There are very few people who have not heard about the health wonders called “probiotics”. They claim to help with health problems, ranging from constipation to diarrhea, and prevent colds or fight them once you already have one. Probiotics are showing up in foods, beverages, and supplements. What exactly are they, do they work, and should we consume them?
When we come into this world we do not have bacteria until our first breath. During a delivery through the birth canal, a newborn picks up bacteria from his/her mother. These good bacteria are not transmitted when a Cesarean section is performed and have been shown to be the reason why some infants born by Cesarean section have allergies, less than optimal immune systems, and lower levels of gut microflora.
Lets start with the facts behind what probiotics are. The root of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life.” Probiotics are in the news, on the Internet and raved about by even those in sports. Tests and research are being done at universities on diverse strains and what they can accomplish either by themselves, added to a protein or a prebiotic and each other.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, create a health benefit for our digestive tract.”
Yes indeed, probiotics are actually alive, and they are bacteria (microorganisms are bacteria). Most people think of antibiotics and antibacterial products when you mention bacteria. Both of those kill bacteria so why would you want to consume live bacteria? It’s all about internal balance.
These are live microorganisms that will not provide the promised benefits if they don’t stay alive. The manufacturer and consumer must pay close attention to the conditions of storage at which the particular microorganism will survive and the end of their shelf life. The potency will tell you the number of viable bacteria per dose, and the purity has to do with presence of contaminating or ineffective bacteria.
Our digestive system normally has what we call “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. Maintaining the correct balance between the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria is necessary for optimal health. Things like medications, diet, diseases, and your environment can upset that balance.
When the digestive tract is healthy, it filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals, and other waste products.
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Most of our immune system around 80% resides in our digestive tract. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn’t function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it’s never too late.