A probiotic diet filled with yogurt and sauerkraut probably doesn’t sound that appealing. While these and other foods are rich in beneficial bacteria, it would be nearly impossible to focus on eating them exclusively. That’s why it’s important that you try to supplement your diet with capsules, powders or drinks that you can easily find at your local grocery store. Here’s some information on what probiotics are, and some of the potential benefits you may be able to enjoy by making sure you get plenty of them.
Why Probiotics are Important
The term “probiotic” means “for life,” as opposed to antibiotics, which are powerful medications designed to kill bacteria. Unfortunately, as helpful as antibiotics are at combatting a wide range of diseases and conditions, they not only kill harmful bacteria but beneficial ones as well.
Following a probiotic diet helps to ensure there is a proper balance between good and bad bacteria, and also helps to replenish the supply of beneficial microbes that might have been killed due to antibiotics or for other reasons. Probiotics typically include different bacteria in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families, but can also include yeasts, such as Saccharomyces. Manufacturers include different amounts of bacteria in their probiotic products, ranging from 1 billion to as many as 250 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) in each dose.
What Does the Science Say About Following a Probiotic Diet?
Probiotics are designed to do their work in the “gut,” or the gastrointestinal tract. The large intestine in particular is home to trillions of bacteria that are waging constant battle for control. In a nutshell, when harmful bacteria outnumber beneficial bacteria, that can lead to a wide range of health problems. When the reverse is true, that helps the digestive system work properly – which can have wide-ranging effects throughout the body. These are just a few of the benefits the probiotics can provide.
While research shows that probiotics can benefit many areas of the body, a lot of questions still remain. What is not in doubt, however, is that probiotics can definitely help strengthen the digestive system – particularly in reducing the symptoms of diarrhea. Many different studies have shown that a probiotic diet can help people suffering from diarrhea, specifically those caused by infections or the use of antibiotics.1 One study showed that probiotics could reduce the chances of developing antibiotic-related diarrhea by as much as 42 percent.2
Research also indicates that certain strains of probiotic bacteria can help people suffering from a form of inflammatory bowel disease known as ulcerative colitis. 3 Studies also suggest a probiotic diet could help reduce much of the gas and bloating associated with irritable bowel syndrome.4 A review of five clinical trials showed that certain probiotic strains showed promise in helping increase the number of bowel movements in people suffering from constipation.5
Strengthening the Immune System
Scientists have established a definite association between the bacteria in the large intestine and the immune system – and probiotics have been shown to help the immune system better fight illnesses such as the flu.6 Unfortunately, many of this research has raised questions as to whether specific strains of probiotic bacteria can help the immune system combat other particular issues, such as respiratory infections and colds.
Some of the claims being made about the power of probiotics are questionable, and the link between probiotic use and weight loss is one of them. There simply hasn’t been a great deal of research devoted to this particular issue. What research has been performed, however, has provided promising results. One study, for example, involved a group of people given fermented milk containing the Lactobacillus gasseri bacterium for three months. Researchers found that the group given the fermented milk saw a reduction in body weight as well as abdominal fat when compared to another group given a drink containing no probiotic bacteria. 7
Probiotics can help other areas of the body besides the gut. For instance, there is preliminary evidence showing that certain probiotic bacteria could help reduce bad breath and gum disease.8 It’s very important to note, however, that there has been very little research done in this area – many more studies need to be conducted before we can know with any certainty whether probiotics can help improve oral health.
The Safety of a Probiotic Diet
While following a probiotic diet is typically safe, there are some instances where it may cause issues. For example, yogurt is one of the foods rich in beneficial bacteria, but could cause problems for people who are lactose intolerant. In addition, yogurt is often pasteurized, with kills both beneficial and harmful bacteria. Always look for non-pasteurized varieties if possible.
People taking antibiotics need to speak with a doctor before taking yogurt, because calcium can make it hard for the body to properly absorb certain types of antibiotic medications.
Whether you decide to follow a probiotic diet or you choose to get your beneficial bacteria through supplements, it’s important that you talk to your doctor first to stay on the safe side. Probiotic supplements can adversely affect people who are suffering from certain serious illnesses or have significant bowel problems. People with compromised immune systems should definitely speak with a doctor before starting any sort of probiotic regimen.
The bottom line is that it is safe for most people to follow a probiotic diet or take supplements. But more research is needed before we can definitively say whether certain strains of probiotic bacteria can help with specific conditions and illnesses.