Probiotics are ‘friendly bacteria’ that are believed to improve health. The idea of taking live bacteria may sound a little strange but there is growing evidence to show that they provide a defence against potential invasion from pathogens by improving the balance of bacteria in the gut. In an athletic population, research has shown evidence that probiotics are effective in the reduction of coughs, colds and sore throats, the prevention of travellers diarrhoea and the maintenance of normal digestive function.
The two most common types of probiotics come from the strains of bacteria called lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Both these probiotics can be found in the colon of a healthy human. Lactobacilli, along with other probiotics, occur naturally in many fermented foods including yoghurt, sauerkraut, Yakult and soybean products miso and tempeh.
Benefits of supplementation:
The main aim of probiotics is to improve the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestine. This results in a healthier digestive system and possibly modifies the immune function of the gut to help its ability to fight infection. The claimed benefits of probiotics include:
Probiotics are available in foods and a variety of dietary supplements such as capsules, tablets, powders and drinks. Examples of foods containing probiotics are yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices. There are currently no recommended dosage guidelines, though most studies report effective dosages of 1-10 billion bacteria per day (one bottle of Yakult contains 6.5 billion bacteria). Due to the difficulties in maintaining the viability of the bacteria due to their sensitivity to heat, moisture and acidity in the stomach, there are a number of different manufacturing techniques available to help provide a stable product.
One word of caution is that not all probiotics are created equally and contain different strains of bacteria based on their target function. Modern food processing techniques reduce the number of potentially helpful live bacteria found in foods such as yoghurt and cheese. If you are choosing drinks or yoghurts that state they contain ‘friendly bacteria’, make sure they label the specific strain and quantity on the food label and include the phrase ‘live bacteria’. Always follow the manufacturers guidelines for storage.