We have all heard of Probiotics and that they are good for you. But what are they and how are they good for you and is the Probiotics hype valid?
For most when the word ‘probiotics’ is mentioned an image of a fermented drink like Yakult or natural yogurt pops into the mind. This is not very far from the truth as they are found in yoghurts amongst other foods.
By definition probiotics are live bacteria and yeast (yes, not all bacteria and yeast is bad for you) lining your digestive tract that confer various health benefits when consumed. They are often called “good” bacteria or cultures as they are good for your overall health and your digestive health in particular. This is because they help the bacteria that already live in your intestines to break down food for healthy digestion as well as fighting infections.
So now we know what they are let’s get a little bit scientific (and I promise, just a little!) and talk about the types of bacteria that are good for you. There are many types of probiotics each carrying different benefits. Most of these come from the two following groups:
- Lactobacillus-genus. This has 18 different bacteria strains hence it is the most common, usually found in fermented foods such as yogurt. Various strains of these bacteria are known to help with diarrhoea.
- Bifidobacterium-genus. This has 8 different strains and can also be found in dairy products. This particular type lives in your colon. Research suggests it may help ease symptoms of gut issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
So what are they good for?
- If you have digestive health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation and gas, chances are you could probably benefit from taking probiotics. Your gut contains “good” and “bad” bacteria (gut flora). Problems such as diarrhoea tend to occur when there is an imbalance in the gut flora, which is when the bad starts to outgrow the good. If you have ever had food poisoning or antibiotic-related diarrhoea, chances are you would have benefited from taking probiotic supplements to help ease the discomfort.
- In terms of women’s health, problems such as bloating, urinary and vaginal health can be helped with probiotics. This is because just like the digestive tract, the vagina relies on a delicate balance of good and ‘bad’ bacteria.
- If you constantly suffer from colds or hay fever (allergies) again, chances are that you could benefit from taking probiotics. This is because one of the main functions of good bacteria is to positively stimulate immune response. More importantly 80% of your immune system is located in your gut therefore it would be wise to look after your gut.
- If you suffer from acne or dry, itchy skin problems such as eczema then you too could benefit from taking probiotics. Many studies have shown a link between skin health and probiotics. In terms of skin health probiotics can help wrinkle prevention, strengthen your skin barrier, sun damage, rosacea and help retain skin moisture.
Having just discussed multiple reasons as to why probiotics are good for your overall health, the next question is how and where can we get more good bacteria?
The two main options are either to:
1. Consume more fermented foods or take a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods are consumed all over the world and have been since the times of our ancestors. For example traditionally speaking in the past Germans consumed sauerkraut, Bulgarians consumed Kefir, Asians consumed Kimchi, Russians consumed raw yogurt and Africans consumed Amasi. Most of these foods are simple to prepare at home if you like to be creative in the kitchen!
2. Consume simple, over-the-counter probiotics especially for those who don’t have the time or patience! When selecting a probiotic supplement the most important factors are: a good brand, a high strain count (CFU 10 billion and over) and a good strain diversity (5 or more different strains).
So to conclude, probiotics are good bacteria that can help benefit our overall health. These benefits include supporting digestive health, women’s health, immunity and skin health. They can be found in various fermented foods (which is the more natural , ‘organic’ way) or taking them in supplement form which is easy and convenient. So coming back to the original question of our article, based on all that’s been researched and discussed, we think yes, the hype is very valid.