What-are-probiotics
27 Jan 2017
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

What are probiotics?

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For many, the term ‘bacteria’ conjures mental flashcards of germs, but in fact, the right kind of bacteria may just be beneficial for your health.

Probiotics are just that: ‘good’ bacteria – also known as ‘microbiome’ or ‘live microorganisms’.

This is a population that comprises groups including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. As well as bacteria, certain yeasts may be used as probiotics.

The word ‘probiotics’ itself is born from the marriage of two Latin words pro and biota, which together mean ‘for life’; it’s a fitting definition, considering your body contains such a huge volume of microorganisms – this number is thought to outnumber your body’s cell count by ten-fold.

What can probiotics do for you?

Probiotics play a vital role within your digestive system. As Jane Clarke, author of Australian Family Nutrition, explains, everyday life – think: stress, alcohol consumption and eating poorly – can throw out your gut’s balance of bad versus good bacteria.

“Purposely increasing the levels of bacteria in our body can seem strange, but we need the friendly kind, as they can keep the bad bacteria under control,” she writes. “With more good bacteria in there, our guts behave much better, with symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea far less likely.”

As well as helping to support digestive health, having a balance of the ‘good’ bacteria is also thought to be of benefit for women’s health, the skin and immune system, bowel health and oral health.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics help to restore and replenish the good, natural bacteria in the digestive system and reduce the growth of harmful organisms. They also aid the digestive system by aiding the breakdown your food’s tough fibres, enzymes and various proteins.

Prebiotics play a starring role in this process by acting as food for probiotics. These are a type of carbohydrate that isn’t easily digested, and therefore travels from the gut to the colon with greater ease. Here, much of probiotics’ good work is done – namely encouraging the growth of healthful bacteria.

Top food sources of probiotics

  • Yoghurt
  • Buttermilk
  • Fermented products, such as kimchi, tempeh and miso

Top food sources of prebiotics

  • Tomatoes
  • Bananas
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Chicory
  • Soy beans
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Onions
Quick wellbeing tip: A food’s prebiotic power fades over time, so aim to eat these sources when they’re fresh as possible.