For most people, the mention of probiotics evokes images of yogurt. But do not dismiss microbes as a marketing gimmick or a food fad. The latest research on probiotics suggests that live cultures of these friendly bacteria can help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases.
"There is a growing interest in interventions with probiotics," the authors wrote in one of the most recent studies, a meta-analysis of previous research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those researchers found that probiotics were particularly useful against a common gastrointestinal problem: diarrhea associated with antibiotics (AAD).
However, studies show that probiotics can help much more, since they prevent infection and strengthen the immune systems, in addition to helping improve women's health and even fight obesity.
The word "probiotic" is a compound of two Greek words: "pro", which means promotion and "biotic", which means life. Your own definition is something that affirms life and health. That's true even by modern standards: the World Health Organization defines a probiotic as any living microorganism that has a health benefit when ingested.
Similarly, the USDA defines a probiotic as "any viable microbial dietary supplement that beneficially affects the host."
That does not mean that all probiotics or foods that contain probiotics are created equal. What should you keep in mind? "There is a lot of" noise "in this space as more and more" food products "come out with probiotics," says Dr. Shekhar K. Challa, gastroenterologist and author of Probiotics For Dummies to The Huffington Post. "Unfortunately, it is impossible to quantify the CFUs of probiotics in most food products."
UFC (or colony forming units) is a microbiological term that describes the density of viable bacteria in a product. In other words, the CFU tells you how rich in probiotics a food is actually and how much will be available to your body.
Dr. Challa recommends the following foods rich in unpasteurized probiotics
So, how can probiotics help you?
Each of us has more than 1,000 different types of bacteria that live in our digestive tract, which helps us break down food and absorb nutrients. But when we take antibiotics, a medication designed to kill destructive and disease-causing bacteria, the drugs can also kill the healthy intestinal flora that helps us digest.
According to JAMA's recent study on probiotics and diarrhea associated with antibiotics, about 30 percent of patients who take antibiotics report that they have diarrhea or some other type of gastrointestinal upset.
As a result, doctors commonly prescribe taking probiotics to "repopulate" the digestive tract with healthy bacteria. The study found that it was a viable solution for many.
But probiotics can also help with other types of digestive problems. Research has shown that probiotics can be useful for people with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, a difficult condition to treat that can have a variety of bowel symptoms, such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
In one study, female patients with IBS experienced some relief of symptoms such as abdominal pain and irregularity when they were given a supplement of the bacterial strain, Bifidobacterium infantis.
Even for those without an urgent problem, probiotics It can help with general digestive management. Challa argues in her book, Probiotics For Dummies, that good bacteria help "displace" bad bacteria. That's because the intestine is coated with adhesion sites where the bacteria get hooked. If the sites are populated with good microbes for you, there is no place for harmful bacteria to get hooked.
Probiotics are a good complement to antibiotics among people who suffer from urinary tract infections, according to the research.
In addition, there is emerging evidence that regular probiotics can help prevent bad bacteria from invading the urinary tract by maintaining a population of healthy bacteria at sites of tract adhesion.
Urinary tract infections are extremely common, especially in women. Most infections disappear with antibiotics, but about 30 to 40 percent may return, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center literature.
Research on allergies is still preliminary, but at least one large, high-quality study found a relationship between women taking probiotics during pregnancy and a 30 percent reduction in the case of childhood eczema (an early sign of allergies) in their babies.
The researchers selected women who had a history of seasonal allergies or whose partners had a history of allergies. Babies who received probiotics in vitro also had tissue inflammation levels 50 percent higher, which is believed to trigger the immune system and reduce the incidence of allergies.
The health of women
Like the digestive tract, the vagina is based on a precarious balance of good and bad bacteria. When that balance is off, it can result in one of two very common but very uncomfortable infections: bacterial vaginosis and fungal infections. In fact, bacterial vaginosis can cause a yeast infection.
Some small studies have found that L. acidophilius can help prevent an infection, control an already active one or support antibiotics as a treatment, although it is worth noting that probiotics were taken as vaginal suppositories, instead of orally in food .
Probiotics can also play a special role in maternal health, since pregnant women are particularly susceptible to vaginal infections. And bacterial vaginosis has been indicated as a factor that contributes to premature birth, making probiotics a potential benefit for fetal health.
Surprisingly, one of the main functions of healthy bacteria is to stimulate the immune response.
By eating foods rich in probiotics and maintaining a good intestinal flora, a person can also help maintain a healthy immune system. And that has effects in the real world: for example, in a small study of students, those who received a fermented milk drink (instead of milk) showed a higher production of lymphocytes, a marker of immune response.
In 2006, researchers at Stanford University discovered that obese people had different intestinal bacteria than people of normal weight, a first indication that intestinal flora plays a role in overall weight.
Some preliminary research shows that probiotics can help obese people who have undergone weight loss surgery to maintain weight loss. And in a study of postpartum women trying to lose abdominal fat, the addition of lactobacilli and bifidobacterial capsules helped reduce waist circumference.
It is not yet clear how probiotics play a role in weight loss, and there is some controversy about the importance of weight loss associated with probiotics. But while the probiotics The source is low in calories and healthy, in itself, is a safe method to try.
Do you incorporate probiotics in your diet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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