Probiotics – An Essential Guide With References

This article will explain what Probiotics are and why you need them. All facts have been checked and are validated by proving the link to original source of the data or the clinical trial

What are probiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria that occur naturally within the human lower digestive tract. The word “bacteria” has such negative connotations that it’s strange to hear of a “good” type.

Are probiotics and prebiotics the same thing? No. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that are naturally occurring in the gut and considered beneficial for the health. Prebiotics are compounds probiotics feed on. People consume prebiotics to help the good bacteria to multiply.

However, probiotics have received such a lot of attention in recent years the market for probiotic yogurts and drinks continues to grow ever “healthier”. Take a look in most supermarket chillers and you’ll likely see multiple options. You may even find probiotic cheese.

There are still some naysayers among the scientific community who state consuming probiotic products is unnecessary. Regardless of this scientific skepticism, a lot of people make consuming probiotics a part of their everyday life.

It’s also worth remembering, a lot of people were regularly consuming probiotics long before it became popular to do so. Although it has to be said they were probably unaware they were doing so.

For example, feta cheese, sauerkraut, and certain pickled products are good natural sources of probiotic bacteria. [SOURCE]

probiotics are good for you

Why Probiotic Bacteria Is Good for the Health

Like it or not, no matter how fit and healthy you think you are, your body is full of bacteria. If that shocks you, you may go into meltdown when I tell you the human body contains trillions of microorganisms. So many, in fact, they outnumber the cells of the body by 10 to 1.

Most of the bacteria in the body just coexists with its human host without causing illness. Even the type that has the ability to do so. As yet, scientists don’t know what triggers these pathogens to cause disease so it’s pretty safe to say further study is required. [SOURCE]

Just like in all the best westerns, you can’t have the good guys without the bad guys. The probiotic bacteria in the guts coexists with bad bacteria that can cause disease. Furthermore, deep within us all there’s a war taking place in the dark and it’s being waged 24-hours a day.

When the bad bacteria gets the upper hand it can influence health and wellness in all sorts of negative ways:

  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Food intolerance
  • Feelings of fatigue

The reasons for these problems can be very complicated. However, in the case of weight gain and fatigue, the problems are largely because a build-up of bad bacteria can slow down the metabolism.

If the reasons for the problems are complicated, the answer is easy—reinforce the ranks of good bacteria by consuming some more.

Some Different Types of Probiotic Bacteria

If you thought there was only one type of probiotic bacteria, you were sadly wrong. There are more than 500 different species present in human intestines.

The most three most common ones are:

  1. Lactobacillus: Probably the one that’s the most popular “active” ingredient in probiotic foods and supplements. Lactobacillus strains can be good for fighting diarrhea and may offer help to people who have problems digesting lactose
  2. Bifidobacterium: This probiotic is present in some dairy products and appears to ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  3. Saccharomyces boulardii: A strain of non-pathogenic yeast that appears to soothe diarrhea and other digestive problems.

These days, a lot of people are particularly interested in using probiotics to battle obesity. Going this route is unlikely to offer much value as a main weight loss strategy. However, research suggests various strains of Lactobacillus may offer the most potential in this area. [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2, SOURCE 3]

The Potential Value Probiotics Offer for Improving the Health

The fact that so many people are becoming preoccupied with the idea of using probiotics for weight loss is largely just a sign of the times. Obesity levels are increasing all over the world and anything that may have the potential to help gets a lot of attention.

However, the use of probiotics is associated with many other health benefits:

  • Better immune system
  • Healthier bowel function
  • Improvements to certain mental health conditions
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Help with the symptoms of Eczema/allergies

There is also research to suggest probiotics may have value in many other areas, so there are many arguments for topping up levels of this valuable natural gut bacteria. [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2]

Louis Pasteur

History of Probiotics

Although the average person was unlikely to hear much about probiotics prior to the 21st century, they are not quite the “new thing” many people consider them to be. They are a health fad revisited.

Some people claim the use of probiotics appears to stretch at least as far back as the times of the early Greeks and Romans. Certainly, both civilizations used cheese and fermented dairy products.

However, the process of fermentation was not sufficiently understood until the early 1900s when Louis Pasteur identified the microorganisms responsible for causing fermentation.

Then, in 1907, the noted Russian scientist and expert on immunology, Élie Metchnikoff, suggested topping up the gut with good bacteria may be beneficial. He even speculated probiotics may have anti-aging capabilities.

Certainly, Metchnikoff is the most important early pioneer in the field of probiotics. Any claims relating to earlier deliberate use of gut-friendly bacteria appear to be purely speculative.

In fact, a lot of early research into probiotics occurred at the Pasteur Institute. Metchnikoff worked there when he first began exploring the activities of gut bacteria. Some of his associates at the institute followed his example and took an interest in probiotics too.

Henry Tissier first isolated Bifidobacteria while he was working at the Pasteur Institute. He took the bacteria from a breastfed infant.

A decade after Metchnikoff sparked interest in probiotics, the German scientist professor Alfred Nissle successfully isolated a strain of Escherichia coli. It was during a 1917 outbreak of shigellosis. Nissle obtained the bacteria from the feces of a soldier who was immune to the disease. Research continues to this day.

Probiotics Safety Issues and Concerns

Probiotics can cause certain people to experience allergic reactions. Some people who use them for the first time can find the bacteria causes mild stomach upsets and/or diarrhea.

Probiotics can also cause bloating and increased passing of intestinal gas. However, such issues usually clear up within a few days. It’s merely a case of allowing the body to adapt to the presence of extra probiotic bacteria.

The use of probiotic foods and supplements is generally thought to be safe. However, people whose immune system is weak due to disease or treatments such as chemotherapy should not consume probiotics without a doctor’s approval. Nor should women who are pregnant or nursing a child.

It may also be unwise to use probiotics alongside certain drugs and medications, including but not limited to antibiotics. Again, it’s best to take no chances and check with a doctor before doing so.

The FDA and Probiotics

Although the FDA is responsible for monitoring the distribution of probiotics in the USA, it regulates them in the same way as foods, not medications. That means the manufacturers of probiotic foods and supplements don’t have to prove their products work. Nor do they have to prove they are safe to use.

Official documentation suggests the FDA accepts such products may have potential, but still need to see more proof of value.

To date, the FDA has not approved the use of any probiotic products. Though it does work closely with probiotic manufacturers to ensure correct marketing and labeling of their products. [SOURCE]

The EFSA and Probiotics

If anything, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) takes a tougher stance on probiotics than the FDA does. Manufacturers are not even allowed to use the term “probiotic” because

the EFSA classes it as a health claim.

However, saying such products contain bacteria is acceptable. The EFSA makes it very clear, there are no approved health claims for probiotics, so the term cannot be used.

This tough stance by the EFSA makes for an interesting comparison between the US Yakult website and the site used for marketing the product in the UK.

The US site states Yakult is a “delicious probiotic drink”. The UK website says each bottle contains a minimum of 6.5 billions cells of a unique strain of bacteria that is “scientifically proven to reach the gut alive”. The site makes vague hints there may be health benefits but it makes no direct claims. [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2,]

In Summary

There are many claims about the virtues of probiotics and certain research appears to support their potential in several areas. However, the main regulatory bodies in the USA and Europe still need to see more proof that probiotics work.

Despite the ongoing controversy regarding their use, probiotic foods and supplements continue to be very popular. In fact, together with prebiotics, they are among the most used natural products in the USA. [SOURCE]

Although the use of such products can cause allergic reactions and/or side effects in a minority of people, probiotics should be safe for people who are in good health and are generally seen in a positive light.

FAQs

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for the digestive system. Research suggests increasing their numbers may benefit the health in a number of ways.

Are probiotics only present in the gut?

No. Your body is alive with probiotic bacteria. It’s present in the nose, ears, urinary tract, vagina, and many other areas.

Are probiotics and prebiotics the same thing?

No. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that are naturally occurring in the gut and considered beneficial for the health. Prebiotics are compounds probiotics feed on. People consume prebiotics to help the good bacteria to multiply.

What are flora?

Flora is just another name for the good probiotic bacteria present in the gut.

Why do people take probiotics?

There are many different kinds of bacteria present in the human gut. It’s there all the time. Some forms are beneficial for the health, others may damage it. The good bacteria fights the bad bacteria. In so doing it helps support good health. People take probiotics to increase the number of good bacteria present in their guts in the hope that it will prevent illness and support good health.

Does it matter what kind of probiotic I take?

Not all probiotics are the same. Each one can affect the body in different ways. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans are the ones that offer the most benefit. These are the ones you will find in most probiotic products.

Is it safe to take probiotics while I’m pregnant?

Consuming probiotic bacteria during pregnancy should be safe. However, it would be wise to check with your doctor or midwife before actively seeking out sources of probiotic bacteria to add to your diet. This is especially important if you have a health condition that may undermine your immune system.

Are there any benefits to taking probiotics while pregnant?

Some research suggests taking probiotics during pregnancy may increase the amount of good bacteria present in the vagina. Mothers can pass this bacteria on to their baby during vaginal delivery, thereby helping provide its immune system with a head start.

Others studies suggest probiotics may fight a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis that may cause premature labor and other complications during pregnancy.

What’s a good probiotic?

Good probiotic products should contain multiple strains of good bacteria. The quality of probiotic products can also vary greatly so it’s best to choose a respected brand.

Can probiotics reduce fatigue?

Some studies suggest they may have this ability. However, if you are prone to unexplained fatigue it’s best to discuss the matter with a doctor. There could be an underlying health condition you are not aware of.

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