Not only do probiotics keep your gut health intact, they may also ward off diseases

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo by Pascal Meier/Unsplash

Before we talk about probiotics, let’s first define what it is. 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that exist in the digestive system, which digest food, protect the body and produce nutrients. They come in several different species and when they are balanced, they significantly improve our health. Probiotics are also important to remain healthy and keep diseases at bay by helping the body produce certain nutrients that keep it strong. But how exactly do they work? 


What are the types of probiotics? 

Probiotics come in strains, the two most common being: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium

Lactobacillus produces lactase or enzymes that break down lactose, lactic acid or milk and sugar. Lactobacillus bacteria are found naturally in the mouth, small intestine or the vagina. This type of bacteria produces lactic acid, which helps control bad bacteria and boosts muscle fuel and the body’s absorption of nutrients. 

On the other hand, bifidobacterium is found in food like yogurt and sauerkraut and is known to support the immune system, limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine and help break down lactose into nutrients. 


How do you consume probiotics?

There are a lot of probiotics already living in the human body. They are also consumed when you eat fermented products, specifically yogurt, cheese (like gouda, cheddar, Swiss, parmesan or in some pickled vegetables like miso, sauerkraut and pickles. The six common strains that you’ll find in food and supplements are B. animalis, B. breve, B. lactis, B. longum, L. acidophilus and L. reuteri, which all have their own corresponding benefits for the body. 


How do probiotics work?

Probiotics affects our body by removing bad bacteria in the gut or metabolic activity. The good bacteria from probiotics replaces the bad ones that stick in the intestine, which in turn prevents the bad bacteria from multiplying or causing infection or inflammation. Probiotics also extract nutrients from food and produce enzymes or proteins that kill harmful bacteria. 


What are the benefits of probiotics?

According to research published by the American College of Gastroenterology, probiotics balance the bacteria in the digestive system, treats diarrhea and eases infections like skin ailments, urinary problems and autoimmune diseases. Probiotics also treat irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites) and diarrhea caused by antibiotics. 


How does gut health affect the immune system? 

Our gut health makes up 75 percent of the immune system, which include about 100 trillion live microorganisms that protect the body from infection and regulate metabolism. If our gut health is imbalanced (meaning the gut is consumed with more bad bacteria) then there is an increased risk of developing diseases. This is where probiotics come in. 

As mentioned above, probiotics play an important role in making sure good bacteria crowd out the bad ones in the body. According to Venketeshwer Rao, professor at the University of Toronto, a good source of probiotics is complex carbohydrates while the worst food for the gut are sweets, pre-packaged foods, pasta and bread. Aside from fruits and vegetables, it’s also important to eat natural food free of preservatives and chemicals like legumes, cereals or 100 percent whole grain products.

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