We commonly think of bacteria as being bad, but there are good bacteria that help our body function as well. These bacteria, more commonly known as probiotics, were first introduced in the late 20thcentury, but over the last few years, the use of probiotics has continued to rise. Probiotics are now the 3rdmost commonly used dietary supplement by adults and between 2007 and 2012, the use of probiotics quadrupled. Probiotics seem to be in everything from our vitamins, to our drinks, to our yogurt, and even our skin care products! But, are they really worth the hype?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, or bacteria, that help our body function properly. There are an estimated 100 trillion different microorganisms found in our stomach and they all benefit us in different ways. Some bacteria found in the digestive tract help break down the food we eat and help our body absorb vitamins and other nutrients. Other bacteria help fight off disease causing organisms and keep the “bad” bacteria in check. When these bad bacteria take over, we can experience digestive symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
Since the 1990s research has continued to show that ingesting probiotics may be able to help many different health conditions. Most commonly, probiotics are known to help with gastrointestinal symptoms. Some people with health conditions that conventional medicine still struggles to manage effectively, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease, have seen improvement in symptoms like diarrhea and constipation. Beyond just helping our digestive system, probiotics have shown benefit to those suffering from eczema, allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and anxiety. They have been shown to help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can be a major factor in most chronic health conditions.
It’s important to remember that not all probiotics are created equal. Your stomach acid can destroy many of the microorganisms found in probiotics before they even reach your intestines, which means you aren’t getting the full benefit from them. Studies have shown that it is best to take 1 billion to 100 billion live organisms daily to ensure you are getting an adequate amount. You can find live probiotics in fermented foods like tempeh, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables. They are also found in fermented dairy products, like yogurt. Taking a probiotic supplement is the fastest way to ingest a large amount of live probiotics at one time, however these are not regulated so it is very important to do research before choosing a brand.
While keeping your digestive system healthy is about must more than just taking a probiotic, they can be a helpful addition to many people’s nutrition and fitness routines. Probiotics offer a lot of different benefits with very minimal risk, so if you haven’t tried them before, you may find they are in fact, worth the hype!