In simple terms, probiotics are a kind of living microorganisms, that provide health benefits when ingested or applied to the skin. You can find them commonly in fermented foods like yogurt, some beauty products, and also in some dietary supplements.
This article focuses on probiotics, their types, their sources, how they work, and how safe they are.
In most cases, the probiotic products have microorganisms that are similar to those living naturally in our bodies. Many people think all microorganisms like bacteria are harmful. That is not true.
In fact, many microorganisms are helpful to humans. They help in many internal functions such as food digestion, vitamin production, etc. Taking probiotic supplements is also one of the best ways to increase good bacteria in the human body.
What Exactly are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria and yeast, living naturally in the human body. In fact, probiotics are a part of the microbiome, a larger picture. A microbiome is a combination of several organisms that work together for keeping the human body healthy. It is also unique for every individual.
In other words, the microbiome consists of microbes. The human body has trillions of these microbes in and on it. Microbes are simply, a combination of:
1.) Beneficial Bacteria
2.) Fungi, including yeasts
Microbes can act as probiotics if they have certain characters including:
1.) Provide proven benefits
2.) Have the ability to survive after ingestion (inside intestine)
3.) Safe for consumption
4.) Isolated from humans
Mostly, these beneficial probiotics (microbes) live in the gastrointestinal tract (gut). They also dwell in other parts of the body including the urinary tract, vagina, lungs, mouth, and skin.
How Do They Work?
In general, good bacteria (probiotics) help to maintain a healthy balance of the human body. In other words, we can say, these microorganisms are responsible for keeping the human body neutral.
When you are not feeling well or sick, the bad microorganisms, especially bad bacteria get into the body. They also increase rapidly in numbers. Therefore, your body loses its neutrality and gets out of balance.
In these scenarios, the good bacteria (probiotics) fight the bad bacteria off. It also helps to restore body balance.
Good bacteria also have several other functions including the following:
1.) Supports immune function.
2.) Controls inflammation
3.) Helps digestion
4.) Produce vitamins
5.) Prevents bad bacteria from entering into bloodstream, by supporting relevant cells
6.) Breaks down and also absorbs taken medications
Both bad and good bacteria are naturally contained in the human body. In your daily meal, include a rich fibered, well-balanced diet. It helps to maintain good bacteria at appropriate levels. Moreover, these types of diets are important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What Are Its Types
There are several types of good bacteria, that can be considered as probiotics. Among them, two types of good bacteria are commonly found in store supplements. They are:
Fermented foods like yogurt contain these bacteria. There are also different genetic variants of Lactobacillus that can help in different conditions. For example, one strain can help to treat diarrhea. Another stain can help digest lactose.
Some dairy products contain these bacteria. Bifidobacterium may be used to ease the IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms and also several other conditions.
Some good fungi like yeast also constitute probiotics. The most common yeast type found is:
This fungus may help to treat diarrhea and also other common digestive problems.
Can Probiotics Improve My Medical Conditions?
Generally, the studies conducted in the past gave many positive results on the use of probiotics on the human body. Until researchers find definite answers, these studies may continue for some years to come.
Probiotics may help to improve some medical conditions. However, the results may vary depending on various factors including the type of probiotics taken.
Increasing the number of good bacteria may help to improve certain conditions including the following:
1.) Diarrhea (Caused by both clostridioides difficile infection and antibiotics)
2.) IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease)
3.) IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome)
4.) Lactose intolerance
6.) Eczema (atopic dermatitis).
7.) Urinary tract infections
8.) Yeast infections.
9.) Gum disease.
10.) Sepsis, especially in infants
11.) Upper respiratory infections (sinusitis, common cold, and ear infections)
What Are the Sources of Probiotics?
Probiotics are naturally available in certain foods, liquids, and powders. They are also available in the form of capsules or pills.
Many fermented foods naturally have probiotics. Usually, the bacteria in these types of foods convert carbohydrates to lactic acid. This acid further increases the good bacteria. This process is called lactic acid fermentation. Some of the foods that contain these bacteria are:
1.) Fermented cheeses (cottage cheese, buttermilk cheese, etc.)
2.) Raw sauerkraut
6.) Lacto-fermented vegetables (fermented pickles)
However, some types of fermented stuff like sourdough bread, beer, etc. do not have live, good bacteria contained.
You can also go for probiotic supplements, that are most widely available in commercial markets. But make sure to get suggestions from your medical team. They can help you select an appropriate product, that suits your condition.
Be aware, the FDA does not monitor dietary supplement products for their effectiveness and safety. So, consider following their tips on such products.
Generally, most probiotic strains are prone to damage or fragile. They require protection from direct sunlight, heat, oxygen, and humidity. Otherwise, they may start breaking down or die.
Hence, store them in a dry, dark, and cool place. Refrigerating them is one of the best options. You can also find specific storage instructions on the label. Follow them completely. In this way, you can take advantage of probiotics to the maximum.
How Safe Are Probiotics
Typically, probiotics are considered safe for both adults and children. The human body naturally has probiotics in it. In fact, these good bacteria help in easing conditions like diarrhea, eczema, gas, acid reflux, constipation, etc.
There are some side effects or risks associated with probiotics such as
2.) Antibiotic resistance
3.) Harmful byproducts (Especially from dietary supplements)
In some cases, there may be other mild side effects such as bloating (for a couple of days), stomach upset, gas, etc.
Typically, the chances of these risks increase if you have:
1.) Serious medical condition
2.) Weakened immune system (For example, patients undergoing chemotherapy)
3.) Surgeries (had recently)
In any case, if you suffer any abnormalities after taking probiotics, consult a professional medical advisor as soon as possible.
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics
Generally, prebiotics are some types of complex carbohydrates, that microorganisms feed on. In simple terms, good bacteria feed on prebiotics. These carbohydrates help the good bacteria to be in a good, healthy shape. Some examples of prebiotics include pectin, inulin, and resistant starches.
As discussed above, these are good bacteria that help fight excess bad bacteria. They also help to maintain body balance.
Typically, synbiotics refer to dietary supplements or food ingredients that have both prebiotics and probiotics. In most cases, these elements are combined in a specific form known as synergism. Hence, these supplements are called synbiotics.
Taking Probiotics After Antibiotics
Antibiotics, kill bad bacteria. In addition, they damage good bacteria too. Hence, taking probiotics after antibiotics can repopulate good bacteria and neutralize your body quickly.
However, these discussions are not proved scientifically. The researchers are continuing the studies on probiotics and their effects on the human body.