Have You Eaten Your Bifidobacteria Today?
Probiotics get a lot of buzz: We’ve all heard that they’re good for you, and it seems that every yogurt you pick up contains some live culture or another.
They’ve moved beyond the dairy case, too. Probiotic supplements are available in nearly every supermarket around.
But what exactly are they, and what do they really do?
Probiotics are live microorganisms which, when consumed appropriately, provide a health benefit to the host organism (that’s you). These strains of “friendly” bacteria reside in your gut, helping to move food through your system, remedy digestive disorders and enhance intestinal well-being. They have also been proven to boost immunity—especially important during our recent, and particularly devastating, cold and flu seasons.
While probiotics are naturally found in the body (we’re inhabited by thousands of bacterial species, referred to as our “microbiome”), they’re also added to lots of foods and beverages to ensure you’re getting what you need.
There are many types of probiotics with different benefits, but most come from two groups:
- Lactobacillus: This common probiotic is found in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help people who are lactose intolerant.
- Bifidobacterium: This can also be found in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What can they do?
From colitis to irritable bowel syndrome and even skin problems, probiotics are thought to positively impact a range of health issues. Some people use probiotics for short spurts (e.g. while taking a course of antibiotics, which wipe out “good” bacteria as well as “bad”), while others incorporate them as a regular part of diet to help with chronic digestive conditions.
While research is ongoing, probiotics have been proven to help lower the amount of “bad” bacteria in your system that can lead to infections or other serious issues. Probiotics can play a crucial role in protecting people, especially children, during cold and flu season. As germs and viruses spread through classrooms at lightning speed, recent studies have shown that probiotics may help maintain and reinforce immune defenses.
There is other promising news in the research as well. The DuPont Nutrition & Health team, along with scientists from the French Institut des Maladies Métaboliques et Cardiovasculaires, conducted experiments with obese and diabetic mice, showing that daily supplements of bifidobacterium may reduce fat levels and glucose intolerance. This study adds to the growing body of science supporting the effects of gut microflora on metabolic factors, weight gain, and obesity. Scientists are also studying whether probiotics could be used to treat anxiety or depression.
How do I consume them?
Most probiotics are consumed as dietary supplements (capsules, powders and liquid) or through foods that are fortified with probiotics, including yogurts, beverages, chocolates, cereals, granola bars, frozen desserts, and more. They’re also found naturally in fresh dairy products and even fermented veggies like kimchi and pickles. Before taking probiotics, it’s always smart to discuss your health concerns with your doctor and get guidance on dosage. Bacteria usually get a bad rap, but this kind does a body good.