More and more studies correlate probiotics with our overall health and disease. They improve our digestive system, promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked to many other benefits. I will explain in this post a little bit about what probiotics are and their benefits for our health.
Probiotics are microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts that make up what we call the intestinal microflora. Intestinal bacteria is made up of good and bad bacteria. Bad bacteria thrive in alkaline environments. Stress and diet can influence the amount of these pathogenic bacteria in our bodies. Then we have the probiotics which are the beneficial bacteria that can improve nutrient digestion and absorption, boost the immune system and more.
Probiotics have different purposes depending on where they're found. Probiotics strains found in the small intestine promote a better lactose digestion, those found in the colon help processing fibers, they counteract the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestine by lowering the pH of the intestinal tract, thus, making the environment less habitable for bad bacteria.
Poor eating habits, junk food consumption, highly processed foods and stress can contribute to digestive diseases. Luckily for us, probiotics help us retain better health. So lets see more in depth the benefits of probiotics.
Help you balance your intestinal microflora
A good balanced gut bacteria will translate into a healthier life style. Probiotics usually have to overwhelm colonies of pathogenic bacteria at a ratio of around 4:1 to have everything under control. This balance will usually be affected by poor diet, stress, diarrhea, aging, low immune system, and so many other factors but even if you have unbalances in your intestinal microflora, consuming probiotics can restore the balance naturally at the same time that protecting the body from infections.
There's two types of diarrhea, acute and chronic. Probiotics can help with acute much more effectively than with chronic diarrhea. Acute diarrhea is usually caused by a pathogenic bacteria infecting the intestinal cells with the toxic chemicals they produce that are released into the intestines. By damaging the intestinal walls, the bacteria reduces the ability of the body to absorb nutrients and water, increasing the chances of diarrhea. Lactic acid bacteria, which is a probiotic, can promote an intestinal barrier that protects the intestinal cells from being damaged.
Reduce the symptoms of intestinal disorders
Intestinal disorders are caused by dybiosis, which is the negative change in the intestinal microflora. Among the most common intestinal disorders we can find the irritable bowel syndrome and the inflammatory bowel disease. These diseases usually involve inflammation of the intestinal tract. There's a mucus layer on the intestinal tract that protects it from pathogenic bacteria and allergens. Probiotics interact with pathogenic bacteria to change the body's response to inflammation. They also interact with the immune system in a way that it can reduce the symptoms of these conditions. In the future, there might even be genetically modified probiotics to specifically aid in intestinal disorders.
Help you fight allergies
An allergy is an immune reaction to an allergen. Allergens are substances the body detects as malicious and thus it reacts by defending itself against it with an allergic reaction. The intestinal microflora plays a very important role in the immune system. Probiotics strengthen the intestinal barriers and also improve our immune reactions. For example, leaky gut lets allergens come through the intestines provoking allergic reactions. Microflora imbalance might be causing the leaky gut. Probiotics are also important in babies because if probiotics are able to establish themselves in our intestinal microflora since we are babies, then the chances of developing allergies are significantly reduced. Probiotics can treat atopic diseases like asthma and eczema.
Treat lactose intolerance
Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. A healthy stomach would break down lactose into glucose and galactose. Then we can be able to break down these into energy and use it all throughout our body cells. So what's the problem with lactose? Two things might cause lactose intolerance. At birth, the enzyme known as lactase is present in high quantities but as we grow old, some experience a high decrease in the amount of this enzyme and that makes them less able to digest lactose. Another reason is when the protective layer of mucus in the small intestine lining decreases. Probiotic species like the Lactobacilli can help digest lactose in a more efficient way. Strains of Bifidobacteria use fermentation to break down lactose and digest it better. This is the reason why probiotics can help those who suffer lactose intolerance.
Boost vaginal health
Just as how important microflora is for the intestinal tract, I think is safe to say that microflora is crucial for vaginal health. As we know by now, probiotics help you balance microflora bacteria colonies, and if there's too much pathogenic bacteria growing in the urogenital tract, then the more likely it is to develop candida infections, bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. Again, one of the most effective strains against vaginal infections is the Lactobacilli.
Promotes stronger bones
Bones are always breaking down and rebuilding, so they need nutrients like calcium to keep them optimal and is also used for muscle contractions and to balance the blood pH. Probiotics help in improving the intestinal microflora by protecting microvilli and encouraging its growth. The microvilli are like tentacles that absorb nutrients in our intestinal tract. The longer the microvilli, the more area there is to absorb nutrients. Because of better nutrient absorption, we can then efficiently carry calcium and other necessary nutrients to our bones in a more effective way.
High level of cholesterol in the blood contribute to various heart diseases like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, among others. Medication for these conditions often have side effects or require caution when being taken with other medication because of how strong this medication is. Something as simple and healthy as yogurt can improve our cholesterol levels. Probiotics have bile salt hydrolase, which is an enzyme that helps lower the cholesterol. It might not be as strong as conventional medication, but is definitely beneficial and little goes a long way.
Probiotics can provide a variety of benefits to our health, whether we suffer a chronic disease or we aim to boost our already healthy body. The way these bacteria interact in our bodies varies from strain to strain, that's why if you are considering in taking probiotics specifically for a certain reason, it's best to consult someone that specializes in probiotics to consult what strains are better to tackle your condition. If you want to benefit from their overall benefits they are easily available in supplement presentations, fermented beverages like kombucha, kefir yogurt, etc. You can also get probiotics in pickled vegetables and a variety of fermented foods like kimchi, miso soups, tempeh, etc. The secret to a healthy life style is a healthy stomach!