The Power of Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your digestive system. But, why do we need them? Where can we find them in their natural form? And how can taking them help to improve your gut health.

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria commonly described as “friendly” and “good” bacteria that are beneficial for our health.

We usually think of bacteria as foreign and harmful micro-organisms that cause diseases but actually, our body is full of bacteria and some of them help to protect our immune system and help us to maintain a good healthly balance. The intestinal flora is considered as a “virtual organ” composed by 500 different species of bacteria (including probiotics) which contributes to the health of the whole human body. [1].

This ecological environment in normal, healthy conditions, is in a perfectly balanced state. [1] [2].

The gut flora has several important functions. It helps with the breakdown of food during digestion, for example it breaks down proteins and helps with the digestion of dairy products. It also plays an important role in the synthesis of vitamins such as vitamins B and K, allowing their absorption.

Plus it also changes some types of starches and sugars into sources of energy for the body [3]. Finally, intestinal flora protects the body against infections by inhibiting the growth of harmful organisms. [4].

Why do we need probiotics?
The word probiotic derives from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life”. Indeed, several studies have shown that these bacteria help to maintain the well-being of the digestive system, in particular, of the intestinal tract. [5].

When we take an antibiotic to kill harmful bacteria that cause infections, this indirectly also affects the good bacteria that naturally live in our gut.

Probiotics restore the natural balance of bacteria and, for this reason, it is recommended to take them along with antibiotics, even after the treatment.[5] [6].

The word probiotic derives from the Greek word ‘pro’ meaning promoting and biotic meaning ‘life’!

Some recent studies show that probiotics can also been seen to lower low density lipoprotein levels (LDL), which is the ‘bad cholesterol’.

LDL can lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, coronary heart disease, hypertension or atherosclerosis. [7]

Besides these benefits, taking a good quality probiotic could also improve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Diseases (IBS) such as bloating and cramping and, in general, they help the intestinal regularity. [7] [8].

Where to find natural probiotics?

Fermented Foods:
Some examples are: sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (fermented vegetables, usually cabbage and Korean radishes), tempeh (fermented soya), miso (fermented soybeans with barley or rice) kombucha (fermented green or black tea), natto (soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis) and kefir (fermented milk drink).

Yogurt:
Nowadays, it is easy to find lactose free yogurt, for people who are intolerant. Also, several vegan options with added live cultures are available in the supermarket.

Raw, unrefined and unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the “Mother”:
The Mother appears as a cloudy substance floating at the bottom of the bottle and it is rich in natural protein and healthy bacteria.

Cheese:
Certain type of fermented cheese contains probiotics; some examples are Gouda, Parmesan, Cheddar, Swiss, Feta, Edam and Emmental. These cheeses contain cultures that can survive the journey through the GI tract.

Supplements:
Supplements are especially useful for those who suffer from IBS or problems with digestion. (It is preferable to change brand from time to time so the gut does not get used to the specific blend of bacteria).

Our body is full of bacteria and some of them help to protect our immune system and help us to maintain a good healthly balance.

Two tasty recipes to start the day with a good source of probiotics:

Smoothie
• 1 cup of fresh blueberries
• 1 small bottle of natural kefir (250ml)
• 1 medium banana
• 2 to 3 strawberriesBlend everything and enjoy!

Tonic
• 1 to 2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with the mother
• Half glass of water
• 1 teaspoon of honey
• 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (optional)
Mix everything and drink!This tonic helps also to clear the digestive tract, if drunk in the morning in a fasting state, and to clear and invigorate the skin.

Article by: Elisabetta Sicchiero @raven_100
Elisabetta has recently graduated in Human Nutrition with a first class hons degree from University of Westminster.

REFERENCES
[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1500832/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9406136
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9406136
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23426535
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3337124/
[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319016413000819
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2950826