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What are they?

Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms, known as microflora, in the intestines. These microflora have an important role as they work to enhance the immune system, prevent growth of harmful bacteria, ferment unused energy substrates, regulate the development of the gut, produce vitamins for the body, and produce hormones to direct the body to store fats. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 different types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system.

Where do they come from?

The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, is the best known. It is easily found in yogurt and acidophilus milk with live cultures. Buttermilk is also rich in probiotics as it is cultured with lactic acid bacteria. Yeast is another probiotic substance. Miso, often used in Japanese soups, is a fermented soybean paste that contains more than 160 bacteria strains acidophilus milk. Sauerkraut contains the probiotics but it is important to choose unpasteurized sauerkraut because pasteurization (used to treat most supermarket sauerkraut) kills the helpful bacteria. In addition to these probiotic-rich foods, cheese may act as a carrier for probiotics, which may also work to boost the immune system.

Why do people need to eat foods with probiotics?

The main goal of probiotics is to have a healthy balance in the intestines. Many people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your body along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to intestinal problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria to prevent these digestive problems that may arise. Further, probiotics are also being studied for benefits in colon cancer, skin infections, and irritable bowel syndrome.

In addition to being found in foods, probiotics are available as supplements in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form. If you’re interested in more information or recommendations on probiotics, feel free to ask the staff at the Wellpath Center on your next visit!

Contributed by Dr. Sydney Scheft, 2014 Wellpath Chiropractic Intern