Ever since medics realized the role of a healthy gut microbiome in maintaining overall well-being, probiotics have gained popularity for their varied uses. Today, a wide range of probiotics are available as supplements in supermarkets for treating several ailments like diarrhea, Crohn's disease and to boost mental health.

What are probiotics?

According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, probiotics are "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."

It is estimated there are around 38 trillion microbes in the digestive tract. Probiotics work along with these microbes to maintain the overall health of an individual.

How can probiotics help?

1. Researchers have found that probiotics may help improve immune function, digestion, nutrient absorption, and vitamin production.

2. They keep a check on harmful microorganisms and decrease chances of some common infections, such as respiratory tract, gut, and vaginal tract infections.

3. Probiotics are also used in treating diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and infectious pediatric diarrhea, Study Finds reported.

4. It can reduce the symptoms associated with poor digestion of lactose and colic symptoms in infants.

How to choose a probiotic that fits you?

Health experts believe that not all probiotic strains work for everyone. The factors like diet, existing microbes in the digestive tract, and the medications a person takes, all influence the strain of probiotics that work for a person. The best way to find out if a probiotic is right for you is to try it out for a month to see if you get the desired benefits.

Although safe for most people, probiotics should be administered only after consultation for infants, people with immune disorders, short bowel syndrome, or those with a serious illness.

Natural sources of probiotics:

Many food items are natural sources of probiotics.

Including these food items in the diet can give you the benefits of probiotics:

  • Yogurt--it is considered to be one of the best sources of naturally occurring probiotics.
  • Kefir--a fermented probiotic milk drink made by adding kefir grains to cow's or goat's milk.
  • Sauerkraut--a traditional food made from fermented cabbage, popular in many countries, especially in Eastern Europe.
  • Tempeh--a popular high-protein meat substitute made from fermented soybean.
  • Kimchi--fermented black or green tea drink popular in Asian countries.
  • Pickled cucumbers--a great source of probiotics and vitamin K.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics is defined as a "non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health."

In simple terms, prebiotics are the types of fiber that help to maintain gut health by feeding and fueling probiotic bacteria. Hence, prebiotics are also known as intestinal fertilizers for probiotics.

Many fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, dandelion greens, bananas, leeks, apples, onions, and garlic are natural sources of prebiotics.

What are postbiotics?

Postbiotics are "a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host." They are produced when probiotics ferment fiber while the food is digested in the intestines.

Functions of postbiotics:

  • reduce inflammation in the gut and the brain
  • act as a gut barrier
  • protect from foreign or unwanted pathogens
  • act as fuel for the cells of the gut lining.

Studies have shown that postbiotics may help with runny, stuffy noses induced by seasonal allergies. They are also useful in relieving colic pain in kids and easing constipation and diarrhea in adults.

Food rich in postbiotics:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented soybean soup
  • Cottage cheese
  • Slow fermented bread
  • Buttermilk
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Studies have shown that probiotics can benefit our gut health in a number of ways. Unsplash (CC0)