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What do probiotics do?

Probiotics are micro-organisms that provide big health benefits to those who eat or drink them. You will often hear them referred to as friendly bacteria. The World Health Organisation definition of probiotics is that they are live micro-organisms which provide a health benefit to the host.

Probiotics can have a big impact on the health of your digestive system.

There are a large number of different kinds of bacteria in your gut at any one time. 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. Probiotics are known to combat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can be really debilitating. It is also claimed that they bring benefits to people suffering from more serious bowel conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as potentially warding 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 are also thought to 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. The most common groups of bacterial probiotic are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They might not mean anything to you, but here is a list of some common ones:
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgarius
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Bacillus subtilis

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