms that colonize your intestines. And that’s where probiotics come in! Probiotics are the “good” bacteria. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics help balance gut microbiota by maintaining a ratio of beneficial and harmful bacteria that’s good for your health. Learn about the benefit of probiotics, what they are, where to find them, and how they help boost your immune health.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) in food or supplements that improve or maintain the “good” bacteria in your body. The most common bacteria in probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, and other fermented products, belong to the groups Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
While probiotics are live microorganisms, prebiotics are mostly non-digestible fibers found in carbohydrate food that feed the health-promoting “good” bacteria in your body. There are two types of fiber in carbohydrate foods: soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water). Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that feeds probiotics.The best source of prebiotics in food is-
- Whole wheat bread or whole wheat grains
- Brown rice
- Legumes (beans and peas)
- Green vegetables
Inulin is a non-digestible oligosaccharide. It’s a common prebiotic ingredient in foods and supplements. Chicory and artichoke roots are natural sources of prebiotics you might see on nutrition labels. Getting more probiotics in your diet is a good start. But you need prebiotics to help the good bacteria thrive to get the benefit of probiotics.
What Are Synbiotics?
Synbiotics are foods that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. The idea behind this functional food is that by combining probiotics and prebiotics, the survival of the probiotics as the bacteria pass through the upper intestinal tract might improve.
How Do Probiotics Boost Immune Health?
Maintaining good bacteria and preventing harmful bacteria from growing in the body is a well-known benefit of probiotics. Many recent studies show that gut microbiota is associated with metabolic and inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Probiotics boost the body’s protection against disease and inflammation by activating immune cells. Inflammation is a factor in many chronic diseases. The gut is a major site of immune activity so probiotics’ ability to alter the microbiome is vital for health. Dysbiosis is associated with high blood pressure. Probiotics lowered blood pressure in several studies. Oxidative stress (a key cause of chronic inflammation) was reduced in the lining of blood vessels. An analysis of 32 clinical trials showed probiotics had health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. In those studies, supplementing with probiotics lowered triglycerides, cholesterol, HbA1c, fasting insulin, fasting glucose, and blood pressure. The immune-boosting properties of probiotics are most likely the reason for these positive effects. While many recent studies support the benefit of taking probiotics, supplementing with probiotics shouldn’t replace medical treatment.
What Are the Best Probiotics for Gut Health?
Food and supplements classified as probiotics must contain certain strains and amounts of bacteria or yeast that are safe to consume and have potential health benefits. So how do you know for sure a food or supplement is a probiotic? Yogurt and frozen yogurt labels might have a “live and active cultures” seal on it. That seal verifies the product contains at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt or 10 million cultures per gram of frozen yogurt at the time it was manufactured. The seal is voluntary, so if you don’t see the seal on the label, the product may still contain live and active cultures. Check the ingredient list for Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria spp, S. boulardii, B. coagulans, the most common strains of probiotics. Probiotic supplements contain various strains and doses. They’re usually available in capsules, powders, liquids, and other forms. When you read the label, you might see something like this: 1 x 109 for 1 billion CFU or 1 x 1010 for 10 billion CFU The amount is the total weight of the colony forming units (CFUs), which are the microorganisms. Some microorganisms die over time, but it’s the live microorganisms that provide health benefits. Look for the amount of CFUs at the end of the product’s shelf life, not the amount it contained when it was manufactured.
Yogurt might be the most well-known probiotic, but it’s not the only source. Probiotics come in supplements and a variety of fermented foods. During fermentation, microorganisms like bacteria or yeast convert carbohydrates (sugars or starch in the food) to alcohols or lactic acid. What’s fermentation have to do with your gut health? Fermentation promotes the growth of probiotics (the good bacteria) – the lactic acid-producing microbes in the fermenting food.Here are some other fermented foods that contain these beneficial health-promoting bacteria.
- Some cheeses (look for live and active cultures on the labels)
Usage of Probiotics
The recommended daily allowance for probiotics hasn’t been established. Seniors and young children may benefit more from probiotics because their microbes aren’t as strong as healthy young adults. Supplement labels have directions on the dosage and may also provide the best time of the day to take the supplement, and if you should take it with food. Some yogurt brands recommend how much to eat daily and for how many days right on the label. For example, one yogurt brand suggests at least one bottle per day (100 mL). Another brand that contains several strains of live and active cultures recommends one to three 4-oz servings daily for at least 10-14 days. A small percentage of people might have side effects, although probiotic side effects are rare. Most are minor, like gas or bloating. Some people are sensitive to histamines and experience headaches or an allergic reaction from fermented foods.
Wrapping It Up
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The benefit of taking probiotics goes beyond your gastrointestinal tract. The anti-inflammatory effects of probiotics may improve your immune health and provide some protection against certain diseases. Probiotics have many health benefits and few risks. While research is still a long way from a personalized probiotic to correct individual gut microbiome imbalances, probiotics can be part of a high-quality diet that balances the good and harmful bacteria in your body. Probiotics need support, so don’t forget prebiotics! Include high-fiber foods (with plenty of water!) or a prebiotic or synbiotic supplement for a healthy gut microbiome and improved immune health. Need an immune boost? Leverage the benefit of taking probiotics on a regular basis. Support your immune health with McPeak’s® Defense 360 products. McPeak’s immune support products have a unique blend that contains both prebiotics and the best probiotics for gut health. So, kick sick to the curb with a burst of proven immune system activators and anti-inflammatory natural ingredients! What other immune support or gut health topics would you like to learn more about? Comment below. We would love to hear from you!