What Can Good Bacteria Do for You?
The thought of consuming live bacteria would probably make most people squeamish, but studies have shown that consuming adequate amounts of good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can actually illicit health benefits.
L. acidophilus is one of the most commonly used bacteria in the production of fermented foods, such as dairy foods. It is also commonly used for commercial probiotic purposes. It is a species of bacteria from the genus Lactobacillus, and its name is derived from Latin meaning acid-loving milk-bacteria.
Protective Structure of Lactobacillus acidophilus
L. acidophilus is a prokaryotic cell, also referred to as a prokaryote. This means that it has no true nucleus (its DNA material is not enclosed in a nucleus). This bacterium is enveloped by a cytoplasmic membrane and then by a cell wall. These features act as protective shells to shield the bacteria from the environment.
When we eat, our stomach produces a lot of acid. Besides helping to break down food, the acid protects us by killing microorganisms that we ingest with our food. The stomach acid is bad news, not only for harmful microorganisms, but also for the good guys.
L. acidophilus has a protective shell that shields it from the stomach acid. These bacteria can then leave the stomach and move towards the intestines without being killed by the stomach acid.
For other good bacteria strains, there are delivery techniques in commercially available probiotic supplements that protect them from stomach acid. These techniques increase the chance that bacteria in these supplements will pass the stomach and make it to the intestines alive.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
The main health benefit of taking probiotics is the impact on the immune system through the effect they have on other microorganisms in the digestive tract.
They help your digestive system by breaking down complex molecules from the food that we eat into simple molecules that can be absorbed into our body.
They create a competitive environment in your digestive tract. This is an environment where both the good and bad bacteria compete for space and nutrients. This suppresses the growth and proliferation of the bad bacteria and gives the immune system time to kill them off.
Food Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics can be found in foods like (unpasteurized) yogurt, and fermented and unfermented milk.
"Eat prebiotics to feed the probiotics"—this means that the job is not yet complete after the intake of good bacteria. You also need to eat healthy foods such as plant-based foods. These are foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables, which the good bacteria thrive on. These foods are not only healthy for you but will also give good nutrients to the good bugs.
It has been reported that processed foods and foods with high level of sugars are basically fertilizer for bad bacteria in your digestive tract.
Probiotic supplements can be found in quality health stores. These supplements are usually available in multiple strains (this means different species). You can get them in liquid formation, tablets, powder, capsule formation or sometimes in tiny chewable formation called the pearl.
There are currently a lot of products out there being advertised as probiotics. Some are more effective than others. Some may have much less active probiotics in them than you think.
Some of these products advertised as sources of probiotics may also contain lots of sugar. Since sugar acts as fertilizer for the bad bacteria, it may result to a contradictory effect to the efficacy of the probiotic.
Finally, when you are going to buy a specific probiotic such as L. acidophilus, read the labels carefully to make sure what you are buying will be effective. Check that the product contains the adequate number of living bacteria, termed colony-forming units, or CFUs for short. Also check the expected number of strains, if you are interested in multiple strains of good bacteria.
Doses range from 1 to 10 billion living bacteria (CFU) per day to maintain a healthy digestive tract. However, a higher or lower dose may be recommended
depending on your medical history and the route of administration—so ask your doctor before taking probiotics supplements.