A Brief Introduction to Probiotics
The term “bacteria” probably brings to mind
tiny, alien-looking creatures that invade the
body and cause disease and illness. Those
bacteria do exist, of course, and that’s exactly
why the other bacteria—the “good” bacteria—are
so important. Probiotics are those beneficial
microorganisms, usually bacteria, that live in
the body and help maintain the body’s health in
a variety of ways.
These good bacteria are already present in the
human body but their numbers are often too low
to maintain a healthy balance. The beneficial
bacteria are eliminated in many ways. Like all
aspects of the human body, they are affected by
unhealthy habits—not enough sleep, bad food
choices, environmental factors, stress, and
those many unfriendly microorganisms which cause
infections and viruses.
Another big influence on good bacteria is the
use of antibiotics. Though often necessary and
even life-saving, antibiotics work by killing
bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t
differentiate between good and bad bacteria.
This is a major reason that antibiotics often
cause diarrhea; those good bacteria that
maintain a healthy intestinal tract are
eliminated right along with the disease-causing
How Does the Human Body Get Probiotics?
Fortunately, along with being maintained through
a healthy diet and eating fermented foods,
probiotics are also available as supplements.
The growing probiotic industry provides
supplements in the form of capsules, tablets,
powders, and liquids. There are a multitude of
choices, manufacturers, and information out
there, and it can be difficult to know which
supplement is best for your needs and which
company to purchase them from. There follow some
guidelines that can help.
How Can You Possibly Tell Which Manufacturer
Makes the Best Probiotic Supplements?
Choose a reputable manufacturer. How the
supplements have been manufactured and stored
will determine their usefulness, so a national,
well-known manufacturer’s name is often worth a
lot. Probiotics that are made and packaged
cheaply may not contain live bacteria by the
time you purchase them. This site offers
probiotic supplement reviews about many
of the products available to purchase in today's
Probiotic supplements should be sold in HDPE
(high density polyethylene) plastic or glass
containers, which prevent oxygen from affecting
the supplement. As anaerobic substances,
probiotics may be damaged by exposure to oxygen.
The label should certify that they were “not
centrifuged.” Ideally, the supplement will have
been refrigerated, as this prevents harmful
exposure to heat and sunlight. Some newer
probiotics can now maintain their stability
un-refrigerated for up to two years, but it is
still a good idea to refrigerate your
The product will specify how many viable
organisms that supplement should contain,
usually by listing the amount per billion
bacteria of each individual strain.
Recommendations vary, but each dose should
contain between one and ten billion live cells
and possibly even more. These amounts not only
vary by opinion, but also by which bacteria are
being considered. In general, as long as the
manufacturer is reputable, the higher the number
of viable organisms, the better.
Always check the expiration date before
purchasing. The amount of organisms listed in
the product information is the amount of viable
organisms on that expiration date.
What Are the Different Forms of Probiotic
The best form of probiotic supplement is the
capsule. Bacteria in liquid supplements do not
remain viable for more than a few weeks. Powders
are exposed to moisture and oxygen every time
the container is opened. There are instances
when powders are useful, however, particularly
when used for an adult or child who has
difficulty swallowing pills. The container
should always be tightly closed and stored in a
cool, dry place. Probiotics in any form should
not be mixed with or taken with chlorinated
water, as the chlorine will kill the bacteria.
Capsules have a built-in defense against
moisture, oxygen, and other harmful
contaminants. Capsules are also the preferred
form of probiotics supplements for the same
reasons they are the preferred form of other
supplements and medicines—they require no
measuring, travel well, and are easy to use.
Chewable tablets are often the best choice for
children and the elderly. Vegetarians and vegans
will also favor chewable tablets over capsules,
whose coating is often made from gelatin, an
Wow, all that information, but one of the most
important questions remains. Which of the
beneficial bacteria will be the most helpful to
you? First, let’s explore how health improves
from the use of probiotics.
What Are the Benefits of Using Probiotic
Probiotics’ most well-known and obvious function
is to aid in digestion. By taking up space and
food in the intestinal tract, they leave no room
or nutrients for those bad bacteria. Those bad,
diarrhea-causing bacteria travel on through the
body and are eliminated harmlessly. Because
probiotics assist in the absorption of nutrients
and speed up digestion, they regulate bowel
activity, helping to lessen waste and eliminate
waste more quickly.
They also aid in the digestion of milk products.
Several probiotics, such as Streptococcus
thermophilus, produce lactic acid, helping to
process lactose and making the digestion of milk
and milk products much easier for those with
As more studies are undertaken, more benefits of
probiotics are being substantiated. The latest
research has shown them to have great promise in
reducing cholesterol. They also decrease the
number of carcinogenic compounds in the
intestinal tract by preventing nitrates from
being turned into cancer-causing nitrites by
harmful bacteria. Probiotics fight yeast and
fungal infections, help prevent skin problems,
and deter the growth of a variety of pathogens.
They stimulate function of the immune system,
assist in liver function, help maintain pH
balance, and help produce B vitamins and vitamin
Which Probiotic Species Are Right for You?
Specific probiotics can be used to treat
allergies, asthma, diarrhea, irritable bowel
syndrome, indigestion, yeast infection,
periodontal disease, and so many more
illnesses—even the common cold. The symptoms or
development of many of these problems can be
alleviated by taking a general purpose probiotic
supplement that might include several bacteria.
In The Wonder of Probiotics, John R. Taylor,
N.D. recommends a supplement with at least five
of twelve particular probiotic species. The
first of those is Lactobacillus acidophilus
DDS-1, the basis for any probiotic program. The
others include Lactobacillus casei,
Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacteria bifidum,
Bifidobacteria longum, Bacillus coagulans,
Bifidobacteria infantis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus,
Lactobacillus salviarius, Lactococcus lactis,
Enterococcus faecium, and Streptococcus
Probiotic supplements have been shown to be extremely safe
for adults and children. Constipation and
flatulence are the only typical side effect,
both of which disappear as the body adjusts to
the new bacterial balance, usually after just a
Probiotics have even expanded into products for
pets. Many of the same factors that affect the
human digestive tract also cause changes in the
gastrointestinal health of dogs and cats. Stress
often results from thunderstorms, being left
alone for extended periods, new household
members, or moving to a new location. Probiotics
help animals produce enzymes, which are
destroyed in the manufacturing of most pet
foods. Probiotics aid dogs and cats in all the
same ways the good bacteria help humans. Pet
supplements should contain at least three or
four probiotics species, along with enzyme
supplements of amylase, lipase, peptidase, and
The value of probiotics is becoming more widely
accepted by the medical community. In the
foreword to Probiotics: Nature’s Internal
Healers, Dr. Michael McCann writes, “Probiotics
will be to medicine in the twenty-first century
as antibiotics and microbiology were in the
twentieth.” As more research is conducted, it is
becoming clear that probiotic supplements are not just an
option for a healthy lifestyle, but a necessity.
All Star Health. (2009). How to Choose and Use a
Cornblatt, Johannah. (2009). Newsweek. New
Report Claims That Many Probiotics Contain
Fewer Live Cells Than Listed on Label.
National Institutes of Health: National Center
for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
(2009). An Introduction to Probiotics. .
Taylor, John R. and Mitchell, Deborah. The
Wonder of Probiotics. New York, NY: St. Martin’s
Trenev, Natasha. Probiotics: Nature’s Internal
Healers. Garden City Park, New York: Avery
Publishing Group, 1998.
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