Many people are familiar with the various health benefits associated with probiotics. From boosting the immune system and improving digestive function to reducing the prevalence of urinary tract infections, it’s understandable why millions of people throughout the world take probiotics on a regular basis. But what exactly do probiotics do once they enter the body, and how do they work?
Understanding the science behind probiotics starts with a basic overview of gut health.
Your Gut and You
Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract—also commonly referred to as the “gut”—is a robust and bioactive ecosystem, worthy of much more attention than it’s often given. As much as 70% of the body’s immune system lives within the GI tract, fighting “intruders” such as viruses and molds on a continual basis. This is in large part due to the presence of large colonies of bacteria called microflora in the gut, which can come in both “good” and “bad” forms.
“Bad” bacteria are present in even the healthiest of individuals, typically making up 15% of microflora as opposed to 85% “good” bacteria. Both types of bacteria work to make up the body’s “microbiota”—essentially an overview or snapshot of the gut’s environment as a whole. Problems begin to arise when the balance between good and bad bacteria gets upset, which can come as a result of a number of different factors—stress, diet and usage of certain medicines, such as antibiotics, to name just a few.
Just as the bacteria in the gut play a huge role in helping us stay healthy, they can also make us feel sick if an imbalance exists. This often manifests in physical symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea, but research has shown that the link between the gut and the brain is so strong it may even influence mental health. Symptoms of depression and anxiety may be causally related to gut health imbalance, which can also cause general malaise in the form of “brain fog” in some individuals.
Probiotics to the Rescue
When the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in the GI tract gets disturbed, the natural solution to the problem is to bring things back into balance—this is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are essentially good bacteria that can be taken either in supplement form or found in certain foods. When ingested, they help to restore balance to the gut by preventing bad bacteria from proliferating further.
Probiotic supplements generally contain millions of cultures, known as colony forming units (CFUs) or ‘viable cells.’ When taken regularly, these beneficial bacteria eventually take up root in the gastrointestinal tract alongside any bad bacteria that has grown over time.
How Does it Work?
Probiotics make quite a hazardous journey before finally lending their benefits to the body. First, the ingested supplement travels down to the stomach, where it is met with a highly acidic environment designed specifically to mitigate bad bacteria—a key reason why people typically don’t get sick after eating a meal. Once the strains make it past the stomach, they enter the gastrointestinal tract, where billions of cells are released to become part of the larger microbiome.
One of the most important things to understand about how probiotics work is that they have the innate ability to produce lactic acid once present in the gut. Bifidobacteria in particular are found prominently in the large intestine and produce lactic acid as an end product, which curbs the issues often associated with overgrowth of bad bacteria. While the process can take time and requires sticking to a clearly defined regimen for maximum effectiveness, many people begin to see results after a week or so of taking probiotics.
Probiotics and Antibiotics
The prevalence of antibiotic use throughout the world has resulted in widespread problems, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and painful side-effects from overuse. One of the reasons antibiotics are so effective at helping us get rid of nasty infections is because they truly do excel at killing bacteria. The problem, however, is that they don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria, ultimately disrupting the microbiome by completely altering the balance of microflora in the GI tract.
Symptoms associated with the use of antibiotics, such as diarrhea and irritable bowels, may be mitigated with a probiotic regimen. As many as 33% of children who take oral antibiotics develop diarrhea as a result, which can be prevented to some extent by taking probiotics both during prior to the course of medicine. The more proactive one can be with restoring balance to gut health, the less time it will take for the healing process to occur.
Prevention of Illness
Despite the focus commonly placed on probiotics and their effects on imbalances caused by antibiotic use, this is far from their sole function. Research has shown that probiotic supplements can help to lessen the duration of infectious diarrhea by up to 30 hours—significant for a child suffering from a severe case. While irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be very difficult to pinpoint and treat, many people who suffer from this condition find relief in regularly taking probiotic supplements. Even common infections such as colds have been shown to reduce in occurrence for those who ingest probiotics regularly, and the benefits in using probiotics to treat ulcerative colitis have been widely studied. Atopic eczema in infants and children has also been shown to respond to probiotic treatment, preventing the manifestation of an allergic reaction on the skin.
Pregnancy and Gut Health
While most people take probiotics with their own health in mind, a growing number of studies have shown that gut health may have an effect on our unborn children (and even their children) during pregnancy. Probiotics work to convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which nourish cells within the intestines and effectively reduce the prevalence of gas, bloating and other intestinal issues. Good GI tract health also means better absorption of nutrients—crucial to the health and wellness of both mom and baby.
Who Should Take Probiotics?
There are a number of reasons to consider taking probiotics. Many stumble upon probiotic supplements simply because they’re looking to improve their lifestyle and or diet, as probiotics are recommended by many doctors, scientists and nutritionists for daily support. Taking probiotics regularly can help to ensure that the microflora within your gut is able to sustain a healthy balance should you need to take a course of antibiotics, for example, which is key to prevention of associated symptoms.
Those who currently suffer from antibiotic-related GI symptoms will likely find the most relief from adding probiotics to their daily regimen. That said, symptoms such as bloating and discomfort can take time to subside as the balance between good and bacteria within the gut is restored, which is why it’s important not to get discouraged early on in the process.
Finally, women who are pregnant may want to consider taking a daily probiotic supplement to enhance absorption of nutrients and promote overall well-being throughout the duration of the pregnancy. As always, be sure to speak with your doctor before adding a probiotics supplement to your daily routine.
While probiotic supplements can perform wonders when taken regularly, not all are created equal. Combined with smart food choices, probiotics can help you live a healthier, happier lifestyle.
About Innovia Nectar
Innovia Nectar is the first probiotic exclusively using innovative technology that guarantees an excellent probiotic shelf stability for 24 months. Unlike other probiotics, it’s designed with a micro-shot system that separates the powder probiotic from the plant extract- and vitamin-fortified liquid until the moment the packaging seal is broken and the two are combined. This unique system keeps the probiotic fresh, dry and stable until the moment of consumption.
SOFAR Americas, Inc. is owned by Italian pharmaceutical manufacturing firm SOFAR S.p.A., who has 45 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional field producing branded pharmaceuticals, medical devices and dietary supplements of the highest quality. Expertise, flexibility, and innovation are the guiding values and allow the design, development, production and distribution of the innovative products for the health and the well-being of the people.