What Are Probiotics And Why Do We Need Them?
Bacteria get a bad rap. It wasn’t all that long ago that bacteria were considered enemy number one, and we waged war against them indiscriminately with antibiotics.
Now we know better. The new frontier in health is what experts refer to as the microbiome. This is the vast community of microbes that are so important to our life and health that we can’t live without them. The bacteria present in our bodies may only total about 3 pounds in weight (most of that in the intestines), but bacterial cells outnumber our human cells ten to one.
Most of the time, intestinal bacteria actually work for us. Without these bacteria, we wouldn’t survive. They actually communicate with our human cells to influence a number of vital functions. Bacteria break down food in our intestines and create vitamins like K and some of the B vitamins. Bacteria are involved in the body’s immune response in a number of ways. For instance, they boost the activity of natural killer cells. Your gut bacteria also influence your metabolism, your mood, and more.
Over 1000 different bacterial strains that reside in the human gut have been identified, but any given individual will harbor only a fraction of those. We depend on the right strains of bacteria in the right amounts help keep us healthy.
Throughout history, people have obtained natural probiotics through their diet. Diverse cultures have enjoyed their own distinct versions of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and natto (a Japanese dish of fermented soybeans). But in today’s society, a number of factors have allowed unfriendly bacteria to flourish, crowding out the good guys. Those factors include processed foods, environmental toxins, fluoridated water, and overuse of antibiotics.
A large and growing body of research has identified specific strains of good bacteria. These probiotics help to rebalance your body’s microbiome and promote good health. Two of the most studied strains are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Among these are well over 100 subspecies. Researchers have identified a number of benefits from some of these subspecies, but there are so many different strains that more research is needed.
One good way to nourish your friendly bacteria is to eat fermented foods regularly. Probiotic supplements that are formulated with well-researched strains can also be helpful.