Anyone who has ever seen an advertisement will probably recall products being touted for their probiotics—very likely the latest kind of yogurt. But despite their beneficial buzz, the average consumer couldn't tell you what they are, what they do, or even where to find them. If this sounds like you, fear not. Today we're diving into all things minuscule and microbiotic on a scientific journey to answer the question, 'What are probiotics?' Read on!
What are Probiotics?
The World Health Organization classifies probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
The “live microorganism” part may be a bit concerning to those always worried about the spread of bacteria and viruses. But the truth of the matter is, every person on earth is a veritable zoo of tiny animals that live inside us, particularly within our digestive and intestinal systems. Most of your digestive functions wouldn’t even work without these little symbiotes helping out.
While these microorganisms have always existed in human guts, over time, we started to get better at finding ways to directly harness them. A lot of our favorite dairy products, such as yogurt, can only be created by cultivating special dairy-loving bacteria known as Lactobacillus delbrueckii.
Thanks to our improved understanding of probiotics and the role they play in our digestive system, many food companies purposefully include certain strains of their products. The goal is to promote better digestive health.
Because of this, there is growing interest in the nutritional benefits of foods that are made with probiotics, such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, and kimchi. Similarly, there is growing interest in probiotic supplements, either taken on their own or added into other food products.
Many companies also offer products with prebiotics, something not to be confused with probiotics. Prebiotics serves as the food for probiotics, stimulating their growth so that they have a chance to take effect.
Types of Probiotics
“Live microorganism” could technically mean a lot of things, but in general it refers to two types of microorganisms—bacteria and yeast. These microbes contain the vast majority of organisms that have been found to have health benefits for humans. Many probiotics are hard workers, in that they are not only essential in helping make many of the fermented foods we love but then go on to provide many health benefits once consumed. While there are many different probiotics, there are some that you will invariably hear a lot more about given their widespread use;
Lactobacillus is probably the most common type of probiotic. Those who are lactose intolerant can use Lactobacillus to help them break down lactose (the sugar in milk) that is giving them problems. Bacteria in this family can also help with digestion issues and tooth decay.
Bifidobacterium is another family of probiotics that has its origin in dairy products. Many varieties of Bifidobacterium are being examined for their ability to ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and help your body break down sugars and plant fibers.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of yeast—a single-celled organism like bacteria, but more closely related to fungi. Strains of this yeast are often used to treat diarrhea caused by other diseases or antibiotics.
Benefits of Probiotics
It was only at the turn of the 20th-century scientists connected probiotic bacteria, fermented foods, and nutritional health.
But because every probiotic does something slightly different—not to mention effects each of us differently depending on our DNA—the benefits of probiotics are still debated.
What we do know is that many probiotics can help break down difficult-to-digest food. In other words, they assist with digestive health. Your body is naturally equipped with probiotics. But on occasion, and depending on your genetic makeup, your natural probiotics can use an assist.
As well, many antibiotics will reduce the level of natural probiotics in the body while they try to combat other diseases. This can lead to uncomfortable antibiotic-related intestinal problems such as diarrhea. Probiotic supplements can help replace your depleted supply of natural probiotics and relieve those painful side effects.
Other benefits of probiotics include breaking down harmful cholesterol in the gut before it gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Many probiotics will even attack harmful bacteria, giving the body a boost to its immune system.
Probiotics and Your DNA
The naturally occurring probiotics in our digestive system vary from person to person. Likewise, our bodies react differently to probiotic supplements depending on our DNA.
Some people are lacking certain natural probiotics which can lead to a variety of irritating digestive ailments. For many people with chronic intestinal distress, alleviation can be as easy as eating the correct fermented food, or taking probiotic supplements—but you have to make sure you’re replacing them with the correct probiotics.
Of course, the best way to get the most out of any probiotic food or supplement is to know which supplement suits your unique genetic makeup.
GenoPalate’s nutritional DNA analysis includes specific recommendations on the type of cheese, milk, yogurt, and probiotic-rich food you should eat more of. To start eating for your genes, order our nutritional DNA analysis today.
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2. Amara, A. A., Shibl, A., (2015). Role of Probiotics in health improvement, infection control and disease treatment and management. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume 23, Issue 2, April 2015, Pages 107-114
3. Probiotics: Fact Sheet For Health Professionals, June 3, 2020