Probiotics refer to live micro-organisms, especially live bacteria, which when administered through food can help improve digestive health by stimulating digestive enzymes in the gut and by aiding in better digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. Our digestive tract has its own microbial flora, of which some microbes are beneficial and others are not. There is a constant battle inside the gut between these two. This can result in bacterial imbalance in the environment of the digestive tract.
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What causes this bacterial imbalance?: intake of antibiotics to fight diseases like diarrhea, urinary tract infections (UTI), and stress; sometimes, some bacteria in the stomach could kill the good bacteria before they enter the intestine. These activities all reduce the population of beneficial live bacteria in the digestive tract and cause an imbalance in the bacterial flora of the digestive tract.
Therefore, to maintain the bacterial flora with adequate amounts of friendly bacteria and to improve digestive health, probiotics are usually administered through food. Naturally occurring food sources rich in probiotics sometimes suffice, or artificially prepared probiotics-rich food supplements can be used.
Friendly bacteria like lactic acid bacteria or bifidobacteria grow when the diet contains adequate amounts of polysaccharides (complex sugars). Therefore, consuming a diet rich in polysaccharides induces growth of friendly bacteria. These are the most commonly consumed probiotic foods that improve digestive health.
• Yogurt: This richest source of probiotics made by fermenting milk contains infused live bacteria like lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus bulgaricus) or bifidobacteria.
• Kefir: Made by fermentation of milk (goat, cow, sheep, soy, coconut) inoculated with Kefir grains. This has three times the probiotics levels of yogurt. It is rich in live bacteria – lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
Goat’s milk and cheese: Goat’s milk contains live bacteria like bifidobacteria, thermophillus, acidophilus, and bulgaricus.
Fermented vegetables, pickles (Sauerkraut, Curtido, and Kimchi): Fermented vegetables like cabbage (sauerkraut) or olives with the right amount of salinity at a particular temperature are rich in live bacteria like lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus plantarum).
Kombucha tea: It is the richest probiotics beverage made from fermented sweetened black tea infused with a culture of live bacteria and yeast (kombucha mushroom).
Tempeh: Fermented soy beans are a rich source of probiotics.
Miso soup: A soup prepared from the fermented mixture of barley/rice/beans/rye is also rich in lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
• Microalgae: Marine organisms like spirulina, blue-green algae, and chorella are processed and marketed as supplements. These are rich in lactic acid bacteria and bifidus bacteria.
• Some commonly used probiotics supplements available in the market include Culturelle, Nature Made, Florastor, Align, RepHresh Pro-B, Sustenex, DanActive, Attune bars, GoodBelly probiotics fruit drink, Latero-Flora, etc. These supplements contain live bacteria that improve digestive health. However, one should identify the right kind of probiotics supplement that contains one of the following strains of live bacteria:
• Lactic acid bacteria: Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730, Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), Lactobicillus casei Lbc80r, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285 improve digestive health.
• Bifidobacteria: Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12 improve digestive health.
• Saccharomyces: S. cerevisiae (S. boulardii) aids digestive health.
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