Promise of Probiotics
Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines. When we are born, we have very few probiotics in our system, but begin to acquire them from foods we eat and our environment. Factors such as taking antibiotics, eating a lot of meat and few fruits and vegetables, digestive disorders, and the aging process tend to diminish the number of probiotics we have. While research on probiotics began in the 1930’s, it is only recently that we have learned more about the important health benefits that they offer us.
The biggest health benefits probiotics offer are to the digestive system. Probiotics have been shown to lessen the symptoms of both Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (like Crohn’s disease). Probiotics also help to decrease diarrhea caused by “bad” bacteria, such as the diarrhea you may get while traveling in foreign countries. They help to fight off the Helicobacter pylori bacteria that are responsible for causing gastric ulcers. In addition to digestive system health, probiotics have been shown to boost the immune system and decrease allergies in children. Some studies show they may work on decreasing cholesterol levels, decreasing blood pressure in those with hypertension, decreasing abdominal fat, and preserving insulin sensitivity. Researchers feel like this is just the beginning of what will be discovered for health benefits of probiotics.
With all of the known health benefits, it should be obvious that including more probiotics is important. So, where are they found? The best place to get probiotics is from fermented foods. Many of these foods are dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir, and acidophilus milk. Additional fermented foods include tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea. Many people find that probiotic supplements are another good option if they do not consume many of the foods listed above or they find that they need a larger “dose” than can be obtained through food alone. The good news is that it does not appear that healthy people can get too many probiotics, although people with compromised immune systems may want to consult with their physician before taking large amounts of probiotics.
Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign @ aol.com.