Probiotics: How to Help Maintain a Healthy Gut Flora

What is behind the term “probiotics”?

In the gut, there are a lot of “biotics” or better-said microorganisms that form the intestinal flora and are immensely important for our health. By supplying the smallest living microorganisms – the probiotics – which we take in with our food or in a dietary supplement, we can support and care for the intestinal flora.

  • Probiotic is a collective term for bacteria that help build and maintain healthy intestinal flora.
  • The name “probiotics” is made up as follows: “Pro” means “for” and “Bios” means “life”.
  • Probiotics can be “packaged” in foods or dietary supplements.
  • With this knowledge, the secret of probiotic foods and dietary supplements is easy to understand: They “import” living microorganisms, such as lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, into the intestine.
  • Typical representatives among the probiotics are bacteria with complicated-sounding names. They mostly belong to the lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria), the streptococci, and the bifidobacteria.
  • All these bacterial strains have the ability to form lactic acid in their metabolism. This allows you to create a healthy environment in the intestines in which “good” bacteria, which are desirable in the intestinal flora, feel comfortable and thrive.
  • Also, under certain conditions, probiotics can become temporarily sedentary in your colon. There they influence the health of their “host” through their own metabolism.

What the good bacteria can do

There is still no consensus on what taking or eating probiotics can do. Some positive effects are proven, others are assumptions that still need to be proven. The mechanisms behind the health-promoting aspects are also largely unclear.

  • Apparently, the probiotics have a relatively small effect through their direct settlement in the intestine – this assumption dates back to the early days of probiotic research and is now considered refuted.
  • What counts more is their metabolism, which apparently also changes the activity of the existing microflora – for example, their carbohydrate metabolism – as an American study found out in 2011.
  • Probiotics can help to strengthen the barrier function of the intestinal mucosa against unwanted substances and pathogens.
  • According to observations, the positive bacterial strains can support the immune system: they increase the formation of immunoglobulins and certain anti-inflammatory substances.
  • Probiotics are used for allergic and inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome). However, there is still no clarity within the scientific forums about the effectiveness.
  • A protective effect against colon cancer through the regular supply of probiotics is also assumed, but this has not yet been proven either.
  • Other findings even link probiotics to better brain performance and the development of a positive mood. However, significant results from meaningful studies are also missing here.
  • In order for the probiotics to be effective, they must be able to survive the passage through the gastrointestinal tract as unscathed as possible. They only influence other biomechanisms if they are still metabolically active.
  • To ensure this with yogurts, manufacturers use certain bacterial strains that are resistant to gastric acid and have very high bacterial counts. It is not uncommon for people to talk about trillions. In relation to the number of germs present in the intestine, however, this is still a “small number”.

Why professional advice is useful for probiotic preparations

A variety of probiotics are used in the production of probiotic food supplements. There are major differences between individual preparations: the number of different strains and the number of bacteria contained – often also indicated with CFU (colony forming units) – vary. Difficult to make the right choice here.

  • In order to feel an effect, manufacturers of probiotics recommend a permanent and long-term intake. It is best to seek professional advice when choosing the right probiotic. You have to take many individual factors into account.
  • Probiotics have a medical background after treatment with antibiotics. The intestinal flora is often damaged and reduced by the drug. Special probiotic preparations can stabilize the colonization of the digestive tract. Your doctor will advise you on this.
  • There have been isolated reports of negative effects from long-term use of high-dose probiotics – especially when people with previous illnesses took them. The American National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) provides information on this.
  • In order to avoid this, nutritional assistance is also recommended. However, foods with probiotics such as yogurts and special drinks are safe.

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