At The Health Insider we often refer to the human body as a well-oiled machine or a collection of various organ systems. However, one that you may not have heard of as commonly is a ‘diverse ecosystem’. That’s right!
Containing trillions of microorganisms, our bodies are home to ten times as many bacterial cells than human cells. This may seem worrying at first, almost as if our bodies have been invaded. However, the majority of these bacterial cells are good for us.
Together, these bacterial cells make up the microbiome. The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microorganisms in our bodies. The majority of microorganisms reside in the gut where they influence digestion, metabolism, and immune function.
Apart from its role in the gut, recent research has shed light on the gut-brain axis; a communication system linking the gut to the brain. This can have numerous implications regarding the impact of the microbiome on mental health and cognitive function.
Characteristics of a Probiotic
Arguably, the most important class of microorganisms in our microbiome is probiotics, commonly referred to as ‘good bacteria’. As the name suggests, probiotics are generally beneficial for our body.
A few examples include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which are mainly found in the gastrointestinal tract, mouth, and vagina. Both probiotics have multiple strains, allowing each to have a varying range of functions.
For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) has various immune regulation functions including preventing respiratory tract infections and preventing allergies.
Another probiotic, Lactobacillus acidophilus, is well known for its role in the breakdown of carbohydrates and lactose (milk sugar) by producing the enzyme lactase.
Probiotic function is not just limited to immune system regulation and digestion. A few other common functions include:
- Vitamin Production
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have shown to play a role in synthesizing vitamins K and B. These are essential vitamins in blood clotting and red blood cell formation.
- Breakdown and Absorption of Medication
Probiotics play a role in drug metabolism. They can interact with various liver enzymes responsible for drug metabolism. Overall, this interaction has shown to improve the effectiveness of liver enzymes and reduce side effects of certain antibiotics as well.
- Prevention of Various Health Conditions
Probiotics are also promising in the field of disease prevention. Check out the table below to learn about the various health conditions probiotics can help prevent.
How to Increase Probiotics in Your Body
Evidently, probiotics have various benefits. However, not all these advantages will occur in every body. This is because probiotic strains vary in their amount from one body to the other.
This variation can be attributed to a multitude of reasons. For example, early exposure to fermented products as a kid, consumption of breast milk, and maternal transmission of microbiota during pregnancy are all responsible for the presence or lack thereof of various probiotics.
To increase the presence of specific probiotics in the body, consider increasing consumption of fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Probiotic supplements are also a great way to boost the microbiota.
While these supplements do not require a prescription, it is important to consult with your health care provider to learn what the correct dosage is for yourself.
Antibiotics and the Microbiota
Probiotic consumption has been positively linked with antibiotic treatment, as well. Antibiotics are often used to kill harmful bacteria. However, their consumption puts the microbiota at risk of disruption.
Probiotic consumption can aid in restoring the lost microbiota and restore the balance of good bacteria in the body.
Research about the timing to take probiotics when prescribed antibiotics is ongoing. Stay tuned to The Health Insider for more on this topic.
Risks of Probiotics
While probiotics can be beneficial in combination with antibiotics, recent research has shown that some probiotic strains contain antibiotic resistance genes. They can be passed on to pathogenic bacteria through a process called horizontal gene transfer.
Through this process, the pathogenic bacteria acquire resistance to consumed antibiotics. This is a crucial risk to consider given the rise of antibiotic resistance in today’s world.
A few other risks, while rare, include allergic reactions to specific strains and weakening of the immune system. These are relatively rare and contradict the general stance regarding probiotic use in strengthening the immune system as well as preventing allergies.
Who Should Avoid Taking Probiotics?
The risks associated with probiotics begs an important question. Who should avoid consuming probiotics?
Given the limitation on what is known about probiotics, consulting your health care provider before starting probiotic supplements is essential.
This is especially important for those who have weak immune systems, critical illnesses, or those who have recently undergone surgery.
These conditions leave individuals in a more compromised and weaker state. Probiotic consumption during this time could have harmful effects on immunocompromised bodies, so it is best to steer clear of them in those situations.
Probiotics silently influence various systems and events in the body. While more research needs to be done into the world of probiotics, what we know now gives The Health Insider team good reason to believe that these microorganisms are extremely beneficial in preventing various health issues from diarrhea to eczema.
With the rising interest in switching out medications for natural foods and treatments, probiotics show great promise as supplements which can be achieved from fermented foods.
Keep in kind that it is important to consume these supplements in moderation and in consultation with your healthcare provider.