Probiotics: What and where to find them
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
What are probiotics? PSA: This is a long post... but worth the read!
Probiotics are microorganisms that colonize the gut and other parts of the body. Not to be confused with prebiotics---which are the food for probiotics. Probiotics can be bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Yes, these all sound like things that could get you sick---and they are--- but there are good and bad kinds of all of the above.
The bad microorganisms have the potential to get you sick while the good keep you healthy. These healthy organisms are what make up your gut microbiome.
In this post, we are going to specifically focus on the gut microbiome, but other microbiomes within the body include your skin and vaginal area.
So how do probiotics aid in helping the gut microbiome?
Probiotics inhibit the growth of the bad microorganisms in the GI tract. They do this though increasing colonization resistance, improving transit within the GI, normalizing other microorganisms, producing bioactive metabolites (breaking down fatty acids), and regulating colon pH.
There are different species of probiotics that are in everyday foods---the most common are provided here: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Saccharomyces boulardii (which is a type of yeast and it is the only strain that is considered dairy free, because it is not fermented from a dairy product like yogurt, etc).
Generally speaking, probiotics aid in the accessibility of nutrients by improving digestive health. They are also easier to digest--- for example, people who have lactose issues may have improved reactions to dairy with probiotics and may be able to digest kefir and yogurt (both fermented).
Different probiotic species have various roles to play within the gut-- which is WHY it is important to consume a variety and balance of all types. Some probiotic mechanisms include: vitamin synthesis, gut barrier reinforcement, bile salt metabolism, enzymatic activity, toxin neutralization, and in some immunomodulation with some effects on the endocrine and nervous systems.
Some recent research has shown that a healthy gut helps regulate inflammation, and aids in metabolism. Probiotics also can help regulate brain function, anxiety, and other brain disorders. That being said, more research needs to be done yo fully understand the extent of probiotic's influence.
Probiotics may have other roles in general human health... some other examples include: aid with atopic dermatitis, pediatric acute infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, hypercholesterolemia, and obesity.
A meta-analysis showed that exposure to probiotics during pregnancy and early infancy might reduce the risk of developing atopic dermatitis in children. So mamas check that out! Plus breastmilk has probiotics in it, you don't even have to try, your own body makes it so easy...
The probiotics in breastmilk will also help build and in some cases restore the health of your baby's gut, decreasing their risk for life threatening diarrhea.
In people that suffer from IBS, they tend to have a lot of bad bacteria as opposed to good bacteria. Increasing intakes of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have the potential to restore some missing microbial functionality and, consequently, help manage IBS symptoms.
If you have high cholesterol, probiotics will help with the catabolism (or breaking down) of cholesterol. This works by increasing bile salt hydrolase activity, which correspondingly increases the need for new bile acids and thus reduces serum cholesterol levels.
It also helps with the binding of cholesterol in the small intestine, which reduces the amount of total cholesterol absorbed in the body. Further, it assimilates the incorporation of cholesterol into bacteria which therefore lowers cholesterol levels in the blood.
Lastly, study results indicate that the effects of probiotics on body weight and obesity depend on several factors. These include the probiotic strain, dose, duration, as well as certain characteristics of the user such as; age, sex, and baseline body weight. However, if overall health is improved with probiotics then weight loss or weight stabilization will most likely naturally occur.
Where do we find probiotics in food?
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are typically complex carbohydrates (such as inulin and other fructo-oligosaccharides) that microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract use as metabolic fuels.
Probiotics are most likely found in fermented foods---which due to the fermenting process, offer B-vitamins that will aid in increasing bowel regularity, improvement of blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Some foods, although fermented--- are also pasteurized. Sadly , this takes away from the probiotic factors due to the cooking process which removes all live cultures. So foods like pickles or sourdough bread, although fermented, may not have the same effects of other fermented food. Other fermented foods that do not necessarily have probiotics even though they are fermented are beer, chocolate, wine, and soy sauce.
Foods that naturally contain probiotics are dairy, non-dairy yogurts, fresh, sour dill pickles, kimchi, kombucha, miso, natto, sauerkraut, tempeh (a popular meat substitute), and water or brine-cured olives.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables don't get enough credit for having probiotics in them! They are the perfect packaged snack because they not only contain probiotics, but they also contain prebiotics...
As always, more research needs to be done to analyze the effects of probiotics and how we can obtain their benefits. BUT in the meantime, we want to encourage you to increase probiotic intake to benefit you and your baby. However, don't eat foods you don't like, its not worth the negativity---
Please note: sometimes adding too many probiotics at once may cause stomach discomfort, similar to large amounts of fiber. ALSO-- if you are immune compromised, try to stick to pasteurized fermented foods--such as yogurt or milk products, etc-- for your safety.
To learn more, check out our website and get in contact with us today!
Until next time!
Mikayla and Cassie
Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors
Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash
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