What Are Probiotics?

We are unconsciously exposed to billions of bacteria every day and also ingest them with our daily food. There are many bacteria that can cause disease, but they can also be used specifically to perform health-promoting functions. These good bacteria are called probiotics. Nutritionist Anne Hustig answers the most important questions about probiotics and how they should be taken.

Probiotics are living, multiplying microorganisms that, taken in appropriate amounts, provide a health benefit to the organism.”

Probiotics have been known for a long time and are particularly found in fermented foods. Classic examples are lactic acid bacteria in yogurt and sauerkraut, which produce the typical sour taste through fermentation, and bifidobacteria.

Due to their positive and valued properties, probiotics are now sold as capsules or powders in a wide variety of compositions. With these preparations, an efficient dose and thus the hoped-for effectiveness can be increased.

Probiotics must meet the following criteria to be labeled as such:

  • They must be stable and alive until they are eaten
  • They must be a foodstuff, i.e. non-pathogenic (disease-causing) and non-toxic
  • They must be living microorganisms suitable for industrial production
  • They must survive the ecosystem of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bile acids)
  • They must have a health benefit for the host organism

What effects do probiotics have on health?

Probiotics can be used for a wide range of applications and can therefore be useful for most people and their circumstances.

You can potentially:

  • reduce the growth of pathogenic germs
  • strengthen the body’s barrier function
  • have a positive effect on the regulation of the body’s immune response.

If the body is exposed to long-term stress, poor sleep, alcohol, an unbalanced diet, or being overweight, this can unbalance the intestinal flora and thus weaken it. Since the microbiome is so important for maintaining physical functions and even mental health, the targeted use of probiotics can help rebalance these functions and support the proliferation of good bacteria.

When are probiotics used?

In medicine, probiotics are often used as a therapy to rebuild weakened intestinal flora. On the one hand, this occurs when your own body was previously attacked by bad bacteria and these had to be fought with antibiotics, for example. Unfortunately, this treatment also kills the good bacteria, the absence of which can then unbalance the intestinal flora. Since it can take months to restore healthy intestinal flora after antibiotic treatment, it is important to take a differentiated look at their use. If there is no way around antibiotics, it is advisable to work together with the doctor treating you on a plan for rebuilding the intestinal flora.

Likewise, probiotics are used to shorten the effects of viral or bacterial-induced diarrhea, to improve chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, and irritable bowel syndrome, and to prevent atopic dermatitis. The main goal in the treatment of people with irritable bowel syndrome is to enable them to live as symptom-free as possible through therapeutic procedures.

Have you already planned your next big trip? Regular intake of probiotics could show a preventive effect against travelers’ diarrhea – definitely worth a try!

And don’t forget: Probiotics can even form water-soluble vitamins.

When should you take probiotics?

In the morning after getting up, the digestive tract is empty and the production of gastric acid and bile acids is still low. Therefore, this time is theoretically well suited to take probiotics on an empty stomach. This makes the bacteria less likely to be inactivated by these secretions. Even if high-quality probiotics show high resistance to these influences. If you have a sensitive stomach, it is more advisable to take the little helpers about 30 minutes after a meal.

How many probiotics and for how long should you take them?

The appropriate dose and duration of administration depend on the respective bacterial strain and individual needs. Every person is different, and so are the intestinal flora, and the effect and use of probiotics. This is where the advantages and disadvantages of capsules and probiotic foods or powders come into play.

The number of bacterial strains in capsules can be precisely controlled, reproducing the effect of amounts used in clinical studies. Probiotic foods or powders, on the other hand, are more difficult to dose, but usually taste better and pose a lower risk of overdose. But even an overdose could usually just result in an uncomfortable feeling in the gut like bloating or constipation. This is easily remedied by reducing intake. If the food is not probiotic, the correct dose is usually given on the package or package insert.

When can you feel an effect?

However, probiotics are not miracle cures and therefore need up to a few months to achieve the desired effect, depending on personal needs. Since everyone is different, the effect will vary from person to person. Some people feel the effects immediately, while others may take longer. It can also happen that no obviously positive effects are felt at all. By the way, no changes can also be a sign that everything is fine.

However, the first noticeable effects could be smoother digestion or going to the toilet more easily or regularly. After a few weeks, a happy gut flora could already be affecting your mood and energy levels. Since a large part of our immune defense takes place in the intestines, positive effects on the immune system, metabolism, cardiovascular system, and even the skin can become apparent over time.

The little fellows are not entirely without and are even pretty cool. For optimal gut health, it is advisable to combine probiotics with the intake of prebiotics.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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