When all is well, there is a balance of "good" versus "bad" bacteria. The good bacteria are required in sufficient numbers to ensure that the bad bacteria (and other pathogens) are not permitted to grow, flourish and spread, leading to illness.
This is a delicate balance, and one which is easily disrupted by a range of potential factors, both internal and external. For example, stress, medication (such as antibiotics), toxicity, diet, illness, age, smoking and many others.
Friendly bacteria therefore play an important role in maintaining optimum health. In particular, they are essential for nutrient absorption and immunity.
Friendly bacteria occur naturally in the body, but when levels start to fall and/or the balance of good versus bad bacteria is disrupted, it is important to supplement your levels of friendly bacteria. This can be done in two ways: either through probiotic foods or probiotic supplements.
Probiotic foods are foods that contain live bacterial cultures because they have been fermented in some way. Examples include kefir, natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso and kombucha. Including these foods in your diet can help to support digestive health, by providing you with access to additional beneficial flora.
So why do some people choose to take probiotic supplements?
For one thing, it is not always easy to incorporate enough probiotic-rich foods in your daily diet. And even if you are eating these foods, do you know what strains of bacteria you are accessing, or what levels of bacteria are provided?
What's more, while you will certainly enjoy the benefits of the probiotics while you are eating these foods, they do not normally take up residence in your gut. This is because they can't always survive the passage through your stomach acid. As a result, you only tend to get the benefit while they are going through your digestive system. Once eliminated, you need to ensure a renewed supply to continue benefitting.
For lasting, full-spectrum support, it is therefore preferable to rely on high-strength, multi-strain probiotic capsules, which have been specially encapsulated to survive stomach acid. In this way, you can be certain of the strains provided, the areas of the body covered and the levels of good bacteria per capsule. These bacteria will also colonize the gut, ensuring they grow and multiple and you enjoy a long-term benefit.
The different types of friendly bacteria that are found include:
Lactobacilli: These are the main good bacteria living in the a healthy stomach and small gut. Its strains include: L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. delbrueckii, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, L. salivarius and L. sporogenes.
Bifidobacteria: These are the main good bacteria living in a healthy bowel. Levels naturally fall with age and long-term ill health. These strains of friendly bacteria help to make some vitamins, especially B-vitamins and so may be of extra help following a course of antibiotics or an infection. The strains include: B. brevis, B. longum and B. infantis.
How do probiotics work?
Good bacteria ferment fibrous foods, transforming them into special substances called organic acids. These stimulate the growth of the gut lining, reduce gut pH and hinder the growth and survival of pathogenic organisms. Probiotics also do this by competing with pathogens for space and food, by producing antibiotic-like substances and by raising the acidity of the large gut, helping to make the gut undesirable to them.