If you haven't already noticed probiotics are a hot topic in the health industry at the moment, and it's not just the latest health fad. As researchers continue to study probiotics, they uncover additional benefits to a healthy, balanced gut flora.
Probiotics are already widely considered to an important part of a daily health regime as they offer fantastic support to the health of your digestion, immunity, brain health and emotional well being.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are 'friendly' live bacteria and yeasts that line your digestive tract, it is an umbrella term given to all the different beneficial bacteria that exist within your digestive system. There are lots of strains or types of bacteria all with their own unique health benefits.
What do they do and why do you need them?
Basically probiotics offer vital support to the overall health of the body, they work symbiotically with the body to survive and support functions ranging from digestion to immunity. They also produce enzymes that help balance bacteria in the digestive system and help the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Unfortunately, many aspects of a modern life can deplete the amount of bacteria in your gut. Stress, pollution, processed foods, lack of nutrients and other factors can unbalance the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Supplementing with probiotics to continually replenish good bacteria can help you support optimal immune system function and maintain ongoing wellness.
How much do you need?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to this. Researchers haven’t determined what an ideal gut flora looks like because individuals vary so widely, and this is the case even with healthy individuals. Each person’s gut flora is different, from the number of strains in their gut to the total number of microorganisms.
However, best estimates are that the average healthy bowel is home to 100 trillion microorganisms, including more than 500 different species.
Where can you get them?
It's probably safe to say many associate probiotics with yogurt. As a fermented dairy product, yogurt is a natural source of friendly bacteria, but only if the label specifies that it contains “live, active cultures.”
There are alternative food source of probiotics, though - other unpasteurized fermented dairy products like kefir as well as unpasteurized fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and kombucha (a fermented drink) all contain probiotics. The fermentation process involved in making these foods is what allows friendly bacteria to thrive, making fermented foods the original source of probiotics.
However eating fermented foods for probiotic benefits has its limitations due to the simple fact that it's difficult to measure how many good bacteria it contains.
Probiotics are measured in CFUs, or colony-forming units. It’s an estimate of the number of viable (live) bacterial cells. The number of CFUs in a serving of fermented foods can vary by both brand and batch of product. And while some brands guarantee a certain number of CFUs in each package, food labels aren’t required to list the strains of bacteria, so you can’t be quite sure what you’re getting.
Furthermore many strains of bacteria have not yet been studied, making it hard to know if high numbers of CFUs in food are actually beneficial.
However if you opt for supplements, you have more control over which strains you’re getting since probiotic supplements will list the strains and CFUs of each strain on the package.
What’s the perfect number of CFUs to aim for?
It would be great if we had the answer to this but unfortunately its not clear cut. This is because individual microbiomes (each person's gut flora) vary so much. It’s always a good idea to see what your doctor recommends.
Regardless of whether you choose a supplement or food source for your probiotic intake, its clear to see that these friendly bacteria are vital to overall health.