Probiotics are live, healthy bacteria in foods that we commonly consume. The bacteria pass into our digestive tract and promote health by helping digest our food, synthesizing vitamin K, and maintaining the immune system. Although research is still being done, some studies have also shown that probiotics may help regluate inflammation and decrease the incidence of colitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Healthy bacteria, or microflora, are frequently found in yogurt and fermented foods such as kefir, buttermilk and sauerkraut. The most common microbes used as probiotics include lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. However, some yeasts and bacilli are also used in probiotics. Since our intestines contain several different species of bacteria, many people believe supplementing that bacteria will help form new colonies of microflora that further benefits health. In contrast, prebiotics are not bacteria but are typically non-digestible carbohydrates such as soy beans, raw oats, or unrefined wheat which help stimulate the growth of bacteria in the gut that is also beneficial to health.
In addition to fermented dairy/food products, live probiotic cultures are also available in a tablet, capsule, or powder form. Be sure to check with your medical professional before purchasing a probiotic . Products vary in quality and purity, as with any supplement. Check with your physician or the manufacturer for research to support any health claims made by the company.
Source: Department of Public Affairs, Children’s Hospital, Boston
Author: Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County.