Probiotics, Here to Save the Day

Probiotics Post

Last time we left off, we had been viciously robbed of our gut microbiomes (for a refresher, read this), and left defenseless.

But as promised, I’m here to help.

We learned that, though often necessary, antibiotics are ruthless killers, murdering all the bacteria in our bodies, both bad and good. Without our good guys, we can develop digestive, and other,  problems. So, we need to re-introduce the good guys back into the digestive tract. But how?

Probiotics.

The definition of probiotics proposed to the World Health Organization is “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” In short, they are the “good bacteria” that live in our bodies, and particularly in our guts. It’s fairly well recognized that the state of your guts (microbiome) is linked the to overall state of your health. When antibiotics kill your little guys, probiotics help to build up the population again.

The study of probiotics is still an active area of research, so it’s not 100% agreed upon exactly how they work. The basics are that they help to jumpstart the growth process of all the different colonies of bacteria we have, as well as potentially adding more. This helps to make your microbiome (the assortment of not-you things that make you up) more diverse and better able to ward off sickness. They occur both naturally and in supplement form, like vitamins. Fermented foods often naturally contain probiotics, and this includes certain yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, most soy products, and sourdough bread.

If you walk down the aisles of your grocery store you’ll see plenty of products claiming probiotic benefits, particularly yogurts, but be warned; not all probiotics are created equal. Heat generally kills the bacteria, so be wary of food that requires heating but still tells you it’ll send an army of probiotics into your gut. Remember, the definition is LIVE microorganisms.

And technically speaking, bacteria are required to make general yogurt. However, if the bacteria can’t survive the stomach acid, it’s not considered a probiotic product—the little guys have to be able to make it to the colon and form a colony, not get disintegrated along the way, for you to see any benefits. So make sure that you’re buying yogurt that is specially formulated, if you want to go the probiotics route.

To find an effective probiotic, you’ll need to make sure you can find a few things on the label; the contents (the species of bacteria, also known as the “strain”) and the number of colony forming units (abbreviated CFU, essentially the number of bacteria). Typically this number is in the billions. Seems like a lot, I know, but considering the fact that you have literally trillions of bacteria hanging out in your body right now, it’s not that much.

There are two major genera of probiotic bacteria: Lactobacillus (Lacto-ba-sill-us) and Bifidobacterium. Here’s a fun side note I just learned–the plural of “genus” is “genera.” For the uninitiated, the genus is a category of related species. So take small-ish cats, like the wildcat and the house cat, for example. Similar animals (genus: Felis), different actual species (F. silvestris, F. catus).

Back to the topic at hand.

So when you’re looking at the list of probiotic goodies in your yogurt, make sure there are a few L. something-or-others as well as a few B. something-or-others. Most probiotics have similar functions, and are beneficial for a wide range of health problems. Mostly they aid digestion, fight allergies (like the kind in your nose, hooray for me!), and help strengthen our immune systems by fighting off the bad guys.

After taking my intense course of antibiotics, I started buying this particular brand of kefir, and noticed that my stomach pain was totally alleviated. Yay! I kept drinking it, even after the Bacteria Massacre of 2015 was over, and still noticed that I felt generally better in the stomach department. (Placebo effect? Who knows, but either way it worked).

I know it sounds pretentious, but honestly I found it at my regular grocery store in the yogurt section. One quick note about kefir if you’ve never had it before; it’s got a consistency similar to a melted milkshake, but it’s a bit…sparkly? Not like physically, but like in the sense that champagne is sparkly. Fizzy, I guess, would have been a better choice ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In summary, if you have to take antibiotics, or I suppose even if you don’t, probiotics seem like a pretty good way to keep your insides healthy.

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