Researchers continue to discover a seemingly endless number of health benefits provided by probiotics. Not only do probiotics, the healthy bacteria found in our digestive tract, support healthy digestion, they also support our immune system by fighting off secondary infections, protecting against the flu, and shortening, or even preventing, outbreaks of eczema and even the common cold.
The Importance of Probiotics in the Digestive System
The digestive system is more than a place that just breaks down food. In fact, over 80% of all immune system functions occur in the digestive tract, making it the body’s primary defense against harmful pathogens. Believe it or not, the digestive tract is home to over 1 trillion good and bad bacteria; that equates to roughly 3 to 5 pounds of bacteria in your intestines alone!
Probiotics, or the good bacteria, make up nearly 85% of the bacteria in our body and play an intricate part in maintaining the balance that keeps our digestive and immune systems operating properly. Health issues, including infection, digestive disturbances, allergies and even the flu become more likely when the ratio of good to bad bacteria falls below 9:1. Probiotics are so important to our health that low levels have been linked to over 170 health conditions, including obesity, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, and even the flu.
Supplementing with probiotics, either from food sources or supplements, provide a way to maintain the healthy balance of good to bad bacteria in the digestive system. In addition to supporting healthy immune function and decreasing illness, proper probiotic levels have also demonstrated to repair damaged intestinal lining, regulate bowel function and prevent Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
There are several foods and probiotic supplements that provide adequate amounts of probiotics; perhaps the most common source being yogurt. In addition to yogurt and yogurt products, several other foods contain probi
otics, including sourdough bread, kefir, and cultured vegetables. Cultured, or fermented, vegetables have been used for centuries and are perhaps the most versatile, but most under-appreciated and underutilized food source of probiotics available.
Many nutritionists consider cultured vegetables an ideal source of probiotics, containing large amounts of the healthy bacteria and providing much needed fiber, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients; making them the perfect food to support healthy digestion and immune system function.
In addition to providing digestive and immune support, cultured vegetables, like sauerkraut, fermented turnips, carrots, eggplant and radishes have demonstrated to also decrease risk of diabetes and certain cancers, reduce eczema and acne, increase weight loss and metabolism, and reduce the risk of heart disease by increasing absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Fermented vegetables introduce large amounts of probiotics into the digestive system, research recommends they be slowly introduced to reduce unwanted digestion reaction resulting from an overabundance of probiotics in the body. It is recommended that when introducing cultured vegetables to the body, no more than a quarter to half of a cup per meal be consumed.
As the body adjusts and regulates the amount of healthy bacteria in the body, the digestive system responds by preventing a large amount of damaging bacteria, virus and other pathogens from entering the body through the intestine; this is essential to good health, especially as we age.
The stomach is literally a pit of acid, breaking down food and destroying harmful bacteria before it enters the body. As we age, our stomach acid weakens, allowing harmful pathogens to move into the intestines. Probiotics in the intestines, when found in appropriate numbers, eradicate these harmful bacteria, preventing them from entering the body and causing serious illness.
Probiotics also minimize inflammation that results from byproducts of harmful bacteria. This inflammation is thought to contribute to weight gain, and is directly correlated to an increase in sugary and processed foods and a lack of probiotics in the body.
Cultured vegetables are a great source of essential probiotics and can be either purchased at grocery and health food stores or made at home. If factors may prevent you from consuming a regular diet of foods high in probiotics, look to include a high-quality probiotic supplement in your diet.