probioticsThanks to actress Jamie Lee Curtis and those catchy Acvitia commercials, probiotics are slowly but surely becoming a household name. And for people with tummy troubles like me, these "good" bacteria may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
But exactly what are probiotics, how do they work and can they really improve our overall health?
What are probiotics?
Probotics are "friendly” microorganisms that live in your body. Diet, illness, aging and stress are all factors that can affect our body’s ability to maintain the balance between "good" bacteria and harmful bacteria such as yeasts, fungi and parasites. When the bad bacteria overpowers the good, that's when you might have problems.
Since probiotics are similar to the "good" bacteria already found in our bodies, taking certain probiotics can help strengthen your body’s natural defenses by correcting the imbalance and optimizing the function of your immune system.
How can they help improve our health?
Real talk: You don't need probotics to be healthy, but the bacteria can help regulate your digestive system, protect you from colon ulcers and reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. More research needs to be done, but so far the science is somewhat encouraging.
Probotics are believed to help ease lactose intolerance (which many African-Americans suffer from), help reduce belly fat, help reduce yeast infections and urinary tract infections, help clear up skin infections such as eczema and prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu.
What products are probiotics found in?
Probiotics can be found in foods and dietary supplements. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, milk, miso, tempeh, some juices and soy beverages. But make sure you read the labels carefully and make sure the product has "live and active cultures" in it.
Are there side effects?
The good news is that most side effects are mild, usually including just gas or bloating. But in others, the side effects can be more serious, causing infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions or with compromised immune systems.
This is why, if you're interested in adding probotics to your diet, don’t go out and start downing in Activia or overdosing on the supplements. Speak with your doctor or health care practitioner to see if probiotics are right for you.
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