We’ve probably all heard the term “probiotics” thrown around at some point. Between yogurt, chocolate, cheese, and various cabbage preparations (notably sauerkraut and kimchee), it seems that probiotics are all over the place. They are everywhere—but what do probiotics do? And, why do we want them?
The short answer is that probiotics are specific bacteria strains that are naturally found in all of our digestive systems. These bacterial strains help keep our digestion system in balance, providing a number of beneficial functions.
The Four Benefits of Digestive Probiotics
- Probiotics help us digest our food—and get the most out of it. Some of the food w take in has large carbohydrate molecules. These large carbohydrates are composed of many smaller carbohydrate molecules, which are nutritious, but our bodies don’t have the ability to break down the larger molecules into its smaller components. Fortunately, good bacteria in our guts do this for youus Good bacteria contain CAZymes, which are carbohydrate cleaving enzymes. This allows our digestive tracts to take in and use the smaller carbohydrate components, which give us energy.
- Probiotics help control bad bacteria. This may seem like a strange benefit, but probiotics take up space in our gut. It is a real and valid upside to beneficial bacteria. Consider that there are also bad bacteria that can reside in our digestive tracts. Bad bacteria make us sick, and cause symptoms like diarrhea. Bad bacteria have a harder time growing in our guts when good bacteria are there. The good bacteria take up space, helping to prevent bad bacteria from getting a foothold and overgrowing in your gut.
- Probiotics make valuable nutrients, including vitamins. Some gut bacteria can synthesize vitamins. The word vitamin comes from the words vital and amine (like and amino acid). While not all vitamins are amines, vitamins play important roles in many different body functions. Notably, there are many vitamins which we cannot create ourselves, such as vitamin B12, so we need to rely on food sources and the good bacteria in our body and to ensure that we get all of the vital vitamins we need.
- Probiotics help our immune system. Data from animal studies indicate the probiotics stimulate the immune system. The gut is where a large part of our immune system resides. This isn’t surprising considering many of the potential pathogens we come in contact with are ingested (via food and drink). Having an active, health immune ecosystem in our digestive tracts is a necessary part of complete immune health. Probiotics naturally aid in this process, keeping our digestion systems balanced.
Probiotics Support a Healthy Digestion System
We can help both our digestion and our health overall when we keep the good bacteria in the gut functioning. Probiotics can help ensure that our digestive tracts are colonized by the right bacteria. Additionally, prebiotics—foods and nutrition that help the probiotics in your gut function—can help us maintain this balance. By paying attention to our digestive system, not only will we help ensure that we feel our best, it may just keep us from getting sick.