Probiotics and the digestive tract

You’ve probably heard the buzz about the
“good” bacteria that can promote healthy digestion and immune function. But if
you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around the idea that there’s a
kind of bacteria we want in our lives, it may be time for a primer on
probiotics.

Just what are probiotics? How do they work?
And are they really as beneficial as they seem?

What they are

The United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered
in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Such prestigious
scientific journals as the European Journal of Nutrition, Paediatric Research
and the Journal of Food Science have published research on probiotics. And at
least one famous actress promotes the benefits of probiotics in a series of
television commercials for a brand of yogurt that incorporates probiotics into
one of its products.

How they work

Probiotics are often called “friendly
bacteria.” They live in our digestive tract and promote healthy digestion and
absorption of nutrients, research has shown. They also are beneficial  in supporting a strong immune system.

Digestive health is the core of overall
health. If our digestive system is not functioning properly, we may have
problems breaking down nutrients that we consume into forms that our body can
use for energy. A healthy, efficient digestive system helps us maximize the
benefits of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that defend us against
nutritional deficiencies. And, with up to 80 percent of the immune cells in our
bodies concentrated in the digestive tract, digestive health is strongly linked
to immune health.

Probiotics can be beneficial for anyone who
wants to maintain good digestive health and support immune function.

How we get them

Friendly bacteria should naturally occur in
our bodies. Sometimes, however, poor eating habits, antibiotics or unfriendly
microorganisms like disease-causing bacteria or yeast can upset the balance of
good bacteria in our bodies. When this happens, you may experience diarrhoea,
constipation, gas and bloating. Taking probiotics can help replace friendly
bacteria.

Several yogurt brands have introduced
products that incorporate probiotics into their formula. But if you’re not a
yogurt fan, have lactose intolerance, travel regularly, or just want to get as
pure and effective a form of probiotics as possible, you may want to consider a
probiotic supplement instead, like USANA Health Sciences’ Probiotic food
supplement. You can add the vanilla-flavoured powder to food or drink and
receive a 50/50 mix of two of the most beneficial strains of probiotic bacteria.
Plus, it is designed to make it more likely for the friendly bacteria to
survive the acid in your stomach and repopulate your digestive tract.

Important facts about them

Not all yogurt contains probiotics. And
bacteria – good or bad – may not survive the acidic conditions in your stomach
in sufficient numbers to effectively colonize your digestive tract. There are
also many species of probiotic bacteria and they vary in their ability to
colonize your system and provide digestive and immunity benefits.

Because they are a naturally occurring
bacteria, probiotics are generally accepted as being safe. But, you should
check with your doctor if you’re combining probiotics with conventional
treatment for any condition, just as you would with any dietary supplement.

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