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Probiotics, what are they

Probiotics is the new buzz word among people who take care about their health in general, not just when they are sick. Supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies offer an array of products that are labeled as probiotics, and many people probably wonder what this really means.

When they think about bacteria, most people see them as harmful and unwanted presence in their body. This may be true to some extent, as many of them really are dangerous for human health, but there are also so called “friendly” bacteria, which actually help maintain good health.

These friendly bacteria inhabit the intestines and they perform a very important function there. They fight the unwanted and potentially dangerous bacteria and thus maintain a proper balance of the bowel. They also increase the absorption of important nutrients and help expel toxins through waste matter or stool. These bacteria may even help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol.

When the balance is disturbed and the friendly bacteria are overwhelmed by unwanted bacteria, probiotics come to rescue. They basically restore the balance in the bowel by increasing the number of friendly bacteria.

When to use probiotics

When the balance in the intestines is disturbed in favor of harmful bacteria, the body starts showing signs that something is wrong. This may include diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, malapsorption, thrush, candida and problems with the urinary tract.

There are many reasons for disturbed balance, for example use of antibiotics, which do not discriminate and kill all the bacteria, good and bad. Other drugs, like Aspirin and similar non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause imbalance too, as well as stress and intestinal infections.

Probiotics are very useful in these cases, for people who take a lot of medication, suffer from holiday diarrhea, have food poisoning, stomach flu, and they can also be taken as prevention before traveling to places with poor hygiene and unfamiliar foods.

How to get probiotics

Probiotics can be taken in the form of supplements, usually capsules, containing the cultures of acidophilus, bulgaricus or bifidum. The best ones have the highest bacteria count, for example 100 million to 5 billion per capsule.

The capsules should be enteric, which means they will not dissolve before they reach the bowel.

Some probiotic capsules must be kept in fridge, but new generation of probiotics do not and are useful for travels.

Probiotics can also be taken from food. Dairy products, like yogurt or kefir, are often fortified with useful bacteria cultures. Cottage cheese, buttermilk and similar forms of curdled milk are probiotics too.

Other foods that are considered as probiotics are fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and tamari, as well as unleavened sourdough breads.

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