Betty Kovacs, MS, RD
Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What are probiotics?
- What are prebiotics and synbiotics?
- What are microbes and their role in our health?
- What are the health benefits of probiotics?
- What are the different types of probiotics?
- What foods contain probiotics?
- What are the side effects and risks of probiotics?
- How should people take probiotics?
What are the health benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics may seem new to the food and supplement industry, but they have been with us from our first breath. During a delivery through the birth canal, a newborn picks up the bacteria Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Escherichia coli from his/her mother. These good bacteria are not transmitted when a Cesarean section is performed and have been shown to be the reason why some infants born by C-section have allergies, less than optimal immune systems, and lower levels of gut microflora.
What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.
When the digestive tract is healthy, it filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals, and other waste products. The healthy balance of bacteria assists with the regulation of gastrointestinal motility and maintenance of gut barrier function. Research has shown some benefits for the use of probiotics for infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, gut transit, IBS, abdominal pain and bloating, ulcerative colitis, Helicobacter pylori infection, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and necrotizing enterocolitis.
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn't function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, H. pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it's never too late.
Research into the benefits of probiotics has been branching out, and new areas are emerging. Preliminary research has linked them to supporting the health of the reproductive tract, oral cavity, lungs, skin and gut-brain axis, and the prevention and treatment of obesity and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
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