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We've all heard that active cultures in foods can help the digestive system by acting on the gastrointestinal tract, that set of organs whose main function is to aid in food digestion, absorb nutrients and minerals, and remove excess waste.
The active cultures that often claim health benefits are called probiotics, which are live microorganisms (e.g., bacteria or yeast) that help the human gut function more efficiently.
More than 500 types of bacteria live in our digestive systems, and about 90 percent of them are considered healthy bacteria. These are responsible for strengthening the immune system, aiding digestion and toxin removal, suppressing the organisms responsible for food poisoning, and absorbing vitamins. These mechanisms also help to protect the gut by acting as a defensive barrier against the bad bacteria that we absorb through food and the environment. Bad bacteria include salmonella, E. coli, shigella and others, which are responsible for diarrhea, discomfort and many other intestinal disorders.
Health professionals estimate that 60 to 70 million people suffer digestive diseases each year. They increasingly recommend probiotics as part of treatment based on new studies that show improvements to irritable bowel syndrome and help people recover from infectious diarrhea more quickly.
Probiotics come in many different forms such as tablets, powders and foods. They do not require a prescription.
The most health effective probiotic foods include:
Recent research shows that probiotics also can help boost our immune systems, reduce bodily inflammation and help people feel better overall. These studies show that probiotics may change how the brain sees and responds to the environment, resulting in decreased stress, anxiety and depression by dampening signals coming from the gut to the brain.
A good way to begin is to start incorporating some of the foods listed above into your diet. Talk to your doctor, he or she can help you choose the probiotic with the right microbes to help you maintain a healthy gut.