Probiotics: What Are They And How Do They Work?
- 4 Mins Read
- Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
- Our digestive tract or gut is lined with essential microorganisms.
- Most of these microbes are found in a tiny pocket in the large intestines called the cecum.
- Probiotics are made of good bacteria and/or yeast that are beneficial to us in several ways.
- Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most common probiotic bacteria.
- The good bacteria in probiotics can fight the bad bacteria in your gut that cause problems like constipation, diarrhea, gut dysbiosis, stomach aches, etc.
- The colonies of these good bacteria aid in our nutrition, protection against pathogens, maintaining the mucosal barrier in the gut, immunomodulation, and easy passage of stools out of the body.
We have all heard the term ‘probiotics’ somewhere or other. However, many of us use probiotics without having the proper knowledge of what they are.
To understand what are probiotics, the advantages of probiotics, and what foods have probiotics, we first need to take a look inside our gut.
Keep reading to understand the A to Z of probiotics.
What is gut microbiota?
Our body is full of tiny microorganisms that live within us. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi are some of these microscopic beings inside us. Some of these microorganisms may cause disease while some are extremely essential for the smooth functioning of our bodies.
Our digestive tract or gut is also lined with these essential microorganisms. Most of these microbes are found in a tiny pocket in the large intestines called the cecum.
The colonies of these microbes aid in our nutrition, protection against pathogens, maintaining the mucosal barrier in the gut, immunomodulation, and easy passage of stools out of the body.
The gut microbiome of every individual is unique. Let us understand how probiotics come into the picture.
What are probiotics?
What are probiotics good for, you ask? Probiotics are made of good bacteria and/or yeast that are beneficial to us in several ways. Bacteria is usually seen in a negative light as they are known to be causative agents for diseases.
However, there are several good bacteria and other microorganisms that can improve our health by living inside our bodies. These bacteria live inside our gut without harming us and release chemicals that benefit our health.
Probiotic preparations contain healthy doses of these live bacteria. This live culture of bacteria or yeast on reaching the intestines can kickstart our digestive health and even fight off the bad bacteria. Probiotic foods can be found in nature as well as in various synthetic forms that we will soon discuss.
Characteristics of being a probiotic
How can we consider a microbe to be fit for being a probiotic? Well, several characters are important for making this selection. They are as follows:
- The microbe must remain isolated from the human. That is it should not harm humans in any manner.
- The microbe must survive in the human intestine after being ingested.
- The microbe must have a proven benefit to the human body.
- It must be safe for consumption.
These characteristics make a probiotic optimum for being a health supplement or medication.
What are common probiotic bacteria?
Many types of bacteria can be considered to have probiotic properties. However, two specific types of bacteria are common probiotics found in stores. These include:
Probiotics also include good yeast. The most common type of yeast found in probiotics is:
- Saccharomyces boulardii.
Benefits of taking probiotics
Probiotics help in maintaining a healthy balance in our bodies. The good bacteria in probiotics can fight the bad bacteria in your gut that cause problems like constipation, diarrhea, gut dysbiosis, stomach aches, etc. This improves your gut health and promotes digestive wellbeing.
The probiotic good gut bacteria support our overall health by performing the following functions:
- Control inflammation in the body
- Support immune functions
- Help in the digestion of food
- Fight against harmful and disease-causing microbes
- Maintain the mucosal barrier in the intestines to keep out the bad bacteria
- Digest and absorb ingested medicines
- Create useful enzymes and vitamins for the body.
Good bacteria are a natural part of our body’s ecosystem. When we eat a nutrient-rich food with health benefits, the gut microbiota flourishes. However, when we take a probiotic, the colonies of these good bacteria might increase in number and boost our gut health.
Even if you don’t take a probiotic, your body will manage to have good gut bacteria working on your health. It is essential to remember that taking a probiotic supplement can help in replenishing your microflora and protect you against gut problems.
Where besides the gut can you find probiotics?
You might be wondering if probiotic bacteria are anywhere else in your body other than the gut.
Remember we said earlier that good gut bacteria are present throughout our bodies? It’s true! The good bacteria can be found in abundance in the following places in our body:
- Urinary tract
How to increase the probiotics in your body?
You can up your good bacteria by including probiotic-containing foods like:
- Sourdough bread
- Cottage cheese
- Fermented pickles
- Fermented sauerkraut
- Miso soup
Other than this, you can also try government-approved probiotic supplements in the form of foods, capsules, powders, liquids, and drinks. Ask your doctor about probiotic supplements and take their advice on things before starting.
The current population is often plagued by gut ailments caused due to unhealthy eating habits like excessive salt, fatty foods, and sugary treats which destroy the good gut bacteria and cause gut problems like constipation, diarrhea, IBS, ulcers, etc. This can be avoided with a healthy diet and some probiotic intake.
This can improve your gut function and also have a positive effect on your immunity, mood, and overall health. Including probiotics in your diet in the form of natural foods or supplements is a great way of boosting your gut health.
So be mindful of your gut, say yes to probiotics, and keep reading our nutrition blogs for improved digestion and better gut health.
- Hemarajata, et al. Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology vol. 6,1 (2013): 39-51.
- Jandhyala, et al. World journal of gastroenterology vol. 21,29 (2015): 8787-803. 3.
- Probiotics: What is it, Benefits, Side Effects, Food & Types. At https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics#:~:text=Probiotics%20are%20made%20up%20of,and%20your%20body%20%E2%80%94%20your%20microbiome.