What are the benefits of probiotics? Is weight loss one of them?
As probiotics continue to grow in popularity you have likely heard about them, read about them, and perhaps even tried them out. They flood the online stores and market shelves. Why are we probotic crazy, and how do we know we’re getting exactly what we need? Use the links below to skip ahead if you’re here to choose a probiotic. Continue reading to learn what probiotics are, and how they benefit you.
WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics (“pro” meaning supporting or in favor of and “biotic” meaning of or relating to life or living organisms) are living microscopic organisms, bacteria and yeasts, scientifically proven to have a variety of health benefits when ingested. The word probiotic can literally be taken to mean “for life”.
Probiotic supplements contain one or more groups of live bacteria and sometimes yeasts. These bacteria and yeasts live in the digestive system, most commonly found in the mouth, intestines and colon. They occur naturally in your body as well as in some of the foods you ingest such as sauerkraut, pickles, and live-cultured yogurt.
There are two divisions of bacteria most commonly used in probiotic supplements: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Lactobacillus (“lacto” meaning milk and “bacillus” meaning any rod-shaped bacterium) is a type of bacteria that consists of many different species, and is the most commonly used and recognized probiotic bacteria. They are found in the gut and mouth of humans and other mammals. Lactobacillus belongs to the lactic acid bacteria group, a large group of bacteria that turn milk sugar, lactose, into lactic acid. Lactic acid, in the right form, has been shown to have numerous positive health effects.
Through a controlled fermentation process, lactic acid bacteria, in combination with yeasts, turn milk into cultured foods such as cheese, yogurt, and kefir. This fermentation, known as lactic acid fermentation, or lacto-fermentation, is responsible for transforming cabbage into sauerkraut and kimchi as well.
Some species of Lactobacillus are even commonly used in the process of making wine and beer. You can thank these helpful bacteria for happy hour!
Bifidobacterium (“bifid” meaning forked into two or parts and “bacterium” being the singular form of bacteria) is a type of bacteria that consists of 32 species, and is considered the second most commonly used and recognized probiotic bacteria. They are found in the gut, vagina and mouth of humans and other mammals.
Like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium is a lactic-acid producing bacteria. Bifidobacterium differs from most Lactobacillus because it produces acetic acid, a short-chain fatty acid that prevents the growth of yeast and mold better than lactic acid. Bifidobacterium is often added to infant formula to mirror the natural healthy benefits of breast milk.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS?
So, why does any of this matter to you?
These beneficial bacteria are shown to improve digestion and overall gut health, positively impact your immune system, and assist in weight loss. Some uses of probiotics have a larger number of studies behind them and a greater amount of evidence to support their use. Let’s look at the proof and decipher what benefits you may get from probiotics.
A 2012 study gave its subjects one of two probiotic strains: either Bifidobacterium animalis (or Bb 12) in the form of a capsule or Lactobacillus paracasei (or L. casei 431®). In comparison to the placebo group, subjects taking both probitioc strains had an increased immune response.
A report published in 2002 states that inflammation and infection often go hand in hand with an imbalance in an individual’s gut bacteria: “Inflammation and infection are frequently accompanied by imbalance in the intestinal microflora. It also states: “Probiotic bacteria may counteract the inflammatory process by stabilising the gut microbial environment” The report concludes that when the appropriate strains are utilized in the correct balance, consuming probiotics can stimulate resistance to microbial pathogens, as well as strengthen the gut’s system of defense through the following:
Immune exclusion (or clearing out the bugs): The process of trapping and/or clearing out pathogens (organisms that can produce disease and make you sick) or antigens (parts of pathogens that not only warn your body of the attack, but can help the virus enter the cell).
Immune elimination (or quickly getting rid of the things that make your immune system react): The rapid removal of antigens when bound to antibodies (proteins within your body which act to identify and assist in eliminating antigens or other foreign objects like bacteria and viruses).
Immune regulation: The control of the body’s immune response.
The report specifies that different bacteria strains serve certain functions better than others, and will have varied effects in a healthy mucous membrane environment versus an inflamed one. This would indicate that researching the probiotic blend appropriate for your needs is important.
Ulcerative Colitis: A 2010 review of five controlled studies, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, found that certain strains of B. lactis and L. casei improved stool consistency and frequency of bowel movements in people with constipation.
A study published in “Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition” added a strain of Bifidobacterium, called Bifidobacterium animalis or Bb 12, to infant formula and compared the effects on infants who consumed this probiotic formula to those drinking regular formula. The study showed reduced cases of acute infectious diarrhea in infants consuming the Bifidobacterium probiotic formula.
All you have to do is buy the probiotic with the most bacteria in it, right? More is better! Right…?
Wrong. I know, I know, the labels are convincing.
This is where we remind you, as we always will, that probiotics (and any supplement, food, gadget, or exercise) are not magic. They are a tool, and like any tool they must be used properly to get the best results. If used properly and in moderation, probiotics can be valuable in building a healthy you.
As we learned from the studies, the strains you consume and the combinations you consume them in will have varying effects. Different strains serve individual purposes and “target” different areas of your system. Depending on your reason for taking probiotics, you may need to focus on a single strain, or a carefully chosen combination of two more strains.
What are you using probiotics for?
This is a preview. Click here now to subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll let you know when the full content is available. Check back soon for a complete rundown of Probiotics. We’ll explain exactly what they are and the when, why and how to use them.