Probiotics: Beneficial Bacteria for the Gut
Do you know the word probiotics? Maybe you’ve heard the terms healthy bacteria or friendly bacteria. You probably never gave a great deal of thought to your gastrointestinal tract or gut until the commercials for yogurt and yogurt drinks that promise to strengthen your immune system, help with regularity or replace healthy bacteria that were destroyed by antibiotics.
Your gut is the site of digestion, absorption, some immune function and elimination.
Healthy or friendly bacteria have various roles in the body. The friendly flora compete with unhealthy bacteria to help keep the body working as it should including regularity and a healthy immune system as well as take part in the production of folic acid and some B vitamins.
So what exactly are probiotics? Live microorganisms when given in adequate amounts can have a beneficial health effect on the body. However, there is no legal definition for “probiotic” in the US.
If you’ve decided to try a probiotics product, how do you know which one is the best choice? There are so many products on the market.
Here are three smart tips to help you make the right choice.
1. Probiotics are not all the same or equal. The health effect depends on the species and strain. Think of it like this. When you are sick with an infection that requires antibiotics, your doctor prescribes a particular antibiotic proven to destroy the bacteria causing the illness.
In other words, antibiotics are specific to certain bacteria. If you are prescribed the wrong antibiotic, the infection will not clear up until the correct antibiotic is give. It’s the same with probiotics.
*** Probiotics is a term we use very loosely in the media and marketplace….a catch-all phrase for all so-called healthy bacteria. ***
2. Probiotics are categorized by group, species and strain. Probably more than you want to know but it’s important to at least grasp the idea. Consider Lactobacillus acidophilus GG. Lactobacillus is the group, acidophilus is the species and GG is the strain. GG is the strain with research behind it.
Whether probiotics are taken in food or supplement form doesn’t matter. But take a supplement with food as food helps buffer the probiotics against stomach acid so the healthy bacteria are not destroyed and make it to the intestines.
A good company will tell you the full name of the probiotic bacteria on the label or provide a website to check out or number to call for more information. Their research should also be available on the website to show that the probiotics actually work. Less reliable companies will not have this information available.
3. Probiotics or healthy bacteria can be destroyed by direct light and high temperatures, even during manufacturing so the actual probiotic count may be lower than what’s on the bottle or package.
Probiotics should be ‘live’ which means they still work so look for the words “live and active cultures” on the label. Be sure and check for a shelf life and how the product should be stored.
By the way, natural food sources of probiotics include yogurt, buttermilk, sauerkraut and kefir. A few of the probiotics-enhanced products with research behind them to check out for specific health benefits include the supplements Culturelle and Florastor and the food products Activia, DanActive, Danimals, Yakult, Stoneyfield Farms yogurt and Attune cereal bars.
Remember, discuss with your doctor or health care providor which probiotic strain is right for you if you are using it to help treat a specific health concern. Check out the company’s website for specific information on the species and strain of the probiotics. Want more overall knowledge… take a look at usprobiotics.org
Want more? Listen to this week’s podcast below.