Most of us grew up with an (acquired) aversion to bacteria and germs. We were always told that having these little entities in our guts would make us sick. However, not all bacteria cause stomach upsets; in fact, there are some kinds of bacteria which promote better digestion and health overall. These microorganisms are better known nowadays as probiotics. These special bacteria can resist the extremely acidic and enzyme-filled environment of the human gut, and thus can reside there for a relatively longer period of time.
So why eat or drink these kinds of bacteria? In recent years, probiotics have been studied for their beneficial effects in managing digestive problems such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and even irritable bowel syndrome. They are also helpful for children suffering from colic. They may be beneficial in managing allergies, atopic dermatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease; however, more studies are needed to show the effectiveness of probiotics for patients with these disorders. Probiotics may also have an antioxidant effect by reducing the ‘oxidative stress’ and damage caused by harmful bacteria in the gut.
Various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are among the more well-known probiotics. These bacteria may be found in special preparations marketed for therapeutic purposes, but they are also found in some commercially available foods such as yogurt and some dairy preparations. Other foods containing beneficial bacteria include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha (fermented tea). Like all things, these foods and other probiotic preparations must be taken in moderation. In fact, probiotics are not recommended for some critically ill persons, or those with severely weakened immune systems.
In our anecdotal experience, regularly taking probiotics in addition to making necessary dietary and lifestyle changes has been helpful in preventing attacks of GERD, or at least in limiting their severity. We’ve also realized that drinking probiotics help us recover more quickly from our relatively rare stomach upsets and food poisoning misadventures. We hope that as more research is done about probiotics, that we can better incorporate these into our recommendations for healthy eating.
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Wang, Y., Wu, Y., Wang, Y., Xu, H., Mei, X., Yu, D….Li, W. (2017). “Antioxidant Properties of Probiotic Bacteria”. Nutrients, 9, 521. doi:10.3390/nu9050521