Probiotic, literally meaning, “for life,” refers to the good, helpful bacteria that live in every healthy individual’s gut by the thousands.
These days, we are so accustomed to thinking that bacteria are negative, harmful, disease causing agents. While this can be true in many cases, bacteria are also a very important part of our health and well-being.
According to Harvard Health, there are an estimated 100 trillion of these good guys hanging around in every healthy digestive system. Not only do these helpful bacteria keep the disruptive, pathogenic bacteria at bay, they also help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function.
Although these already sound like amazing functions, a growing body of research is continuing to discover more and more evidence that although supplementing with these helpful bacteria isn’t necessary, it can prove to be very helpful.
Today in America, there is an extraordinarily large population who suffer from intestinal discomfort, from diarrhea, gas, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, to chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
Instead of turning to symptom suppressers, or band-aids, consider getting to the root of the problem and actually helping your intestines by providing it with live, helpful bacteria.
Among their many benefits, Mayo Clinic cited probiotics as a treatment for diarrhea, vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and IBS, as well as for the prevention or reduction of severity of colds and flu, prevention and treatment of eczema in children, treatment for certain intestinal infections, and reduction of bladder cancer recurrence.
Many argue that digestive health is not a separate entity of our systems, but the root of well-being, since this is where food (our life source) is broken down into the building blocks of our cells.
Because antibiotics strip away much of the bacteria in your body, good and bad, many individuals choose to supplement their diet with probiotics during or after a round of antibiotics.
Probiotics can be found naturally in food sources like certain yogurts, or beverages like Kombucha, a fermented tea that can be found at your local health food store. However, the easiest way to ingest a large amount of probiotics is through a supplement that contains billions of helpful organisms.
Supplements can come in many forms from pills, to liquids, to powders. Because probiotic supplements are similar to the bacteria that is already found in our digestive system, and have been ingested in fermented foods throughout history, they are generally esteemed as safe and effective.
However, as with many dietary supplements, there is still some research that should be done about their effect on young children, elderly, and those with suppressed immune function. Talk to your doctor if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, to make sure that a probiotic supplement is right for you!
Are probiotics and prebiotics important for health? - MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/probiotics/AN00389
Health benefits of taking probiotics. (n.d.). Health Information and Medical Information - Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0905c.shtml
Oral Probiotics: An Introduction | NCCAM. (n.d.). Home Page | NCCAM. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
Reviewed March 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith