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A Beginner's Guide to Probiotics

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A Beginner's Guide to Probiotics

Good bacteria!? Surely you jest!

At first glance, probiotics seem to be nothing more than the latest dieting fad. In a society that has told people to count calories, eat more eggs, eat less eggs, go gluten-free, etc., why should we listen to the supposed dieting experts anymore when even they can't seem to make up their minds? Probiotics will probably be the newest weight loss pill or something, right? “Guaranteed” to make you lose weight without diet or exercise?

Actually, there seems to be a lot more to probiotics than that. Studies are showing many benefits to taking probiotic pills and supplements, and increasing your intake of them can have beneficial effects on your overall health. But what are probiotics and what are the benefits of a probiotic diet?

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are actually microorganisms. Yes, that means bacteria. But that doesn't mean germs. Probiotics are classified by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as living microbes that deliver a health benefit to their host.[2]

You see, while people think of disease and germs when they hear the word “bacteria”, not all bacteria is bad. The human body naturally has good bacteria living inside the digestive tract, and it's important to keep a balance of good and bad bacteria. If you don't have enough of this “good bacteria”, you could find yourself facing a number of symptoms. Some of them include diarrhea (including diarrhea brought upon by antibiotics), fatigue, and urinary tract infections. In addition, you leave your immune system more vulnerable to disease than it would otherwise be with a proper balance of good and bad bacteria.

It is important to maintain this balance by consuming foods that are rich in probiotics.

Where can I find probiotics?

So what foods contain probiotic bacteria? A short list would include[3]:


  • Yogurt (without high-fructose corn syrup)

  • Miso soup

  • Sauerkraut

  • Pickles

  • Kimchi


Of course, there are many other foods that contain probiotics as well, and there are many other sources of probiotics that aren't foods. Water Kefir is a good source of probiotic bacteria, and you can find more information about it here.

Live Organic Water Kefir Grains
Amazon Price: $2.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 26, 2014)

What are the benefits of probiotics?

Many of your body's systems need a proper balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in order to function at their optimal level. The first of those is your digestive system. Bacteria naturally lives inside your entire digestive tract, from the esophagus to the intestines and beyond. Ensuring that your digestive tract is filled with beneficial bacteria means better digestive health. It means less diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramps, and it also replenishes the good bacteria killed by many antibiotics (which aim to kill the harmful bacteria in your body but sometimes kills the probiotic bacteria as well). It also enables your body to more productively transfer nutrients from food to different cells, which means more energy, less fatigue, and less chance of obesity.

Another probiotic benefit for your digestive system is that it helps contain the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. While it doesn't completely eradicate the symptoms, research suggests that people with IBS experience them less when they take probiotics. Some of these symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, cramps, constipation, and diarrhea[1].

Of course, your immune system is important too, and there are many probiotic benefits for your immune system. As the good bacteria in your body also helps to weed out toxins and other dangerous chemicals that enter your system, it boosts your immune system to help fight common infectious diseases such as the cold or flu. It also helps fight allergies and infections. Did you know the birth canal is also lined with beneficial bacteria? Newborn babies pick up this bacteria from their mothers. Babies born by Cesarian Section, however, are more likely to suffer from allergies and weak immune systems when they are older.

Good urinary health is also a major benefit of eating probiotic foods and taking probiotic supplements. They prevent harmful bacteria from entering the urinary tract, thus preventing urinary tract infections. What's more is that probiotics can compliment antibiotics, as sometimes a urinary tract infection will return after a person stops taking the antibiotics to protect them.

Eating probiotic foods has a long, long list of other possible health benefits as well. These include fighting obesity, improving vaginal health, preventing high cholesterol levels (and thus coronary heart disease) and high blood pressure, and kidney stones. Probiotics are also believed to improve your brain function as the gut has been known to function as a “second brain” of sorts, having some control over pain and emotion (hence the existence of the “gut feeling”). A study showed that probiotics could reduce anxiety, hostility, and improve focus. Probiotics might even help in the prevention of cancer!

What types of probiotics are there?

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. The beneficial bacteria inside of us, however, are not. There are many different types of probiotic bacteria in our bodies. The two most common types of this bacteria are:


  1. Lactobacillus-- As the name suggests, fermented dairy foods such as unflavored yogurt will contain these bacteria, and they are found naturally in the body's digestive, urinary, and genital systems. There are over fifty species of Lactobacillus in eighteen different probiotic strains. Some studies have shown them as able to reduce the severity and frequency of abdominal pain, fight bacterial vaginosis, reduce the risk of diarrhea (including Traveler's Diarrhea and diarrhea brought on by antibiotics), treat skin infections, treat lactose intolerance, and fight yeast infections, amongst other things. Different species of Lactobacillus treat different ailments.

  2. Bifidobacteria-- This type of bacteria lives inside your colon. Different species can help fight IBS and dental cavities, and result in improved blood lipids. In addition, it could help the glucose tolerance of pregnant women. There are thirty different species of the Bifidobacteria genus in eight different probiotic bacteria strains.

A Beginner's Guide to Probiotics

What are the side effects of probiotics?

Probiotic side effects are generally mild and might include diarrhea, constipation, or bloating. Their benefits tend to outweigh their side effects. However, it should be noted that probiotic supplements are not regulated to the same degree as food and medication are.

Where else can I find probiotics?

Other than probiotic foods, you can take probiotic supplements. Stores and pharmacies such as Walgreen's, Duane Reade, and Rite Aide are sure to have a selection of probiotics near their antacid/indigestion section. But make sure you read the labels on them and see which ones are right for you. For example, some probiotics are geared towards a healthy immune system, which isn't what you're looking for if you are looking to help with digestion. Make sure you are buying a probiotic supplement that's right for you.

Align B. Infantis 35624 Probiotic Supplement, 42 Count
Amazon Price: $44.40 $24.95 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 26, 2014)
This stuff helps my stomach, I'll tell you that.


Remember that much, much more probiotic research must be done to fully understand the benefits and risks of the numerous different types of bacteria. Dietary authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration have not yet labeled probiotics as “safe”, but studies seem to be heavily indicating their positive results. Many doctors prescribe probiotics for their patients. You should talk to your doctor before radically changing your diet or ingesting any probiotic supplements.



Sep 8, 2014 10:21pm
Very interesting and broadly informative article, thanks very much for all the info. A couple of months ago my doctor prescribed me some quite strong antibiotics for an ear infection of mine, along with fungicide and cortisone ear drops. The infection was soon dealt with but apparerntly my good gut in my digestive track were largely killed as well, and I suffered from almost daily diarrhea and strong burning in the stomach. Along with that I had some painful thrushes in my mouth, which were larger and more long-lasting than usual (7+ days to heal). I looked them up and discovered, to my horror, that these are actually colonies of Candida fungus, a strain of yeast fungus..

With a bit of research I discovered kefir. I started drinking 0.5 to 1 liter kefir a day for a couple of weeks. The problem is than in my country kefir is outrageously expensive (3 to 4 times the price of milk), so after a while I started thinking of making my own kefir, with kefir grains and milk. These grains are nowhere to be found in Greece, so I think I will order some from your link; but via the British amazon, since we are barely able to order anything from the American one. And from the stuff we can the Greek customs blackmail people for money to release their stuff - seriously. I have no intention of taking any probiotic pills, they are too expensive and I'd prefer the natural stuff.
Sep 8, 2014 10:22pm
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Sep 8, 2014 10:22pm
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Sep 8, 2014 10:22pm
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Sep 8, 2014 10:22pm
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Sep 8, 2014 10:25pm
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Sep 9, 2014 2:50am
Interesting read, thanks. I had no idea sauerkraut and pickles contained probiotics.Rated up.
Sep 9, 2014 10:53pm
Wow, Pindar, sorry to hear about that. I can't believe that after being prescribed a fungicide, a fungus colony would grow in your mouth. That's crazy. Why did the doctor prescribe it in the first place?

I hope you order kefir through my Amazon module (it would be my first sale!!!!), and I hope that you don't have any problems with it. I can't believe Greek customs officers can just get away with something like that. As for the probiotic pills, I take them and don't really have a problem. I wouldn't EXPRESSLY recommend them, but as far as I know they are perfectly safe. It's just probiotic bacteria packed into a pill. I haven't done too much research on them, but they've helped me a bit and a corworker of mine swears by Align. That's how I came to know about probiotics in the first place.

LeighGoessl, thanks for the upvote! I appreciate it! Yeah, I didn't know half of the foods that had probiotics in it either until I did the research.Too bad I don't like sauerkraut or pickles.
Sep 9, 2014 10:53pm
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Sep 10, 2014 6:12am
I am using probiotics to help my cat with his indigestion troubles which is leading to things like weight loss, runs and loss of appetite. Vet gave him cerenia and suggested I start giving him some probiotic greek yogurt or get the probiotic pills to sprinkle onto his food. It's been two days and oddly he is doing much better.
Sep 10, 2014 12:13pm
I hope your cat does better. I don't really know of any pet probiotics. I'm surprised a cat can even eat yogurt. I have two dogs and I know that things like chocolate can do great harm to them, though obviously chocolate and yogurt are two entirely different beasts.
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  1. Betty Kovas, MS, RD "Probiotics: Find Out About the Benefits and Side Effects." On Health. 22/08/2014 <Web >
  2. "Probiotics Basics." California Dairy Research Foundation. 22/08/2014 <Web >
  3. Meredith Melnick "6 Healing Benefits of Probiotics ." Food Matters. 21/08/2014 <Web >

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