The ABCs of Probiotics
Digestive Health Beyond Yogurt
Nowadays many of us are familiar with acidophilus. Added to some food products such as milk and yogurt, this type of bacteria that inhabits the intestines has been shown to promote healthy digestion and aid in vitamin and nutrient absorption. But in reality, acidophilus is just one of many friendly bacteria – or probiotics – shown to have a beneficial effect on our overall health. Your digestive tract is home to 500 different species of bacteria, amounting to trillions of microorganisms. Two of the most common species of microorganisms are Bifidobacteria – the beneficial bacteria most prevalent in the large intestine – and Lactobacilli, which are the most prevalent bacteria in the small intestine.
Good Bacteria, Bad Bacteria
While the majority of intestinal organisms are either beneficial or neutral, some are harmful and can have a negative effect on your health. Although an ideal balance is approximately 80% beneficial bacteria to 20% harmful bacteria, certain things such as illness, antibiotic drug use and stress can upset that balance and lead to an overgrowth in harmful bacteria.
Because a large part of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract (which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines), maintaining a healthy balance of gut microflora is essential. This explains why scientists have recently begun to pay particular attention to probiotics. Generally defined as live microorganisms that provide some form of benefit to the host organism by promoting a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria, probiotics work in the digestive tract to help keep the harmful bacteria in check and perform important functions such as vitamin and enzyme production.
Probiotics: Supplements, Foods, Products, Support
Available in foods such as yogurt and kefir (a fermented milk drink) as well as in dietary probiotic supplements, probiotics may play a key role in achieving and maintaining optimum health. While recent advances in microbiology have prompted scientists to conduct further research into the benefits of probiotics, cultures throughout history have documented the use of fermented foods and cultured dairy products for therapeutic purposes. While research continues to uncover the full potential of probiotics, their growing popularity among health-conscious consumers is undeniable. As society continues to seek out a more natural path to long-term wellness, these beneficial bacteria may soon become a household name.
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