The human body is a host to many forms of bacteria. They reside all over us, in our hair and eyes, and in our stomach. Most are beneficial, but some are not. When bacteria invade us that are not good, we have to fight the resulting infection. One takes antibiotics to fight infections, but the body is teeming with good microbes that aid in digestion. Without these, the body cannot efficiently break down food. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, and that can cause problems like diarrhea, and infections in the urinary tract. For that reason, having a supply of good bacteria in your stomach can be very beneficial indeed.
Sources of probiotics
It may surprise you to find that foods with probiotics are very common in your grocery.
- Yogurt that contains live bacteria
- Cheese that is not cooked
- Fermented milk, buttermilk, and cottage cheese
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi
The common thread here is fermentation. Miso is fermented soybeans, while cheese undergoes a fermentation process in its creation. Blue cheese and aged cheeses are all fermented. Don’t heat it! It will kill the good bacteria. Sauerkraut and kimchi are made in the fermentation process of cabbage.
Bacteria are the basis of fermentation, so in one form or another we have been using bacteria since the dawn of man. Scientists began to study the bacteria in the stomach, called gut flora, early in the twentieth century. They noticed that babies who were breast fed had a strain of bacteria called Biflidobacteria present in their stomachs, and that babies who had this bacteria were not as susceptible to diarrhea, a leading cause of infant mortality. They also discovered that rural populations in Europe ate a diet that included lactic acid bacteria, and that these populations seemed to be healthier and longer-lived.
It was at that time known that milk fermented with lactic-acid bacteria inhibits the growth of proteolytic bacteria because of the low pH produced by the fermentation of lactose. Metchnikoff had also observed that certain rural populations in Europe, for example in Bulgaria and the Russian steppes who lived largely on milk fermented by lactic-acid bacteria were exceptionally long lived. Based on these facts, Metchnikoff proposed that consumption of fermented milk would “seed” the intestine with harmless lactic-acid bacteria and decrease the intestinal pH and that this would suppress the growth of proteolytic bacteria. Metchnikoff himself introduced in his diet sour milk fermented with the bacteria he called “Bulgarian Bacillus” and found his health benefited. Friends in Paris soon followed his example and physicians began prescribing the sour milk diet for their patients.
— Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probiotics)
Studies on the effectiveness of probiotics remain inconclusive, however, probiotics have been used to combat outbreaks of disease in the past, and results have been positive. There have been many studies on the effectiveness of bacteria in the control of:
- Lactose Intolerance
- Blood Pressure
- Infections and Immune function
- Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
Many other conditions may be beneficially affected, but these studies are not conclusive, and this has led the European Food Safety Authority to reject the definition of probiotics as “live micro-organisms that confer a health benefit”.
Side Effects of Probiotics
As with any substance you take into your body, a physician should be consulted that is aware of your medical condition, and can assess the value of a course of action like taking probiotics. People who are severely ill should not begin a regimen of probiotic use.
Many people believe probiotics fit well in a healthy diet, and while there is no conclusive proof, adding a small amount in the form of natural foods may be something to consider. Check with your doctor just in case.
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