Probiotics are living bacteria that give health benefits to their host when consumed in adequate amounts.
This might come as a surprise because we generally tend to think of bacteria as bad and the cause of some disease.
Well, in fact some bacteria are bad, and if they infect the body they can cause diseases. Some examples are: Salmonella (causes food poisoning),Neisseria gonorrhoea (yep, the bug was named after the disease it causes) and Helicobacter pylori (causes stomach ulcers). These are definitely bad bugs, and we need to avoid them.
Then there are bacteria that just live in or on us, and don’t do anything other than just sit there. These aren’t necessarily bad, but they may not be much good either.
Then there are the good bacteria -and these are called ‘probiotics’. They’re good because when we consume enough of them, they improve our health and help keep us healthy if we take them every day.
Science has demonstrated over and over again (there are now almost 2,000 papers published every year) the health benefits of certain, specific types of probiotic bacteria. They are usually members of two main bacterial ‘families’ – Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Just like all families, some members are really good, and some less so. And you can’t tell which is which just from their name. You have to have evidence to know which ones work, and which ones are just there for the ride and rely on their family name to get them a job.
This next part is really important when choosing a probiotic to maintain or improve your health:
For a product to rightfully claim it contains probiotic bacteria, the bacteria must be alive and have been shown in clinical studies to give health benefits.
Not all bacteria that claim to be probiotics are probiotics just because they carry the name “Lactobacillus”.
So, let’s talk about how probiotics are named...
This was part one of a four-part series about what probiotics are and why they’re good for you. Next up is ‘How probiotics are named’, followed by ‘How probiotics work’ and ‘How to take your probiotics’.