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Probiotics are made up of live bacteria and/or yeasts, naturally present in our bodies. When we have an infection, our system is tipped towards more 'bad' bacteria. Good bacteria help us eliminate them, restoring balance. In addition to being naturally produced by our body, we can increase the presence of good bacteria in our body by taking supplements.

That's the big picture, but what are probiotics? And what are the best probiotics? We will find out in this article!

Probiotics: what they are

As we said in the introduction, probiotics are a combination of bacteria and/or yeasts that live naturally in our bodies and help keep them healthy and functioning, helping us feel better. In addition to our bodies, probiotics can be found in supplements and in some foods such as yogurt. All are part of a larger picture, called the microbiome.

The microbiome is that set of organisms that work to keep our bodies healthy. Like probiotics, the entire microbiome is composed of a combination of bacteria (for example lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) and yeasts (saccharomyces boulardii), but also mushrooms (of which yeasts are a subcategory), protozoan viruses. 

For one of these microorganisms to be called a probiotic, it must have several characteristics. These include the ability to:

  • Being isolated;
  • Surviving in our intestines after ingestion (being eaten);
  • Have a beneficial effect on the organism;
  • Be consumed safely.

Insight: Where do beneficial probiotics (microbes) live in my body?

While the place most commonly linked to beneficial microbes is the gut (especially the large intestine), there are several places in and on your body that are home to good microbes. These places are in contact with the "outside world" and include:

  • Intestine;
  • Mouth;
  • Vagina;
  • urinary tract;
  • Skin;
  • Lungs;

Natural probiotics: how do they work?

The main job of probiotics, or good bacteria, is to maintain a healthy balance in our bodies by counterbalancing the bad bacteria. The effect? Preserve the immune system and fight inflammation.

What are probiotics?
Believe: Alicia Harper

Some types of good bacteria can also:

  • Help our body digest food;
  • Prevent bad bacteria from getting out of control and making us sick;
  • Create vitamins;
  • Help support the cells lining our gut to prevent bad bacteria we may have consumed (through food or drink) from entering the bloodstream;
  • Break down and absorb drugs.

This balancing act happens naturally in our bodies all the time. You don't need to take probiotic supplements to make this happen. Good bacteria are just a natural part of our bodies. Keep one diet well balanced and rich in fiber every day helps keep the number of good bacteria at adequate levels.

Best probiotics and prebiotics: what are the benefits

In this paragraph, we will go deeper into the topic to have even more clarity on what probiotics are, but above all we will help you understand which ones are the best, and how to use them to improve our physical conditions.

What are the most common types of probiotic bacteria?

Even though there are many types of bacteria that can be considered probiotics, there are two specific types of bacteria that are common probiotics that we can find in stores. These include:

  • Lactobacillus.
  • Bifidobacterium.

Probiotics are also made from good yeast. The most common type of yeast found in probiotics is Saccharomyces boulardii.

Can I use probiotics to help medical conditions?

There are currently several studies on the effects of probiotics, but also on conditions that can increase the amount of probiotics in our body.

Between these:

  • Diarrhea;
  • Constipation;
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD);
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS);
  • yeast infections;
  • Urinary tract infections;
  • Gum disease;
  • Lactose intolerance;
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis);
  • Upper respiratory infections (ear infections, common cold, sinusitis);
  • Sepsis (particularly in newborns);

Can I take or eat anything to increase the good probiotics in my body?

We can increase the amount of good probiotics in our bodies through foods, drinks and supplements. You may already have included some foods in your daily diet that contain probiotics. Fermented foods in particular (yogurt and pickles, for example) are home to a host of good bacteria that benefit your body. There are also fermented drinks such as kombucha (fermented tea) or kefir (fermented milk drink) which introduce additional probiotics into our diet.

In addition to food, we can add the best probiotics to your diet through food supplements. In this case, however, we advise you to always consult with your trusted doctor.

Can I get probiotics from food?

We can absolutely boost the beneficial microbes in your body from the foods we eat. Some foods contain probiotics (good bacteria) and can benefit the health of the microbiome.

These foods can be introduced into our diet at any time of the day. You might even eat them regularly and not realize they contain probiotics. You will need to check the food label to see if it bears claims such as "live and active cultures". 

Let's see some suggestions for foods rich in probiotics that you can add to your diet and which meals to include them in. 

For breakfast, try:

  • Yogurt.
  • Buttermilk.
  • Sourdough bread.

For lunch, give it a try:

  • Ricotta.
  • Kombucha.
  • Tempeh.

For a snack, give it a try:

  • Fermented pickles.

For dinner:

  • Fermented sauerkraut.
  • Kimchi.
  • Miso soup.

Attention: it is always necessary to ensure that the meal is balanced. Even if eating many foods rich in probiotics has no harmful effects, it is still necessary and absolutely recommended to keep yourself in balance.

How can I integrate probiotics into my diet?

There are several ways to integrate probiotics into your diet, thanks to the fact that they come in different forms: 

  • foods;
  • Drinks;
  • capsules or pills;
  • powders;
  • liquids;

Probiotic supplements can be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that nourish the microorganisms of the intestine. Basically, prebiotics are the "food source" for good bacteria. They help feed the good bacteria and keep them healthy. Prebiotics include inulin, pectin and resistant starches.

How effective are probiotics?

Researchers are currently unsure how effective probiotic supplements are for treating conditions related to their deficiency. There is constant research on the subject. While many research studies have had positive results on the impact of probiotic supplements, more research is still needed.

Are there any indications for storing probiotics?

Many probiotic strains are very fragile and must be protected from heat, oxygen, light and humidity. Probiotics may start to break down or die if exposed to these elements. For this reason, probiotics may need to be refrigerated or stored in a particular location. Refrigeration of some probiotic strains ensures that they are still viable when you go to use them and will still provide the full benefit of the probiotic. Always read the labels of any probiotic product you purchase to make sure you store it properly and use it by the expiration date.

How safe are probiotics?

Because the microbes used as probiotics already exist naturally in our bodies, probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered safe. They can trigger allergic reactions, and they can also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (passing gas) and bloating for the first few days after you start taking them.

There are some people who need to use caution when using probiotic supplements. In fact, in some people, there is a risk of inflammation or infection. Here are the characteristics of the categories most at risk:

  • A weakened immune system (those undergoing chemotherapy for example);
  • A chronic disease;
  • Have recently had surgery;
  • Caution should also be used when giving probiotics to sick children.

For most healthy people, probiotics cause no harm. They are generally considered safe and are often tested to see if they can help with various medical conditions. There is a lot of research around the topic of probiotics. Scientists are trying to determine when and how they should be used, as well as how effective they are. Talk to your doctor before starting a probiotic supplement because there are some cases where you shouldn't take them. It's always best to talk about it before starting a new supplement.

Are there any risks associated with probiotics?

Probiotics are generally considered safe. However, there are some risks involved with supplements. These risks increase if you have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, and more generally, if you have any of the conditions listed above.

Unlikely but possible risks may include:

  • Develop an infection;
  • develop resistance to antibiotics;
  • Development of harmful byproducts from the probiotic supplement.

Can I give probiotics to my children?

Probiotics can be beneficial for both adults and children. If your child has an illness that requires antibiotic medication for treatment, taking a probiotic can help ease symptoms. Probiotics can also be used to help relieve constipation, acid reflux, diarrhea, gas and eczema in children.

Introducing probiotics into your child's diet through food is usually a safe way to give him probiotics. Foods like yogurt and cottage cheese are often part of a balanced diet and can add good bacteria without much risk.

There are commercially available probiotic supplements specifically designed for infants and children. However, it's important to talk to your pediatrician before giving any probiotic supplements or changing your child's diet to include probiotic-rich foods.

Can I take probiotics after taking antibiotics?

Antibiotic medications are often needed to fight off an infection. However, while antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria, they also knock out the good bacteria in our bodies. Some people develop conditions like diarrhea after taking an antibiotic. In other people, this can allow the really bad bacteria to take over and populate the gut. Some research has shown a connection between taking probiotics after an antibiotic and diarrhea relief. This doesn't work for everyone though.

Bottom Line: Should I Try Probiotics?

Now that we understand what probiotics are, it is always worth talking to your doctor before adding them to your diet. Most of them will suggest a try, to see how the organism reacts. It's important to keep in mind that not all probiotics behave the same and have the same effects. Each has its own individual benefits. Generally, however, they do not cause contraindications. An easy way to start can be the simple introduction of probiotic-rich foods into our diet, such as yogurt.

Believe: Alicia Harper