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Probiotics – What are they, What are their benefits for Health

Probiotics – What are they, What are their benefits for Health

Let’s find out why probiotics can improve our gut health and keep us healthy. You have probably heard about the important of having a healthy intestinal flora. In fact, it is one of the key elements when it comes to ensuring the health of our body. Having a balanced microbiota is essential in order to prevent many disorders or to avoid some pathologies.

What is the Microbiota?

The gut microbiota, also known as intestinal flora, is the population of microbes and bacteria that live in our intestine. There are at least 1000 different known species with more than 3 million genes in the intestinal flora. A third of our microbiota is common among most of the population, while the remaining two thirds are more unique, meaning our gut is an individual entity.

Gut Microbiota

The microbiota can weight up to 2kg

Why is it necessary to preserve our Intestinal Health?

Microorganisms evolve and they make up a fundamental part of human life. In fact, they perform a series of essential tasks and they are involved in our health and diseases. There is a connection between the bacterial population and the following diseases or pathologies: chronic inflammation, autoimmune disease, asthma, autism, cancer, celiac disease, eczema, cardiovascular health or obesity.

Microbiota brainstorm

This microorganism colony is usually known as the “Forgotten Organ”, even if there is a close relation between Health and the Microbiota

Function of the Microbiota

It performs many different functions, for instance, in terms of nutrition or immunity:

  • Developing the gastrointestinal system of newborns.
  • Obtaining energy from nutrients due to their ability to ferment indigestible carbohydrates. Moreover, they also stimulate the absorption of monosaccharides and the energy storage.
  • Regulating the pH of the skin and colon.
  • Improving the absorption of water and minerals in the colon.
  • Speeding the intestinal transit.
  • Stimulating the angiogenesis.
  • Interacting with the immune system in the intestinal tract. In fact, it signals the maturation of immune cells and the proper development of autoimmune functions.
  • Changing its composition can trigger the onset of obesity and the metabolic syndrome.
  • Protecting against the onset of type I diabetes.
  • Chronic intestinal pathologies or diseases seems to be connected with the alteration of the gut microbiota.

Connection between the brain and the gut bacteria

According to research, the state of the microbiota could alter our behavior and mood, affecting our cognition.

Factors that Damage the Microbiota

Our lifestyle and habits are the main factors why our intestinal flora can become weak or get sick. In other words, these factors will lower the bacterial population. Moreover, they will establish our unique gut microbiota profile. For instance, some of these factors are:

Age: the youngest population has less bacterial diversity, while the elderly tend to have more bacterial species.

Diet: you are what you eat, food can alter the gut microbiota.

Medicines: taking antibiotics can also eliminate certain groups of bacteria from the intestine.

Exercise: the physical adaptations and going back to the homeostasis can alter the microbiota. Above all, high intensity and long exercise will have a stronger impact, since it enhances the symptoms of oxidative stress or creatine.

Environment: environmental contaminants from different chemical groups alter the composition and/or metabolic activity of gastrointestinal bacteria. Consequently, this will be an important factor that will shape the individual microbiotype.

What are Probiotics?

They are bacteria and yeasts that live in our body. In fact, they are good for our health, specially for the digestive system. Although bacteria tend to be associated with diseases, in this case their meaning is completely the opposite: probiotics are bacteria that help to keep a healthy microbiota.

Probiotics

Probiotics are bacteria similar to the ones from our intestinal tract

Function of Probiotics

Improving the Digestion

Probiotics support a healthy microflora balance in the gastrointestinal system. For instance, they inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and support and healthy digestion, improving the intestinal motility. All in all, this improves the digestive function, in terms of absorbing nutrients efficiently. These “friendly” bacteria help the intestines to produce lactic acid, acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide and other necessary organic compounds. In addition, they are also involved in the bile synthesis and the secretion of gastric acid.

Digestive system

For example, Probiotics will improve the absorption of Vitamin B12, Iron, Magnesium, Fatty Acids or Glucose considerably.

Protecting Against Infections

Probiotic bacteria and yeasts also improve the functioning of the immune system. In fact, they stimulate the secretion of IgA and T cells by synthesizing enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria and toxins.

Intestinal flora drawing

Above all, Probiotics support the nutrient absorption and deal with infections.

Practical questions for athletes

Most of the studied probiotic bacteria in physically active people and athletes are: Lactobacillus casei (the so-called L-casei), L-fermentum, L-acidophilus y L-rhamnosus. The results do not show that there is one superior to the other. Therefore, the medical and dietary advice for athletes does not tend to involve unique formulas, instead, it is advisable to use multi-species.

In terms of sport supplementation, all of them can have small beneficial effects for our health. For instance, they can lower the risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases during periods of stress, high workload and competition.

Action mechanism of probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics

In any case, individually reviewing the diet of athletes is fundamental to find out if they will tolerate the probiotics before a competition.

That is why, when it comes to competing, you will have to start taking probiotic supplements at least 14 days before. This time will be enough to colonize the bacterial species in the intestine.

Finally, the risk of gastrointestinal problems increases during trips. In addition, this issue gets worse in countries that have food hygiene problems (Asia, South America and Africa). Prophylactic supplementation with probiotics for those who travel to these regions could be a way to prevent diseases. To do so, you just have to start follow the same protocol as before (14 days).

Deaths from unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene map

Types of Probiotics

The most common probiotics are those that belong to the Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces groups. For instance, Lasctobacillus Acidophilus is one of the most beneficial bacteria that is used as a probiotic supplement. Moreover, there are other species of Lactobacillus casei, L.bulgaricus, L.sakei, L.plantarum, L.gasseri, L.reuteri, Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus LB. Bifidobacterium and S.thermophilus are also good probiotic species.

Happy face drawn on a belly

Properties of Probiotics

Improving the Mood
These microorganisms support our gastrointestinal health, that is why they are key elements for our health and well-being in general. In fact, this is true if we take into account that many common chronic diseases start in the digestive system.

Restoring the Intestinal Tract

With more than 400 different bacteria living in the human gastrointestinal tract, the most common ones are L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. These bacteria are in charge of restoring the balance against pathogens such as Candida or E. coli.

Yogurt with strawberries

Yogurt is a probiotic product (if it is natural…)

Preventing Diseases
When the “good bacteria” are not enough, we can suffer a series of problems related to bacteria. For example, we will experience digestive discomfort, headaches, lethargy, irritability, candidiasis (excessive growth of the Candida albicans bacteria).

Lactobacillus Acidophilus
It is possibly the strongest of our probiotic bacteria. The studies show how L. acidophillus is like a natural antibiotic in our body. In fact, it has the ability to produce an anti-microbial effect against the pathogens from the food we eat, the air we breathe… Stress, unhealthy lifestyles and, most importantly, unhealthy diets, destroy our natural probiotic microorganisms.

What are the Benefits of Probiotics for Health?

Benefits of probiotics for health

What are Functional Foods

They are modified products so that some of their components will improve vital functions of our body. They provide benefits for our health in order to lower the risk of suffering diseases. Among these functional foods, we can find some that have certain minerals, vitamins, Essential Fatty Acid Guide or dietary fiber. Moreover, there are products that have been enriched with biologically active substance, such as yogurts with bifidus.

Yogurt with berries

The concept of functional foods includes the following groups: Prebiotics, Probiotics and Synbiotics

What is the Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Probiotic Foods

Probiotic foods include living microorganisms that can benefit our health. These microorganisms help to strengthen the immune system. Moreover, they can survive the digestion and reach the colon in order to support the intestinal flora, which may have been altered due to several reasons.

Different types of cheese

Dairy products such as yogurt, milk and goat cheese have a high probiotic content.

Prebiotic Foods
They stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal flora. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics come from carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides. Our body does not digest them, so they remain in the digestive tract and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Sources of carbohydrates

Some sources of oligosaccharides are fruit, legumes and whole grains

Synbiotic Foods

Synbiotic foods are those that contain prebiotics and probiotics. Therefore, the prebiotic component enhances the beneficial effects of the probiotic compounds.

Flakes, oil, grains

Foods with Probiotics

Both “good” and “bad” bacteria coexist in the intestinal tract. When this balance changes, we experience what is known as dysbiosis. To fix this, we can eat probiotic foods in order to restore the previous balance. In fact, the benefits of said foods are quite outstanding, for instance: better energy production, better skin, easier digestion, less colds, less symptoms of leaky gut syndrome and even weight loss.

Dish of natto

Natto is a probiotic product from the fermentation of soy.

Best Foods with Probiotics

Here you have a list with the best sources of probiotics. Actually, it is advisable to include at least some of them in your diet. Evidently, these products have been fermented, meaning that a bacteria colony has produced an alteration in their molecular structure. Consequently, they are a completely different product (milk -> cheese/yogurt) with better properties, easier to digest, more nutrients…

  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Pickles
  • Natto
  • Tempeh
  • Sauerkraut or chucrut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso

How to Improve the Intestinal Flora?

We need to pay attention to preserving the integrity of the beneficial elements for our health in order to avoid serious diseases. There are some actions that can alter the balance of our intestinal flora. For instance:

  • Environmental chemicals or toxins
  • Excess of Sugar in the diet
  • Medicines (antibiotics)
  • Ultra-processed foods
  • Constant stress

A dish of Kefir

Kefir is one of the most popular probiotics foods with important benefits

Probiotic Supplements

In order to improve and balance the intestinal flora, using probiotic supplements becomes extremely relevant. As we can see, we are exposed to endless contaminants and toxins. Moreover, even the food treatments from the moment we pick them up, transport, store and sell them can alter their properties. In fact, most of them stop being useful at all.

Those who can benefit from the most are those who suffer some kind of immune disease, such as ulcerous colitis or Crohn.

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HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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