Probiotics can be found in food or as supplements, but not all probiotics are created equal - different strains have different effects, and some may have no effect at all, depending on the individual and the issue at hand.
All About Probiotics
The human digestive system is a complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that live in harmony with each other as long as they are kept in the right balance. In recent years, this balance has been disrupted with the advent of antibiotics, unhealthy lifestyles, and processed foods in general.
But, what if we told you there was something that could restore the ecosystem in your GI tract?
Yes, they are PROBIOTICS!
Probiotics are making a big buzz around the world right now. Every day, there is a new study showing how great these microorganisms are for our health. This blog focuses on what probiotics are, how they make us healthy, and how to include them in your diet.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are defined as ‘live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host’, as convened by the International Scientiﬁc Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP).
Initially, Elie Metchnikoﬀ (a Russian and French zoologist) introduced the concept of traditional probiotics in 1907. He had observed that the health and longevity of the elderly were enhanced with the regular consumption of fermented dairy products with lactic acid bacteria, such as yoghurt.
Since then, more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that probiotics can be used to restore the normal balance of the intestinal ecosystem as a novel health-promoting strategy.
Nowadays, the intake of probiotic supplements for a healthy body has drastically increased. To support this, according to IMARC Group's most recent report, "India Probiotics Market Size, Share, Industry Trends, Growth, Opportunity, and Forecast 2022-2027," the India probiotics market was worth INR 2.6 billion in 2021. Looking ahead, IMARC Group anticipates that the market will reach INR 7.7 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 20.50% from 2022 to 2027.
Isn’t that a whopping growth? Indeed, yes. Moreover, considering the popularity of the supplements, manufacturers are making them available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and pills.
But why is the world going gaga over probiotics? To answer your question, we have listed some beneficial effects of probiotics in our next sections.
How do Probiotics Work?
Popularly known as good bacteria, their primary function is to maintain a healthy balance between pathogens and the bacteria that are necessary for the normal function of the gut microbiota. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of probiotics through four mechanisms:
- They play a protective role by directly competing with pathogens through the release of antibacterial substances.
- They not only enhance the intestinal barrier but also initiate the repair and restoration of the intestinal barrier function following damage.
- They stick to the intestinal epithelium for modulation of the immune system and suppress the pathogens.
- They fight pathogens by competing for pathogen binding and receptor sites, as well as for available nutrients and growth.
Probiotics may be helpful in the treatment of many health disorders. Let’s discuss the major types of probiotic strains and their health benefits.
How Probiotic Strains are Named?
Probiotics have specific names that correspond to scientifically proven health benefits, just as medications have product names that correspond to the conditions they treat. A complete probiotic name includes the Latin names for the genus and species, as well as the strain: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, for example.
Types of Probiotics and Their Health Benefits
Despite the availability of thousands of specific probiotic species, the most commonly used are Lactobacillus spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Bacillus and the yeast Saccharomyces. They all have a long history of use, and their demonstrated safety allows them to be used as food or food supplements from a regulatory standpoint.
1. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
The most well-researched probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both of them can produce beneficial compounds such as lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Bifidobacterium is largely present in the large intestine, whereas Lactobacillus is present in the small intestine. Their most significant functions are:
- They have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to both prevent and treat inflammatory diseases like inflammatory bowel disease
- Aid the immune response, lowering the risk of infection
- Healthy digestion and relief from constipation
- Helps to regulate mood, regulate stress, and promote sleep
- Reduces cholesterol levels in people with dyslipidemia
2. Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast
Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast, is the second most researched probiotic. It is not a normal part of the human gut microbiota since it does not colonise there. Despite this, it has shown impressive results in correcting dysbiosis (imbalances in your microbiota). It has been used in research for its efficacy for:
- Crohn’s disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Clostridium difficile infection
3. Bacillus species
Bacillus species are common in nature and can be found in soil, air, fermented foods, and the human digestive tract. Bacillus spp. are not thought to be a natural inhabitant of the gut. They colonise the intestine after eating vegetables or raw food materials contaminated with soil microflora. They have been used as probiotics in both spore and vegetative forms, and they are highly resistant to environmental conditions such as heat, gastric conditions, and moisture.
Studies have shown it to be useful in:
- Reducing the frequency of respiratory infections
- Producing anti-inflammatory compounds
- Reducing IBS symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea
- Increasing the population of beneficial bacteria.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic?
First of all, make sure the probiotic supplement is safe. While choosing a probiotic, look for:
- Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification.
- List of species mentioned: Make sure all three names—genus, species, and strains—are mentioned.
- Mentioned the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) in the billions: The strength of the probiotic product is given as Colony Forming Units (CFU).
- The number of CFU has been associated with various health benefits, depending on the strain used and on the area of health.
- Probiotic species that are lab-verified and potent by third-party analysis (independent lab testing).
The Last Word
It's important to know what probiotics are so that you can ensure you're getting a healthy amount of them. By helping your body maintain a healthy balance of bacteria, probiotics can help you maintain a healthy digestive system.
Now that you know the immense health benefits of probiotics, an easy way to include them in your diet is to simply introduce probiotic-rich foods into your diet, like yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, and or kombucha. You can even help your health by trying some probiotic supplements!
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