Probiotics are a hot topic in heath care conversations these days, but what exactly is a probiotic and how can it be beneficial to our health?
Originating from the Latin term meaning “for life” the actual definition of a probiotic is “a microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities”. First discovered by an Austrian physicist in 1890, probiotics were not understood for their beneficial properties until Russian scientist, Elie Metchnikoff of the Pasteur Institute of Paris, conducted a study in a small town in Bulgaria in 1907 (Optibac, 2016). He visited this town to find out why the majority of the villagers were centenarian (living to or beyond the age of 100). What he found was that the majority of the villagers were consuming a fermented yogurt drink on a daily basis. A specific probiotic called Lactobacillus bulgaricus was found in the yogurt drink and was believed to be responsible for improving their health and contributing to the longevity of their lives.
Over the decades probiotics continues to be a source of wellness intended for the gut, but what is it doing to the body on a chemical level that is so beneficial? The Mayo Clinic describes probiotics to be a good bacteria that are either similar or the same as certain bacteria’s our body needs to sustain wellness. This has to do with the gut and how the stomach plays a role in our overall well-being. With the increasing number of GI issues and diseases our nation is experiencing (in both adults and children), it is not surprising that doctors and scientists are continuing to try to find ways to promote good health. When there are not enough good bacteria in the body, this leads to an imbalance which then contributes to weight gain, skin conditions, constipation, and various other chronic health conditions (MayoClinic, 2017). There is also an abundance of recent evidence that points to the importance of probiotics in the gut, and the role it plays on influencing the overall mood of a person. What some find surprising is that 90% of the serotonin produced in the body is found in the gut. This neurotransmitter is responsible for regulating appetite, sleep, relaxation, and most importantly – mood. With depression being a huge factor in the American population, paying better attention to probiotics could be a simple and effective way to drastically improve your overall mental health.
So where do you get probiotics and are they all the same? The most common and simple way to incorporate probiotics into your diet is through the tried and true yogurt. The Mayo Clinic suggests reading the labels and finding ones that read “Live and Active Cultures”. This means that the yogurt has at least 100 million active cultures per gram of yogurt, helping to contribute to a healthy balance of the right kind of bacteria needed.
Other dietary sources of probiotics are Gouda, Swiss, and Cheddar cheeses, other dairy products (such as Lactobacillus milk or kefir), Sauerkraut, and Kimchi.
Probiotic supplements are also an easy way to increase the intake of good bacteria. You always want to talk with your doctor before beginning any additional supplements, especially if you are prone to infections, have a weakened immune system, or are prone to allergies or sensitivities to dairy. By introducing a probiotic into your daily routine, you may find a decrease in gastric discomfort, an improvement in your overall mood, and just a better feeling of overall wellness.
One recent study analyzed 45 reviews and studies that were specific to probiotics. The results consistently showed that daily probiotics were beneficial for treating several different kinds of diarrhea (antibiotic-associated, acute diarrhea in children, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease) (Islam, 2016). It is believed that when ingested orally, probiotics pass through the stomach and attach to the intestinal wall, therefore inhibiting the attachment of “bad” bacteria. This would explain the decrease in bowel issues and an overall higher level of wellness, as the gut is known to be a place susceptible for inflammation (which also then leads to a myriad of health issues, including IBS, exacerbation of disease such as Crohn’s, and even the mood disorders previously discussed such as depression).
Whether you are already experiencing issues that are gut-related or would like to try and improve your overall wellness, probiotics may just be the key. The introduction of probiotics has been found to be beneficial in as early as a few hours, to sometimes a few weeks (Swanson, 2013). Talk with your doctor and see if this might be a good thing to include into your daily diet to help improve your overall health.
Islam, S.U. (2016). Clinical Uses of Probiotics.Medicine, 95(5), e2658. http://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000002658
Mayo Clinic. (2017). What are probiotics?https://www.mayoclinic.org/what-are-probiotics/art-20232589
Optibac. (2016). The History of Probiotics.www.optibacprobiotics.uk/live-cultures
Swanson, L. (2013). How Long Does It Take For Probiotics To Work? Probiotics 101.