Probiotics are micro-organisms that provide big health benefits to those who eat or drink them.
They are often referred to as friendly bacteria.
The World Health Organisation definition of probiotics is that they are live micro-organisms that provide a health benefit to the host.
There are a large number of different kinds of bacteria in your body at any one time. Most of these bacteria are in your digestive system, mainly in the colon, and most are harmless.
But for your digestive system to work properly it is important that you have the right balance of bacteria in your gut.
What probiotics do is colonise your digestive system with the right kind of bacteria and other micro-organisms.
We say ‘other micro-organisms’ because while probiotics are normally bacteria, they can also be yeasts.
There are two ways of getting probiotics – eating foods such as yoghurt or certain types of cheese, or taking them in a supplement.
The most common groups of bacterial probiotic are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
There are different strains of these and other probiotic bacteria, and specific types are better at dealing with certain health conditions. This is why it is important to find out which is right for you.
Probiotics can have a big impact on the health of your digestive system.
Taking probiotics can help cure problems with the gut associated with antibiotics.
When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they can have real issues with things like diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence.
This is because, as well as killing bad bacteria at the site of any infection, antibiotics also kill many of the good bacteria in your digestive system. This can allow harmful bacteria to thrive.
Probiotics are also known to combat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can be really debilitating.
It has also been claimed that probiotics bring benefits to people suffering from more serious bowel conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They are also said to be able to ward off Helicobacter pylori infections, which cause ulcers and stomach cancer.
Research also suggests that taking a probiotic can lead to weight loss.
This may be because probiotics limit the absorption of dietary fat, meaning your body takes fewer calories from your food.
Probiotics also help release appetite-reducing hormones.
Studies have also shown that certain probiotics reduce systemic inflammation. This is a driver of many diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
There is also evidence that they reduce the symptoms of depression, lower cholesterol, enhance immune function and improve skin condition.
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