What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are dietary supplements that support the friendly bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive tract, primarily in the mouth and intestines. These bacteria (collectively referred to as microbiota or microflora) act symbiotically with the human body. The intestinal tract is the ideal environment for these bacteria to flourish when a person is healthy and their diet is good. But in many other circumstances - certain diseases, poor diets, antibiotic drug therapies - the intestinal tract becomes a poor or even hostile environment. When healthy, microbiota support digestion by helping to break down food into usable nutrients and vitamins at no cost to the body's resources. The microbiota also support immune function by keeping other, harmful microorganisms in check and producing key compounds that protect cellular health. When friendly bacteria are weakened or absent, a person can experience digestive problems, problems related to immune function, or both.
What Probiotics Do: Benefits for Immune and Digestive Health
Probiotic supplements supply live or dormant bacteria that are intended to help re-establish or maintain healthy microbiota. They may also include other nutrients like inulin that act as food for friendly bacteria; these ingredients are known as pre-biotics. Probiotics are available in capsules, tablets, powdered and liquids. Of these, we recommend using probiotics in enteric-coated capsules that protect the live bacteria from stomach acids. Enteric-coated capsules are designed to breakdown in the alkaline environment of the intestines, thereby protecting the bacteria until delivering them live and intact into the proper intestinal environment.
There are hundreds of types of beneficial bacteria that inhabit the body, but only a few dozen types that are used in probiotic supplements. Each species is a little different in terms of its functions and benefits, so probiotic supplements may contain one, two or more different species.
When and How To Use Probiotics
Probiotic supplements are virtually non-toxic and can be used anytime for intestinal and/or immune support, on a short-term or long-term basis. People often use them during or after a course of antibiotics. Probiotics can also help people with a wide-range of digestive health problems, including bad breath and bowel health. Unlike vitamins and minerals, probiotics have no minimum daily dietary requirement. Probiotic products indicate their potency by guaranteeing how many billion live organisms are present in each serving.
Getting good results with a probiotic supplement depends on a few key factors. Check the expiration date and make sure the product isn't expired, then start taking it right away, consistently, exactly as the label recommends. Once opened, protect probiotics from heat by storing them in the refrigerator, as freezing and hot temperatures may harm the live cultures.
(See also:Acidophilus, Acidophilus bifidus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Primadophilus and Children's Probiotics)