What are probiotics?
The human gut contains 1000 different species of bacteria that play an essential role in preventing illness, digesting food, and strengthening immune function. These probiotic bacteria are affected by diet, environmental factors, age, as well as use of antibiotics. Disruption in the balance of the number and species of probiotics in the gut can negatively impact health.
Why are they so important?
- Antipathogenic activity– Probiotics produce antibiotic-like substances that help to control or kill pathogenic bacteria.
- Healthy immune function– When there is a healthy population of probiotics present, they can make up about 70% of the body’s immune response, stimulating the body’s immune cells to better deal with toxins and pathogens. Probiotics also help produce essential nutrients such as B vitamins and Vitamin K needed for proper immune function and metabolism.
- Anti-inflammatory– Probiotics play a role in healing by releasing nitric oxide which helps to lower inflammation and reduce swelling. Probiotics also produce beneficial by-products such as short chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation and promote colon health.
- Anti-diabetic/obesity activity –research has found there is a misbalance in the gut microbiota of obese versus lean, and diabetic versus non-diabetic individuals. This is related to a decrease in firmicutes and an increase in baceroidetes.
- Probiotics and the brain– research suggests that probiotics may play a key role in mental health. The “microbiota-gut-brain axis” is a communication pathway in the body exchanging signals from the gut and the central nervous system. Preliminary research is showing that gut microbiota may have an important influence on brain development, as well as anxiety and depression. More research in this area is needed.
Where are Probiotics found in the diet?
It is important to understand that probiotics only survive in the gut temporarily. This makes regular consumption of probiotics necessary to sustain a viable population of these healthy bacteria. Keep in mind that cooking with heat will kill the probiotic bacteria in these foods.
|Probiotics in Food|
|Naturally Fermented Vegetables:
Elemental and Ricotta Cheese
Regularly consuming prebiotic foods will help to stimulate the growth and health of the probiotic population in your gut. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that provide fuel for and stimulate the activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are obtained from fibre containing foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Do I need to take a Probiotic Supplement?
Since every human has a unique composition of different bacteria species in their gut, it makes it very difficult to discern when a probiotic supplement is needed and then of course, which one to choose.
There is a general agreement among the experts consulted that probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of gut microbiome related diseases or syndromes such as Chron’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. While research on probiotics has focused on specific strains and specific diseases, the market completely generalizes the use of probiotics. It is important to talk to your dietitian or general practitioner before taking a probiotic supplement, as all probiotics work differently.
Refer to the “Clinical Guide to Probiotic Supplements” website to help you decide with your dietitian which probiotic supplement may be best for you: http://www.probioticchart.ca/
By Susan Barth, Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)
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