Scientists report on the therapeutic properties of probiotics in diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), overweight, obesity, depression, anxiety, autism, heart disease and a decrease in immunity. Is this true though? Does something with such universal properties have the right to be effective at all? And how are probiotics different from prebiotics? We decided to look into this matter.
Your intestines are inhabited by bacteria, fungi and viruses that you obtained at birth and those found in a process called colonization. Together, they form the intestinal flora, consisting of up to 1000 microorganisms. The activity of the intestinal flora resembles the activity of organs (such as kidneys or liver) to the extent that, according to some scientists, the intestinal flora should be called a "forgotten organ".
Many intestinal bacteria are considered "good" or "beneficial". Their roles include, for example, the transformation of fiber into short chain fatty acids: butyric, propionic and acetic acids, which strengthen the intestinal wall and regulate their work and the functioning of the immune system. What does a tight intestinal wall give? It protects against the entry of unwanted substances into the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response, e.g. a food intolerance reaction. Other roles for beneficial intestinal bacteria are the synthesis of certain vitamins, e.g. vitamins K1, K2 and K3, B vitamins and support of the immune system.
The formal definition of probiotics is "live microorganisms, providing them in the right amounts brings health benefits." The source of probiotic bacteria are fermented products such as kefir, yogurt or sauerkraut or simply probiotics in tablets.
What does taking them give you then? It increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the intestines. However, this is not so simple, because these bacteria need to settle there. Prebiotics come to the rescue here. What are they? Prebiotics are substances derived from fiber, which are a source of food for bacteria that inhabit the intestines. You'll find them in vegetables, fruits, whole grain products such as chicory coffee, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, apples, cocoa, flax seeds.
No. Different probiotic strains have different health roles. For this reason, it is important to choose a probiotic that suits your needs.
People differ in the composition of the intestinal flora. It determines your weight, health or the amount of energy you have (or does not) every day. Probiotics with confirmed positive effect on humans are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces strains. Many supplements contain mixtures of different strains with the same properties to increase their effectiveness. It is equally important to provide your body with the right number of beneficial bacteria. They are measured in billions of units and generally the more a given supplement contains, the better. However, some strains show efficacy at 1-2 billion units, while others require as much as 20 billion units to achieve the desired effect.
If you want to have a healthy gut flora, not only what you eat (probiotics and prebiotics) will be important, but also what you deny yourself. If your diet contains a large amount of sugar and fat, bad bacteria will grow. Over time, beneficial bacteria will die, which will cause the adverse bacteria to multiply in your intestines even more. In addition, bad bacteria will cause you to consume more calories from food than people with a balanced intestinal flora. This is why lean people can sometimes afford unhealthy food, and those who are overweight and obese seem to get overweight.
How to break this vicious circle? You can start by providing yourself with beneficial probiotic bacteria along with a source of prebiotics. And you can read about the healing properties of probiotics for Pharaoh's Revenge and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in our other articles.