Did you know that not all bacteria are bad? This is the case with probiotics. These beneficial bacteria contribute to your health and are used every day with success to treat several diseases!
What are probiotics?
In our society, which is placing a greater and greater emphasis on good health, many people are particularly interested in what are known as more natural methods to prevent or treat diseases. In this context, we have all heard of probiotics, but have you ever wondered what they can do for you?
Probiotics are living microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that contribute to good health when taken in sufficient quantities. They are naturally present in the gut and help maintain the balance of your intestinal flora.
The intestinal flora contains more than 100,000 billion bacteria (representing more than 1,000 different species), including probiotics. These bacteria are essential for good health because they :
- produce vitamins,
- aid digestion,
- secrete antimicrobial substances,
- stimulate the immune system,
- and protect against certain diseases.
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics prevent the multiplication of bad microbes in the digestive system. Such a proliferation can cause disease and diarrhea. This is sometimes called an “imbalance of the intestinal flora.”
Actually, under normal circumstances, that is, when we are in good health, the intestinal flora is in balance. But here are a few factors that can cause an imbalance:
- taking antibiotics;
- high-fat, low-fibre foods;
- some diseases (such inflammatory diseases of the bowels);
- immune system deficiency;
When the intestinal flora is upset, the quantity of probiotics in the gut decreases.
Probiotics are available on the market in several forms and found in many foods and supplements, such as:
- yogurt (or yogurt drinks);
- fermented milk;
- oral capsules;
- oral drops;
- vaginal suppositories.
As heat can destroy these living microorganisms, refrigeration of products that contain them is often suggested.
It is important to understand that most foods sold at grocery shops contain far fewer probiotics than supplements. For therapeutic effectiveness, it is better to turn to supplements.
Which probiotic to choose?
Probiotics are not all the same and each has its own qualities and effects. When you are looking for a probiotic to prevent or resolve a medical problem, or simply to maintain good health, we advise you to speak to your pharmacist, who can help you make an informed choice by keeping the following factors in mind:
- the health problem that you want to treat;
- the quality of products available;
- the type of probiotics contained in different formulations;
- the methods used by manufacturers for the release of live probiotic cultures in the digestive system;
- whether the product has Health Canada’s Natural product number (NPN) licence;
- results of scientific research done on the product, if any;
- your budget;
Here are some conditions for which scientific research has shown the use of probiotics to be effective:
- traveller’s diarrhea;
- diarrhea caused by antibiotics;
- Clostridium difficile infection;
- ulcerative colitis;
- colic in babies.
Unfortunately, commercial products have not all been proven equally effective and some don’t contain enough living organisms to produce any real benefit.
Are probiotics safe?
To be considered a probiotic, the microorganism must not cause any danger to the person who consumes it. This means that bad bacteria and yeast do not qualify as probiotics.
However, people whose immune system has been weakened (because of disease or certain medications) can still be at risk of developing an infection when taking probiotics. This is why such people are advised not to take them.
Pregnant or breast-feeding mothers must also seek the advice of a healthcare professional to find out if they can take probiotics.
For a few years now, probiotics have been growing in popularity. Research on these allies of our health is progressing and our current knowledge leads us to believe that probiotics have many more pleasant surprises in store for us.
If, like thousands of Canadians, you are concerned about your well-being, put probiotics on top of your list of super foods to consume more of!