To most of us, bacteria are disease-causing organisms that we would do well to steer clear of. However, the fact is that there are two types of bacteria — good and bad. The good help keep us healthy, and we should strive to get more of into our system. Probiotics is the scientific name for the friendly, health-promoting bacteria.
Everyone has about 100 trillion bacteria in their gut. Out of this, beneficial bacteria should ideally make up about 85 percent of the intestinal tract, and harmful bacteria about 15 percent. However, with a diet that has grown increasingly focused on processed foods, sugars and refined grains, and an environment full of chemicals, pollution and pharmaceuticals, there has been a substantial increase in harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract.
This seriously compromises the immune and digestive systems, leading to a number of chronic diseases, and likely plays a large role in the big number of people who suffer from some form of digestive disease.
Many factors can upset the balance between the good and bad bacteria in the stomach. For instance antibiotics administered to take care of an infection, while killing off bad bacteria also kills off the good bacteria. Stress, changes of diet, travel, drugs, and even weather changes can also undermine having the right proportion in the bacteria in the gut.
The “Pros” of Probiotics
Probiotics help maintain and restore the balance of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria as it should be for a healthy digestive system. Without that balance, harmful bacteria can multiply and take over, causing intestinal problems such as diarrhea or abdominal pain.
Probiotic bacteria can also help relieve the symptoms of some diseases of the digestive system such as inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome.
Various forms of lactic acid bacteria added when manufacturing yogurt and fermented milk products can help lessen the effects of lactose intolerance. This inability to digest the sugars that occur naturally in milk affects nearly 70 percent of the world’s population.
There is also evidence that probiotics may help to prevent certain kinds of allergies because they have a beneficial effect on mucous membranes.
Research has shown that probiotic consumption may reduce the risk for some forms of cancer such as colon, liver, and breast cancers.
- Candida yeast infections in women can be reduced with an increased intake of probiotics.
- They dislodge accumulated decay from the walls of the stomach and thus flush out waste.
- They break down foods to its most basic elements, which allows total absorption through the digestive system.
- They produce specific proteins that act as antigens that boost the immune system’s ability to ward off disease.
- They combat harmful molds, yeast, fungi, bacteria, parasites and viruses.
- They work with tissue and organ cells to metabolize protein and eliminate toxic waste.
- Stimulating the body’s production of a natural immune system enhancer and virus inhibitor.
Getting probiotics into the system
Dairy products are the primary food source of these health-promoting bacteria. Milk that has probiotic bacteria added to it are the primary sources of probiotics in our food supply, yoghurt being the most common form of this milk. Dairy foods carry these bacteria straight to the gut, where they can go to are needed. When buying yogurt, look for the “live active culture” seal, which indicates that probiotics have been added.
Some forms of probiotics are available in supplement form as tablets to be taken daily. Some come as a pill containing all the vitamins and minerals while some as available as a probiotic-only pill.
Some foods also contain probiotics. These include green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Also, when one eats, the stomach produces acids that help stabilize the probiotics that have been consumed.
Bacteria are never at a constant quantity. They multiply and pass along through the intestine and it is therefore best to aim to include food containing probiotics in your daily diet to optimize their benefits. As yogurt is the most common food that contains probiotics, aim to include it in your daily diet in as many ways as possible. For example:
- Have it as part of your breakfast, as your mid-morning snack or as dessert after lunch or dinner.
- Use it to ‘dress’ your fruits, as you would ice-cream or syrup.
- Make a milk shake or smoothie with it.
- Make a salad dressing with it, adding herbs such as mint in it.
So whatever you take in, aim at getting bugged — but only with the good bugs!