There are trillions of microorganisms which live in our digestive tracts. More than 1000 different species have been identified. Most of these are healthy bacteria while others have the potential to cause damage to our intestinal systems, causing serious digestive issues such as IBS, ulcerative colitis and ileal pouch.
Probiotics, defined as “denoting a substance that stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora)”, are often called ‘good bacteria because they keep your gut healthy.2 They are specifically formulated to assure that the good bacteria are able to survive the acid environment of the stomach, attach to the cells of, and colonize the small and/or large intestine.1
Probiotics have increased in popularity over the last decade. They should be formulated to assure that the bacteria are able to survive the acid environment of the stomach, attach to the cells of, and temporarily, colonize the small intestine and/or colon. While the specific effects of each probiotic species likely differs, in general, these organisms have been shown to confer health benefits through a variety of mechanisms.2
It is important to note that most probiotics differ both in their bacterial composition and quantity. There are hundreds of commercially available probiotic supplements. Many of these are single species preparations while others contain multiple species or both. Furthermore, the concentration of bacteria in each preparation varies.2
Probiotics are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added live cultures, such as yogurt, soy yogurt, cheese or as dietary supplements.
Although everyone is unique and responds to probiotics differently, there are specific qualities in a probiotic that can affect how well it will work. Knowing what to look for can make all the difference.
1.Darren M. Brenner, MD, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL – Published July 2011
2 Blumberg, D., and D. E. Beck. “Surgery for Ulcerative Colitis.” Gastroenterology Clinics of North America 31 (March 2002): 219-235.