The last frontier for exploration may not be in space but in the universe of 100 trillion good and bad bacteria which live inside the human digestive system, called the “microbiome”. If you have ever eaten yogurt, you have added probiotics or “good” bacteria to your very own personal microbiome in your body. Research is rapidly increasing to find out how probiotics and the microbiome affect health.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are foods or supplements which contain live bacteria and other microorganisms promoting a healthy digestion and a healthy immune system. The word “pro-biotic” means “promoting life”.
How do Probiotics Help?
Humans naturally have hundreds of different types of bacteria in our bodies. In order to stay healthy, the balance between good and bad bacteria must be maintained. A healthy balance of bacteria helps the digestive system filter out toxins and waste products and regulates the speed food moves through. Probiotics have been found to be helpful in treating constipation or diarrhea and alleviating some symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Ulcerative Colitis.
Other research is looking into how probiotics boost the immune system, even to the possibility of fighting cancer. According to a March 2016 article in BloombergBusiness.com, research is increasingly looking at bacteria-based treatments which may stimulate the body’s ability to fight tumors.
What Foods Contain Probiotics?
Fermented foods contain live bacteria. Yogurt is the most commonly known type of probiotic. Yogurt is made of milk fermented or cultured by certain kinds of healthy bacteria. This action reduces the lactose in the milk and so provides a proven health benefit to those who are lactose intolerant.
Other fermented foods which contain live bacteria include a drinkable yogurt called Kefir, which you can find in local grocery stores, and raw sauerkraut which you can find at specialty shops or make at home.
Over the counter probiotic supplements are also available and one product is sold only by prescription. Because different bacteria work in different ways, be sure to ask your pharmacist or physician about which product to buy.
What Else Keeps the Microbiome Healthy?
Eating high-fiber foods- like beans, whole fruit, vegetables and whole grains- feeds the good bacteria and helps them thrive. Getting adequate sleep also increases good bacteria.
The overuse of antibiotics, eating junk food and the regular use of artificial sweeteners may shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria, so make your choices carefully and may the force of a healthy microbiome be with you!