Probiotics: Are They Good or Bad for Your Health?
Like many fads and trends, probiotics come and go. You've probably wondered at some point if probiotics are worth the hype. Do you need them? Can they have a positive effect on your health?
We recommend you start by doing some research and always consulting with your doctor before making any changes in your diet. First, however, keep reading to learn more about probiotics and their potential benefits.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms intended to provide health benefits when consumed, generally by improving or restoring the gut flora. Probiotics are usually added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements and are often described as "good" or "friendly" bacteria.
Ilya Metchnikoff (1845-1916), a renowned Russian zoologist, bacteriologist, immunologist, and Nobel Prize winner, suggested that eating yoghurt could positively impact human health and longevity.
Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestines), especially after it's been disrupted by an illness or treatment. According to the NHS, there's some evidence that probiotics may help prevent diarrhoea when taking antibiotics and may help to ease some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
It is important to understand the difference between probiotics and prebiotics so as not to confuse them. While probiotics are microorganisms in foods or supplements, prebiotics are plant fibres that help healthy bacteria grow in your gut. This makes your digestive system work better. Both prebiotics and probiotics are good for your gut, but they help in different ways.
What are Probiotics For?
Probiotic microorganisms are already naturally present in our microbiota; they perform various functions, including food digestion, vitamin production, and immune system development. Probiotics also help reduce the pH levels in the digestive tract. Thus, by consuming them, we strengthen their presence in our body and therefore aid the body carry out its tasks.
While probiotics can help both men and women, they have some beneficial effects on women. For example, certain probiotics (especially lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) can help women treat and prevent urinary tract infections.
Other probiotics help vaginal health by fighting yeast infections and provide additional benefits, such as the normalization of stooling patterns and may even help with weight loss. Taking probiotics may also help manage your food cravings and your appetite in general.
Probiotics can be found in many foods, including:
- Olives and pickles
- Sauerkraut and fermented vegetables
- Raw cheese: unpasteurized cheese.
- Kombucha: fermented tea
- Kefir: Similar to yoghurt
- Kimchi: spicy fermented cabbage typical of Korean cuisine.
- Miso: soybean seed paste, traditionally consumed in Japan.
- Tempeh: Fermented soybeans very popular in Indonesia. It is often used as a substitute for meat.
When to Take Probiotics?
Probiotics can be included in our diet by regularly ingesting any of the foods mentioned or taking probiotic pills. Which method you decide is up to you, and the availability of fermented foods. Ensure you consult with your doctor or nutritionist to determine what works best for you and your lifestyle.
In any case, the key to a healthy lifestyle is a combination of healthy food and regular exercise. Don't forget to keep active; 30mins a day can change your life.
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