Most of the time, our interactions with bacteria are focused on killing or eliminating them – sanitizing our hands, scrubbing our counters, boiling baby bottles, and bleaching clothes. These practices are so commonplace that the idea of bacteria as harmful invaders to be fought and triumphed against can be hard to let go of.
Nonetheless, good bacteria do exist! In fact, our lives depend on them.
Today we’ll be talking about one kind of good bacteria in particular: probiotics. We’ll examine why we need them and explore the essential role they play in our wellbeing.
What Are Probiotics?
Mind Body Green has a very simple way to explain the concept of probiotics, “Probiotics are living organisms that protect the gut, or GI tract, and contribute to overall well-being. In fact, you have trillions of these friendly microscopic ‘bugs’ in your gut and throughout your body right now. It has been estimated that our bodies host just as many microbes as human cells.
Yup, you read that right—you are made up of at least half bacteria. Each person has a unique ecosystem of microbiota, and the diversity of strains can change over the course of a lifetime or even just a few days.”
Why Do We Need Probiotics?
Harvard Health explains that probiotics play a key role in maintaining a healthy digestive system and can wreak havoc when they become imbalanced. “Microbes in the lower intestinal tract help us digest food, fight harmful bacteria, and regulate the immune system. But sometimes an imbalance of microbes occurs, leading to diarrhea and other health problems. When the gut becomes unbalanced with unhealthy levels of certain bacteria, probiotics can help restore the balance. They’ve been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease.“
We often think of our gut as a sort of processing factory that works to turn food into fuel. And while this is certainly a helpful analogy, we forget that the factory isn’t automated – it’s staffed with millions of tiny workers busily breaking down food and extracting essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Probiotic bacteria are those workers. Without enough of them, your digestion can get out of whack, causing a host of stomach problems that may just spread to the rest of the body and throw your entire system out of balance.
Given that probiotics are so vital to our health and wellbeing, it’s no surprise that many people are trying to increase the number of probiotics in their diet to give their good gut bacteria a boost. But before you reach for a pill to provide your daily serving of probiotics, consider getting these powerhouses bacteria through food, instead!
Our next article in the series will explain how to do just that. We’ll discuss what natural foods and drinks are rich in probiotics, and how to make sure you’re well on your way to balancing your gut health while also enjoying some delicious new eats.
Until next time!