Probiotics are live microorganisms thought to be healthy for the host organism. According to the currently adopted definition by FAO/WHO, probiotics are: “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.
Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria are the most common types of microbes used as probiotics; but certain yeasts and bacilli may also be helpful. Probiotics are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures; such as in yogurt, soy yogurt, or as dietary probiotic supplements.
Foods High in Probiotics
Yogurt is rich with probiotics and health experts recommend that it should be consumed 2-3 times a week. Milk, vitamin supplements and super-sugary food varieties also contains high amount of probiotics. Just check the label of these food products.
Probiotic-rich foods are often referred to as fermented or partially fermented foods. These foods often contain high probiotic counts thanks to the healthy bacteria and yeasts that develop during the fermentation process. Brine-cured pickles without vinegar and sauerkraut are fermented foods that contain probiotics. Sourdough bread made with true sourdough starter can be another source of probiotics
Benefits of Probiotic Foods
Experiments into the benefits of probiotic therapies suggest a range of potentially beneficial medicinal uses for probiotics. For many of the potential benefits, research is limited and only preliminary results are available. It should be noted that the effects described are not general effects of probiotics. Recent research on the molecular biology and genomics of Lactobacillus has focused on the interaction with the immune system, anti-cancer potential, and potential as a biotherapeutic agent in cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, travellers diarrhea, pediatric diarrhoa, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
In doing a quick search on Wikipedia gave me the following info on probiotic health claims
Managing lactose intolerance
As lactic acid bacteria actively convert lactose into lactic acid, ingestion of certain active strains may help lactose intolerant individuals tolerate more lactose than what they would have otherwise
Prevention of colon cancer
In laboratory investigations, some strains of LAB (Lactobacillus bulgaricus) have demonstrated anti-mutagenic effects thought to be due to their ability to bind with heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogenic substances formed in cooked meat. Animal studies have demonstrated that some LAB can protect against colon cancer in rodents, though human data is limited and conflicting
Animal studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a range of LAB to be able to lower serum cholesterol levels, presumably by breaking down bile in the gut, thus inhibiting its reabsorption (which enters the blood as cholesterol). Some, but not all human trials have shown that dairy foods fermented with specific LAB can produce modest reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels in those with normal levels to begin with.
Lowering blood pressure
Several small clinical trials have indicated that consumption of milk fermented with various strains of LAB may result in modest reductions in blood pressure. It is thought that this is due to the ACE inhibitor-like peptides produced during fermentation.
Improving immune function and preventing infections
LAB are thought to have several presumably beneficial effects on immune function. They may protect against pathogens by means of competitive inhibition (i.e., by competing for growth) and there is evidence to suggest that they may improve immune function by increasing the number of IgA producing plasma cells, increasing or improving phagocytosis as well as increasing the proportion of lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells.
Whats next for Probiotics?
As we can see and as I have seen over the last couple of years more and more foods are claiming that they are high in “probiotics” and now the research is coming to let us know more and more about the goodness as of probiotics. I am seeing more and more journal research letting us know of new therapies and research that has proven the good of probiotics, so this is definitely something to watch for still in the future,