Published: 01/16/2016 - Updated: 08/14/2019
Author: Dra. Loredana Lunadei
Much has been said about probiotics and the benefits they have for our health. However, usually we relate them uniquely to the consumption of dairy products.
What are they and how do they act in our bodies?
It is important to begin by stating that these are live microorganisms which we acquired, after birth during the first hours of life, through breast milk, and are established in the first few weeks of a baby's life while the intestinal flora is developing. This intestinal flora consists of the same countless species of bacteria which live in the digestive tract and intestines. The origin of these microorganisms is bacteria or yeast. The importance of probiotics lies in the body's defense system, especially when it comes to fighting against infection, as they are beneficial for both digestion and general health.
What are they?
As already mentioned, the various types or species of microorganisms are innumerable as well as the harmful bacterias that can affect our body, and are found in many foods that we consume every day. Often probiotics are incorporated into food, especially milk, formula products and some medicines too.
Among the highlights we have Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium lactis, among many, many others. Their main function is to protect us against harmful micro-organisms, which similarly enter into our bodies daily, causing infections and other diseases. For this reason it is so important to have good bacterial flora because this makes us immune to and protects us from external pathogen agents which threaten our health.
The intestinal bacterial flora may be affected by several factors, including dietary changes which are very common for a fast-paced lifestyle that inevitably leads to eating unhealthy or processed foods, parasitic infections caused by eating contaminated food or food prepared in unhygienic conditions and the prolonged use of antibiotics which lower the body's defenses, among many other factors which affect the balance of intestinal flora. Often a very common symptom for a bacterial infection is diarrhea which can be very dangerous, especially in children under two years if it is not treated immediately and adequately.
It is therefore recommended to eat a balanced diet, maintain a good level of personal hygiene and try to eat natural products containing probiotics to enhance and balance the bacterial flora. It is also important to try and keep stress levels to a minimum and monitor the amount of food and rest you are having each day. Take special care when taking medicines as many of them destroy the bacterial flora.
- Stimulate the defense function of the digestive system, preventing gastrointestinal infections.
- Live and reproduce in the digestive system.
- Act as a defense against bacteria and microorganisms.
- Facilitate proper digestion.
- Produce antibiotic substances that act against pathogens in the body.
- Stimulate the bowel and improve its functions.
- Deactivate toxic substances produced by pathogens.
- Contribute to acidification of the colon.
- Thrive in milk products through fermentation.
Among the most known and effective probiotic foods are yogurt, soft cheeses, kefir and foods that are fermented such as sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and pickles, as well as dark chocolate, miso, seaweed and yeast. Probiotics are a great added dietary supplement to many foods.
What are prebiotics?
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are substances that can not be digested by the body, but nevertheless serve as food for probiotics which are generally found in the colon. Among them are soluble fibres more commonly known as pectins, carbohydrates such as grains, and fructo-oligosaccharides which are the soluble fibres found abundantly in fruits and vegetables.
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