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Probiotics – What They Do and Why You Need Them

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Our digestive system contains trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. The balance of these bacteria is critical to our overall health and well-being. Probiotics, which are primarily found in fermented foods, contribute to this balance by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

If you want to be more health conscious, you must first understand probiotics and their role in our health. Important topics such as what probiotics are, their benefits, when to take probiotic supplements, the difference between prebiotics vs probiotics as well as choosing probiotic products will be covered.

What Probiotics Are

Probiotics are live microorganisms, also known as “good” bacteria, that can provide health benefits when consumed. These microorganisms, which can be found in certain foods and supplements, are beneficial to the digestive system.

It’s important to note that not all probiotic strains are created equal, and the effects of probiotics can vary from person to person. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before adding probiotics to your diet, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotic foods offer a variety of health benefits. Some of the primary advantages include improved digestion, a stronger immune system, and potential improvements in mental and cardiovascular health.

Improved Digestive Health: Probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome, resulting in better digestion and nutrient absorption. They can help with symptoms of digestive disorders like diarrhoea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Enhanced Immune Function: The gut contains a significant portion of the body’s immune system. Probiotics increase the production of immune cells and strengthen the gut barrier, making it more resistant to pathogens. This can reduce the risk of infections, such as respiratory and urinary tract infections.

Management of Antibiotic-Associated Issues: Antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria, resulting in problems such as antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Probiotics can help to restore the gut microbiota and reduce the side effects of antibiotic treatment.

May Help Alleviate Allergies: According to some research, certain probiotic strains may help reduce the risk and severity of allergic conditions like eczema and allergic rhinitis. Probiotics may alter the immune response and increase tolerance to allergens.

Maintenance of Urogenital Health: Probiotics can help women maintain a healthy urogenital microbiota. They can help prevent and treat vaginal infections like yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Potential Mental Health Benefits: While research is still in its early stages, there is growing interest in the potential benefits of probiotics for mental health. The gut-brain axis, which allows for bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, suggests that probiotics may influence mood, stress response, and cognitive function. Probiotics may be useful as a complementary treatment for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders.

Possible Cardiovascular Benefits: Certain probiotic strains may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease. However, more research is required to establish a conclusive link.

Examples of Probiotic Foods

Probiotic foods are foods that contain live and active cultures of “good” bacteria that can offer potential health benefits when consumed. Examples include:

Yoghurt: This is probably the best-known probiotic food. Yoghurt is made by fermenting milk with specific bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. It contains probiotics, which can help with digestion and immunity.

Kefir: Similar to yoghurt, is a fermented dairy product that contains probiotic bacteria and yeasts. It has a tangy flavour and can be consumed on its own or mixed into smoothies, dressings, and other dishes.

Sauerkraut: This traditional German dish is prepared by fermenting cabbage with salt and lactic acid bacteria. It contains a high concentration of probiotics as well as other vitamins and minerals.

Kimchi: This spicy Korean dish is made by fermenting vegetables, typically cabbage, with a variety of seasonings and spices. It contains probiotics and can provide additional health benefits such as inflammation reduction and heart health improvement.

Miso: Miso is a Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus known as koji. It is commonly used in soups and other dishes and contains beneficial probiotics and other nutrients.

Tempeh: Another fermented soy product, tempeh is a staple of Indonesian cuisine. It is made by fermenting soybeans with the Rhizopus mould, which results in a firm and chewy texture. It is high in protein and other nutrients, as well as being a good source of probiotics.

Kombucha: This fermented tea has become popular in recent years due to its probiotic content and potential health benefits. Sweetened tea is fermented with bacteria and yeast to produce a tangy, slightly effervescent drink.

Choosing Between Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres found in certain foods that feed probiotic bacteria. They are essentially the fuel that allows probiotics to thrive and perform their functions in our gut. Prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, bananas, and asparagus.

The relationship between prebiotics and probiotics is commonly referred to as symbiotic. This means they collaborate in a mutually beneficial way. Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, whereas prebiotics provide the nutrients required for these bacteria to thrive.

Prebiotic foods can also improve the effectiveness of probiotics. As these fibres pass through the digestive system, they can improve conditions for probiotics to survive and thrive.

Furthermore, the combination of prebiotics and probiotics has been shown to provide greater health benefits than either alone. Prebiotics can help increase the number of probiotics in our gut, allowing them to provide more benefits.

It’s worth noting that not all prebiotic foods are compatible with all probiotics. Some prebiotic fibres may only feed specific strains of probiotics, so consuming a variety of prebiotic and probiotic foods is critical for promoting a diverse and healthy gut microbiome.

When to Take Probiotics

It is generally recommended to consume probiotic foods with meals, as the food can act as a protective barrier for the probiotic bacteria as they travel through the digestive system. This can improve their survival rate and effectiveness in reaching the gut.

If you’re taking probiotic supplements, make sure to read the label and take them exactly as directed. Some may recommend taking them on an empty stomach, while others may advise taking them with food. Always seek personalised advice from a healthcare professional before taking probiotic foods or supplements.

It’s also worth noting that probiotic foods are not a one-time fix; they should be consumed on a regular basis to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. It may take several weeks for the benefits of probiotics to become apparent, so it is critical to consume them consistently.

How to Choose the Right Probiotic Supplement for You

Choosing the right probiotic can be overwhelming, as there are many different strains and types available. Probiotics are not a one-size-fits-all solution and may work differently for each individual. Consider the following when choosing the right supplement for you:

Search for specific strains: Different probiotic strains provide different benefits, so choose a probiotic that addresses your specific health needs. Lactobacillus acidophilus, for example, is known to help with digestion, whereas Bifidobacterium lactis has been linked to improved immune function.

Check the CFU count: CFU (colony-forming units) refers to the number of live and active bacteria in a probiotic. To ensure efficacy, choose a probiotic with at least 1 billion CFUs.

Consider the probiotic form: Probiotics come in a variety of forms, including capsules, powders, and liquid drops. Choose the form that best suits your needs and fits into your daily routine.

Read the label: Look for a probiotic that includes live and active cultures, as well as specific strains and CFU counts. It is also critical to review the expiration date and storage instructions.

Choose a reputable brand: Given the popularity of probiotics, there are numerous brands and products on the market. Select a reputable brand that has undergone third-party testing for quality and effectiveness.

Consider your health needs: If you have any underlying health conditions, you should consult with a healthcare professional before taking probiotic supplements. They can recommend specific strains and dosages that will be most beneficial to your health.

Conclusion

Probiotics are live microorganisms, also known as “good” bacteria, that offer potential health benefits. They can improve digestion, boost the immune system, and potentially improve mental and heart health. Examples of probiotic foods include yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that serve as food for probiotics, and they work together in a symbiotic relationship. It’s generally recommended to take probiotics with meals, and when choosing a probiotic supplement, consider specific strains, CFU count, form, brand reputation, and your health needs. If you’re looking to take the next step, consider Good Life Nutrition House’s range of products when you buy probiotics in Hong Kong.

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