ProBiotics 101 – Ultimate Guide (BEGINNERS)
The human body hosts trillions of bacteria and microbes, which reside mostly in the gut and play an essential role in several crucial metabolic functions. Several studies have shown how vital are these gut bacteria for our health.
Most people are quite confused when it comes to probiotics, and the primary purpose of this guide is to explain to our readers what probiotics are and what they are not. By the end of this guide, a reader will have all the knowledge required to decide whether he or she should take probiotics or not after considering the medically verified facts cited in this guide about probiotics. (1)
What Are ProBiotics?
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, along with the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO), have published a definition of probiotics almost two decades ago. FAO/WHO defines Probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when ingested in adequate quantities, lead to health benefit for the host.” (2)
Most probiotics are bacteria, but some types of yeast are also considered to be probiotics. Probiotics are naturally found in several food items such as yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
You also have the option to take probiotic supplements in the form of tablets or pills.
Probiotic is a wide term that is used to refer to different groups and species of bacteria which are found in your gut.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common probiotic groups which contain several species of bacteria, and each species usually has many different bacterial strains.
So, when someone uses the term “probiotics,” they are essentially referring to a group of bacteria.
Different bacterial strains address different health conditions, so choosing the right types of probiotics is essential if you want to treat an existing health condition with probiotics. Some probiotic supplements known as multi-probiotics combine several species and strains in a single product.
Why Probiotics Are Important for Your Gut
The human gut contains different types of microorganisms, with some estimates putting the number at 1,000 types of microorganisms, which include bacteria, yeasts, and viruses.
Most of these microorganisms are made up of bacteria, and the whole community of microorganisms found in your gut is collectively known as the gut flora or microbiota.Gut flora is mostly found in your colon, also known as the large intestine, which is also the last part of the gastrointestinal or digestive tract. Gut flora plays an important role in your health according to several studies, and it might also play an important role in some severe pathological disorders such as colon cancer, multiple organ failure, and irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory bowel diseases. (3)
Indeed, such is the importance of gut flora in your body, that it’s also referred to as the forgotten organ by some scientists because several of its activities resemble those of an organ. It plays an important role in nutrient metabolism and manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and several of the B vitamins. (4), (5)
Gut flora also turns fibers into short-chain fats such as acetate, butyrate, and propionate, which then feed your gut wall and are then absorbed into your bloodstream. These short-chain fats are also crucial for protecting you from diseases and strengthen your immune system. (6), (7), (8)
Gut microbiota is quite sensitive to your diet, and any imbalance could potentially increase the number of bad bacteria present in your gut which could lead to several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s and Depression according to some studies. (9), (10), (11), (12) You can correct this imbalance in your gut flora by taking probiotics and prebiotics, which will ensure that your gut is functioning properly. (13)
What Probiotics Do for Your Digestive Health
As it’s clear from the above discussion, probiotics play an essential role in our gut and are among the most important elements for your digestive health.
Probiotics could be beneficial for treating several digestive diseases and have there are studies that claim they can prevent digestive disorders if taken regularly. (14)
Today, most types of infections are treated with antibiotics, which are detrimental to the gut flora as prolonged use of antibiotics is known to kill healthy bacteria found in your gut and often leads to diarrhea.
In addition to diarrhea, probiotic supplements are also known to help with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, bloating, constipation, and other inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Probiotics are also among the few available substances which can help you fight Helicobacter Pylori infections, which are among the main causes of ulcers, and stomach cancer. (17), (18), (19)
If you suffer from any of the above-listed conditions, then it’d make sense to start taking probiotics after consultation with your doctor. I am not a doctor.
Are Probiotics Vegan?
Vegans face a dilemma when it comes to probiotics as most probiotics available in the market are dairy-based or have been derived from non-vegan sources.
As the number of people avoiding dairy products is increasing with each year so, is the number of vegan probiotic supplements.
There are several vegan probiotics available in the market now, which are made of vegan ingredients. You can find several probiotic pills, gummies, and tablets that are free from dairy, soy, or gluten and contain several probiotic strains of several species.
When to Take Probiotics
Most people don’t have any idea about the best time to take probiotics as even the brands selling probiotic supplements don’t provide detailed guidelines as to when a person should take probiotic pills or what is the best time for consuming probiotics.
Some bacterial strains are quite sensitive to stomach acid, and it’s a well-known fact that stomach acid can easily kill millions of bacteria present in a probiotic supplement.
So, we can conclude that the worst time to take probiotics is immediately after a meal as your stomach is hyperactive and full of acid, which is released to digest food, and this acidic environment will effectively nullify the probiotics which you consume.
On the other hand, most experts agree that the best time to take probiotics is in the morning, immediately after you wake up as your stomach has not been active for the last few hours. So, there is a very minute chance of bacteria getting killed due to your stomach acid.
Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight?
Research has shown that people who are suffering from obesity have different gut flora than normal people. Gut bacteria and obesity have a close correlation, along with a cause and effect relationship between them.23), (24)
Other Health Benefits
Probiotics are known to help with several health conditions in addition to their traditional role in the digestive system. Here are some other health benefits of probiotics:
The benefits mentioned above are just the tip of an iceberg as probiotics are being extensively researched for their benefits to human health, and several other conditions can be treated or at least the symptoms of which can be alleviated by probiotics.
Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics
Digestive enzymes are often confused probiotics, and some even consider them as alternatives to probiotics. While in fact, digestive enzymes and probiotics are two completely different substances.Digestive enzymes, as the name suggests, are enzymes that help your body digest food. These are proteins held together by amino acids that help our body break food into smaller parts. Several organs naturally produce digestive enzymes in our body such as the liver, pancreas, salivary glands, and the small intestine.
Do Probiotics Have Side Effects?
Probiotics are generally considered safe for most people, although you may experience some minor side effects in the first few days, such as gas, and mild abdominal discomfort. (31)
Although, people with weak or compromised immune systems such as those who have HIV, AIDS, or other autoimmune diseases that affect the immune system must avoid probiotics, as probiotics can lead to dangerous infections in such cases. (32)
It’s always a good idea to consult your physician before taking probiotics, and people with any existing health condition must never take probiotics without consulting their doctor.
Is A Higher CFU Count Better?
Most people naively assume that a probiotic with a higher CFU count is better than one with a low CFU count. CFU means colony forming units or the number of bacteria present in a single dose of a probiotic supplement. Most probiotics are in the range of 5 to 20 billion CFUs, and these are ideal for someone who is taking probiotics to maintain his health and is not suffering from any serious digestive disorder.Probiotics that have more than 20 billion CFUs, such as the ones with 30 billion or 50 billion CFUs, are considered among the strongest probiotics. These are only suitable for those who want to treat some specific digestive ailments, and the probiotics with higher CFUs are also known to have stronger side effects.
Other Ways to Boost Your Gut Health
There are several other ways to boost your gut health in addition to taking probiotics regularly. Highly spicy, fatty, or oily foods are known to disrupt gut flora, and it’s a good idea to cut out all junk food from your diet as almost all junk food is either spicy or has been prepared using oil rich in fats.
You can also improve your gut health by incorporating natural food products such as vegetables, fruits, etc. as these are known to help maintain the ideal balance of good bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotic vs. Probiotic
Prebiotics refers to the non-digestible fiber derived from several plant-based foods such as acacia gum, banana, asparagus, chicory root, garlic, dandelion greens, leafy greens, legumes, onions, etc. Prebiotic is the food for probiotic bacteria as the bacteria in your gut thrive on prebiotics.
So, it’s essential to include prebiotics in your diet if you want to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut.Most people confuse prebiotics with probiotics due to similar spelling and pronunciation, but prebiotic refer to fibers derived from plant-based foods, while probiotics refer to live bacteria.
We’ve tried to cover almost every aspect of probiotics in this guide and hope you’ve enjoyed reading it till the end. Probiotics are essential for a healthy life, and increasingly, research is showing that several diseases and ailments can be treated or prevented with probiotics. So, try to include probiotics in your diet as probiotic supplements or in the form of probiotic-rich food such as yogurt, kefir, etc.