When foods containing probiotics, such as bio-live yogurts, are consumed on a regular basis (daily is best), they provide digestive support by increasing the numbers of good bacteria that live naturally in the intestines.
The body’s digestive system contains microorganisms collectively known as intestinal or gut flora, which help the body to digest food and keep the body healthy:
- Preventing the growth of harmful bacteria
- Aiding in breaking down foods into their nutrient forms
- Absorption of difficult-to-digest minerals that are important to our health
- Removing waste from the body
In order to maintain a healthy environment inside the intestines, it is important to keep the proper balance between the good and harmful bacteria.
Changes in the balance of the number and species of gut flora (a condition called disbiosis) may affect the host’s ability to digest food properly, resulting in diarrhoea, bloating, gas, abdominal cramps and constipation.
Changes in the balance of gut flora can be due to a number of environmental and internal factors, such as:
- A poor diet that is deficient in important nutrients
- Improperly prepared food containing harmful bacteria
- Medications, especially antibiotics, which can destroy good bacteria
- Travel, due to exposure to new and harmful bacteria in drinking water and food
- Age, as the body grows older, the number of good bacteria decreases
Other Health Benefits of Probiotics
In addition to their well-known ability to support digestive health, probiotics help your body’s health in other ways:
- Managing lactose intolerance
- Lowering levels of harmful cholesterol
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Alleviating the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
- Reducing inflammation due to allergic responses, especially those caused by food allergies
- Decreasing the risk of colon cancer
- Producing hormones that regulate fat storage
- Promoting the elimination of waste materials and toxic substances from the body
- Reducing the occurrence of stomach ulcers
- Preventing the diarrhoea that often affects patients who are taking antibiotics
- Warding off harmful diarrhoea-causing viruses such as rotavirus
- Providing immune system support
There is some evidence that bio-live or probiotic food products promote good digestive health and help alleviate certain digestive ailments1 . Properties like the relief of lactose intolerance symptoms and shortening of rotavirus diarrhoea are now widely accepted for selected probiotics. However, some proposed health effects still need additional investigation.
Definiton of Bio-Live Products
Bio-live products are those that contain live bacterial cultures or probiotics. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), probiotics are defined as: “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria (Bifid) are the most common types of microbes used as probiotics.
Most common form of bio-live food products are yoghurts and soya products. Look for product labels that state that they contain live, active cultures of bacterial strains such as L. casei, L. acidophilus, and bifidus regularis. They can also be taken in the form of freeze-dried capsule supplements. For more information on the strains of probiotics, see here.
Most people can consume foods and supplements containing probiotics safely. Side effects are mainly digestive such as bloating and intestinal gas. However, people with compromised immune systems should use probiotic products with care, and only under the advice and supervision of a health care professional.
1 World Health Organization: Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food