What Are Probiotics?

Posted by Carrie Baines on

For a food to be considered probiotic, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. Have living microorganisms.
  2. Have a high enough concentration of those microorganisms to survive through the stomach.
  3. Provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.

According to the U.N.’s World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In other words, they are tiny living organisms (like bacteria and yeast) that may help improve your health beyond the basic nutrition when you eat enough of them.

It’s important to note that there are many different types of bacteria.  Most of the time, bacteria is thought of as something that can make you sick. However, many types of bacteria can actually help you maintain good health. There are millions of bacteria that live in your digestive system, and they help maintain good digestive function, boost your immune system and maintain the overall balance between the good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract.

Unfortunately, the good bacteria in your digestive system can be depleted for many common reasons. e.g. antibiotics, drinking excess alcohol, eating a poor diet, or being under a lot of stress- these can all lead to lower amounts of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Not only can a lowered amount of the friendly bacteria lead to poor digestion, but the imbalance between the good vs. bad bacteria can cause further problems if it is not corrected.

Most probiotics are very similar to the friendly bacteria that are found living in your digestive system and taking probiotics is the easiest way to replenish your good bacteria. Probiotics are usually eaten as foods (like yogurt, kefir, fermented milk, miso, tempeh, and natto beans) or as dietary supplements.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Studies have shown that eating probiotics regularly may help with:

  • Allergies
  • Cancer
  • Diarrhea
  • High Cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Immune System Regulation
  • Kidney Stones
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Oral Health
  • Yeast Infections

One common health benefit that is linked with the bacteria commonly found in yogurt is that the lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt helps lactose intolerant people digest dairy products more easily. There have also been a number of studies that have shown that certain probiotics can help treat and/or prevent conditions like: diarrhea, urinary tract infections and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other studies have shown that consuming probiotics may also reduce the recurrence of bladder cancer, shorten the length of certain intestinal infections, and to help prevent and manage eczema and other allergies in children.

There are also studies that suggest that eating a diet high in probiotics may also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Studies have shown that eating the right types of probiotics may help reduce the exposure to these cancer-causing chemicals by decreasing the number of bacteria that produce them, by metabolizing the chemicals themselves, by producing chemicals that improve a cell’s ability to die (and thus preventing an overgrowth of abnormal cells), by producing compounds that inhibit the growth of tumor cells, or by stimulating the immune system to fight against cancer cell growth. While these studies are preliminary and more research needs to be done, the initial findings do point towards a link between probiotics consumption and lowered cancer risk.

Yogurt as a Probiotic

According to the guidelines by the National Yogurt Association, yogurt must have 100 million (100,000,000) active cultures PER GRAM at the time of manufacture for a yogurt to be certified as having ‘live and active cultures’. Frozen yogurt can have 10,000,000 active culture per gram at the time of manufacture.

Not all yogurts that you purchase in a store are considered to be probiotics. In order for a yogurt to be considered probiotic, it must meet three very important qualifications. First, the bacteria need to be alive in the yogurt. Second, there must be enough of the bacteria to survive the harsh environment of your stomach to pass into your intestinal tract. And third, they must provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

There are several reasons why some yoghurt is not truely probiotic. e.g. if the bacteria cultures that were used to manufacture the yogurt are the wrong variety.  Even if the yogurt contains the right types of bacteria, there may not be a high enough concentration in the yogurt to survive through your stomach. Finally, even if there was a high enough concentration of the bacteria at the time the yogurt was manufactured, the concentration of live and active cultures may decrease rapidly while the yogurt is transported to market and while it sits on store shelves.

What does all of this mean? The absolute best way to make sure that your yogurt is probiotics is to make it fresh at home. When you make your own yogurt in your Yolife, you are growing millions (if not billions) of the active cultures. Eating your Yolife yoghurt fresh, ensures that the yogurt cultures will remain alive and in a high enough concentration to actually provide a health benefit. You also have the choice of which yogurt starter you want to use. Always use a starter from a manufacturer you trust to have the right kinds of the friendly bacteria that will help improve your health. And of course, making yogurt at home in your Yolife lets you choose which ingredients to put in your yogurt, so you can avoid artificial flavors, preservatives and other additives.

References and Resources

An Introduction to Probiotics. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site.

National Yogurt Association Web site.

USprobiotics.org Web site.

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