A cornerstone of intestinal health
Probiotic bacteria are desirable inhabitants of the intestine which have positive effects on our health. The bacteria accompany us for a lifetime and we acquire our first probiotic bacteria at birth – also called lactic acid bacteria.1 The probiotic bacterial cultures are present in our body from the very beginning. In order to support our health, in particular intestinal health, we can also ingest the bacteria via food.
What are probiotic bacteria?
Probiotics are bacteria that live in the intestinal flora and can support the health of the whole body – but especially that of the digestive system.2 These living microorganisms can help restore the natural balance of the intestinal flora. Factors that can upset our intestinal flora are mostly due to our modern lifestyle – an unbalanced diet or excessive use of antibiotics can have a negative impact on our intestinal microbiome.3
Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics4
Probiotics are living microorganisms that – if consumed in appropriate quantities – can have a positive effect on our health.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible food components that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine.
Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics.
Different types of probiotics and their effect
There are numerous groups of probiotics which can be divided into several strains. These strains have different effects so there is no optimal universal probiotic. The best probiotics for you do not necessarily correspond to the best probiotics for other people. The two most common probiotic bacteria are lactobacilli (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) and bifidobacteria (Bifidobacterium animalis).5 There are also probiotics with several bacterial strains. Many bacteria are in symbiotic relationships with each other and can therefore be even more effective in complementary groups.
Bacteria of the genus Lactobacillus can form lactic acid from sugar through fermentation.6 This makes lactobacilli one of the probiotic lactic acid bacteria. This fermentation process makes it possible to preserve food. In addition to durability, properties such as quality, taste, aroma, texture and colour are also achieved through fermentation.7
Don’t really know what fermentation involves? Then we have three examples for you that may already be familiar:
- Lactic acid fermentation enables the preservation of fresh vegetables such as sauerkraut and dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt.6
- Lactobacilli play an important role in human nutrition and can also have a positive effect on our health6 as they are attributed positive effects on the immune system.8 An increased number of good bacteria and a lower number of harmful bacteria can counteract infections and inflammation. A balanced bacterial composition is a prerequisite for an effective immune defence.9
- Lactobacilli may also play a positive role in allergic diseases and risk factors for metabolic syndrome (including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes).8
A common strain of probiotic bacteria are bifidobacteria, also called Bifidobacterium animalis. They are also credited with some positive effects on health, especially intestinal health. For example, a study by Eamonn Martin Quigley, a professor, specialist doctor and expert in the field of intestinal diseases, has shown that probiotic bifidobacteria can strengthen the immune system, stimulate digestion and – especially in people who often suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms – alleviate irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.10
Probiotic foods for a healthy gut
Fermented foods, in particular, not only supply our body with important macronutrients but they can also direct a large number of potentially useful microorganisms into the gastrointestinal tract.11 Probiotic bacteria occur naturally in foods such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut. But does being fermented automatically make foods probiotic?
Some foods go through steps in their manufacturing or production process that remove the beneficial bacteria. During baking, or preserving, the probiotic bacterial cultures are lost, for instance. Therefore most, but not all, fermented foods are also probiotic foods.12 We have compiled an overview of some probiotic foods.
Yoghurt is one of the most popular probiotic foods.12 Its taste and texture mean we can use yoghurt in a variety of dishes. Many people like to start the day with yoghurt and fruit added to their muesli, or have yoghurt, at midday, as a light meal to tide them over. You can also use yoghurt for baking, as a substitute for mayonnaise, or as a basis for sauces, dressings or marinades.12
In addition to yoghurt, kefir is becoming more and more popular and a staple in our refrigerators. This fermented milk drink has since made a name for itself as the yoghurt of the 21st century. Kefir is a natural probiotic.13
Sauerkraut can also serve as a supplier of probiotic bacteria.14 In order to benefit from the good lactic acid bacteria for the intestine you should make sure to eat raw sauerkraut. Canned sauerkraut is less recommended as the lactic acid bacteria have already been lost due to pasteurisation or sterilisation.15
The fermented, spicy Korean side dish may not suit everyone’s taste. If you like Kimchi you have found an ideal natural supplier of probiotic foods.14
Fruit should be part of a healthy diet anyway. The consumption of some varieties can help to ensure that healthy lactic acid bacteria enter the intestines. Probiotic fruit types include bananas and berries.16
Variety in a healthy diet is key. In addition to fruit, vegetables and various dairy products, fish can also serve as a natural source of probiotic bacteria.6
Supply your gut with probiotic bacteria above and beyond a healthy diet
People who usually eat a well-balanced diet of healthy food naturally give their body sufficient probiotic bacteria already. However, since not all these bacteria may arrive alive in the intestine, the additional intake of probiotic supplements may be advisable to intentionally strengthen the microbiome. Support through probiotics can be offered to travellers whose immune system has been compromised by long-distance travel and exposure to new germs.20
If you are considering adding good bacteria to your gut, above and beyond a healthy diet through dietary supplements, you should always first discuss this decision with your trusted physician.