What are ‘probiotics?’ Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial for your health and especially for your digestive system.
There is usually a negative connotation with the word bacteria, but your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are the good bacteria that assist in keeping your gut healthy. The symbiotic relationship between your body and probiotics is critical for biological processes such as nutrient utilization, resistance against infections and development of the immune system and metabolism.
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against germs and infections. Your digestive system forms the largest interface between the external environment and your body.
Your gut has many functions, including being a physical barrier between the external environment and your immune system. The functionality and integrity of this barrier is essential to transfer nutrients and beneficial molecules and it even protects the body from dangerous threats.
Multiple medical conditions such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and Celiac Disease characterized by sustained inflammation and tissue damage, develops from a leaky gut (which is when toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream).
The importance of probiotics was already established at the beginning of the twentieth century when the consumption of a specific mix of bacteria and yogurt were associated with extended lifespan and the prevention of disease.
Probiotics can alleviate gut discomfort and pain (associated with IBS and IBD) and enhance the function of the immune system.
Types of Probiotics:
There many types of bacteria that are classified as probiotics. Different bacteria have different benefits, but most probiotics come from these groups:
Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic and are found in yogurt and fermented foods like kefir. Different strains can help with diarrhoea and may help people that are lactose intolerant.
Bifidobacterium are found in some dairy products and may assist in easing symptoms of IBS and IBD.
Function of Probiotics:
Common conditions that probiotics treat, include:
- Infectious diarrhoea (caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites)
- Antibiotic-related diarrhoea
Some research show that probiotics may also help with:
- Skin conditions, like eczema
- Oral health
- Preventing allergies and colds
- Urinary and vaginal health
Food Sources of probiotics include:
- Kefir (Fermented milk drink made from kefir grains)
- Kombucha ( Fermented beverage made from fermented green and black tea)
When to take your probiotic supplement
If you are obtaining your share of probiotics through food, then there is no specific time frame that you need to take them, since you are eating or drinking throughout the day so it doesn’t necessarily make a difference.
However, if you are taking a probiotic in a supplement form, taking it at optimal times are essential to ensure that you receive the maximum bacterial strain. Probiotics are living bacteria, and like any living organism they need food, water and warmth to survive and multiply. Therefore, the best time to take probiotics is with your meals.
By taking your probiotic supplement with food, you provide a buffering system for the supplement to pass through your digestive tract. Eating a healthy meal together with a probiotic supplement offers the ideal environment to benefit optimally from the probiotics.
Probiotics needs Prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics both serve important health functions for the digestive system. Like all living organisms, probiotics needs to be fed in order to be active, heathy and beneficial. Prebiotics acts as food for probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of soluble fibre and sources include oats, wheat bran, legumes, garlic, artichoke, leeks, onion, asparagus, nuts, bananas, blueberries and apples.
Short-term and long-term benefits of probiotics
Probiotic supplements may be recommended by your doctor after a disruption to the microflora, which usually happens after taking antibiotics. Probiotics might also be recommended for IBS, IBD, diarrhoea and constipation.
Short term use of probiotics might be beneficial, but research suggests that the beneficial properties of probiotics dissipate after you stop taken them. Using probiotics on a daily basis will provide the gut microflora with active, living organisms to replace the bacteria that are killed off or eliminated during bowel movements. This means you could lose the benefits of these good bacteria shortly after you discontinue supplementing your diet with probiotics.
Following a healthy balanced diet that includes sufficient amounts of pre- and probiotics can assist in improving the health and function of your immune system.
Your dietician can educate you on various probiotic foods and supplements.
Compiled by Joani Britz, RD(SA)