The health industry is promoting a new dietary ingredient known as “probiotics” (“pro-life”). Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help improve digestive health, boost immune function, enhance nutrient absorption, reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance, and reduce the risk of certain cancers, i.e. colon cancer. Probiotics work by fueling “good bacterial” growth in the small intestine and decreasing the amount of “bad or disease causing bacterial” growth. This process helps restore a balance in our intestinal environment providing a healthy gut.
Why are probiotics so important for our health?
Our diet has a big impact on the number of healthy bacteria in our gut. Everyday factors such as poor eating habits, increased use of antibiotic medications, lack of exercise, inadequate rest, and chronic emotional stress can depress the number of healthy bacteria in our intestinal track.
Good bacteria/microorganisms play an important role in our body. First, bacteria help maintain a healthy digestive system and aid in nutrient absorption. These microorganisms help reduce the number of harmful bacteria in our system. Second, good bacteria support immunity by stimulating the body’s defenses and by maintaining a protective barrier in our intestinal lining.
The science supporting probiotics shows that the addition of certain bacteria in our diets can have beneficial effects in our body. There are more than 400 types of bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract, most are not harmful. In fact, under normal circumstance, the “good bacteria” outnumber the “bad bacteria”. Any shift in the balance of these bacteria, can affect how well our gastrointestinal tract functions. Current research indicates a daily dosage of one billion probiotic microorganisms or one billion colonizing forming units (CFU) are necessary for a beneficial health effect.
What probiotics are added to food products?
Most commonly used probiotics in yogurt food sources are * lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus), *streptocococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus), lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacteria (Bifidus), Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and lactobacillus rhamnosus.
* U.S. food law requires L. bulgaricus and S.thermophilus in active yogurt cultures.
Where do we find probiotic food products?
Fermented foods containing live microorganisms were consumed by humans for centuries in the form of yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut. In today’s market, you can find a variety of probiotic foods which includes yogurt, yogurt smoothies, frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, and other culture-containing dairy beverages.
Dairy products offer the best median to deliver probiotics by providing a buffer to stomach acids and bile for protection, and delivering probiotic organisms for “good bacterial growth” and a healthy gut.
Common Probiotic foods:
· Dannon Activia Yogurt; Dannon Active yogurt
· Stonyfield farm organic smoothie; Stonyfield farm yogurt; Stonyfield farm O-Soy yogurt
· Life way Organic low fat Kefir, etc.
The FDA classified L.Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium species as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) because these microorganisms naturally live in our intestinal track. However, neither the FDA nor any other government agency tests the quality of a probiotic supplement. Quality issues for probiotic supplements are:
Probiotic supplements are available as capsules, liquids, tablets and freeze dried powders.
It is important to note probiotic foods and supplements are sensitive to heat, humidity, low pH levels or acidic conditions, oxygen exposure (prefer anaerobic conditions). To guarantee probiotic survival, refrigeration is necessary to prolong product shelf life. Some manufacturers package their probiotic supplements in sealed glass containers to ensure viability. Powdered supplements can diminish probiotic potency due to variations in measuring dosage, oxygen and humidity exposure. Liquid supplements have a limited shelf life and only last for a few weeks. Capsules are the preferred method of consuming probiotics due to the convenience and stable shelf life in comparison to liquid, powder or tablet supplements.