Did you know that your digestive tract contains more than 400 types of “friendly” bacteria? These little guys, commonly referred to as probiotics (which means “pro-life”), help reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. That’s right! Probiotics are live bacteria with clinically-documented health benefits.
It appears that when the digestive system is kept healthy, other body systems greatly benefit as well. Probiotics may:
- Protect against infection
- Enhance and boost the immune system
- Promote and improve digestive health
- Alleviate diarrhea caused by antibiotic treatments
- Promote urinary and genital health
- Assist in the management of inflammation
- Help alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance
- Improve some types of eczema in infants and children
- Reduce cholesterol levels
- Decrease the risk of certain cancers
It is important to note that each type of friendly bacteria has a specific health benefit to the body. With over 400 different types of probiotics identified, researchers are just starting to uncover the health roles and benefits of each.
Currently, foods that contain probiotics are primarily dairy products and dairy beverages, including:
- Drinkable and squeezable yogurts
- Fluid milk with added probiotics
- Fermented milk such as sweet acidophilus milk
Through fermentation, probiotics enhance the flavor and texture of these particular dairy products. Dairy foods actually buffer your stomach acid and bile, thereby protecting the probiotics from the stomach acid so that they can reach the intestines.
Raw (unpasteurized) yogurt is loaded with bacteria. Most yogurts today are pasteurized and these bacteria are killed. However, some friendly bacteria are added back. Look for a yogurt that contains the “live and active culture” sign on the label. Pay close attention to the expiration date because these live bacterial cultures can diminish with time.
Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of forms, such as freeze dried powder, capsules, wafers, and liquids. Remember to exercise caution before using a probiotic supplement. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements in the same way as it regulates medication. Legally, manufacturers can sell supplements, even with little or no research on how well it works or how safe it is.
Supplement and medication reactions can occur, therefore seek the guidance of your health care provider before using any probiotic supplement.