What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are yeast or bacterial organisms that exist in our intestines and have a multitude of beneficial health effects. This article will just focus on the immune aspects they provide.
Studies on the Beneficial Effects of Probiotics on the Immune System:
Recent studies have proven conclusively the potent impact of probiotics in boosting our Immunity Shield:
- Evaluation of the immune benefits of probiotic strains to modulate the immune system using a vaccination model published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
- Anti-inflammatory and pathogen protection benefits of Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 a probiotic bacterial strain of human origin. The report was published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Pathogens.
What can they do for me?
The scientific literature has only recently begun to scratch the service of what these little critters can do. These studies have unmasked some of the mechanisms these help with the immune system. One way they do this is by competing with pathogenic microorganisms on binding sites of mucosal surfaces. Examples of these surfaces are our mouths, nose, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Another way is that they’ve been shown to produce small amounts of vitamin K and some B vitamins. They’ve also been shown to be able to produce chemicals that inactivate or even kill some pathogens. There’s also some evidence to suggest that by ingesting the probiotics, this in and of itself stimulates the body’s immune system, since they after all, bacteria or yeast.
How can I obtain them in my diet?
All fermented foods contain probiotics, or beneficial bacteria. These include, but not limited to kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso. Many of these foods also contain “pre-biotics, which are substances that help our beneficial bacteria, or flora as they’re sometimes called, grow.
What are the different forms and how many do I need?
Besides food, you can obtain them in powder, tablet, liquid or capsule form. There are also many, many different strains. One should note that beneficial flora differ substantially, depending on where in the body. Numbers of microorganisms or colony forming units (CFU), range in the millions to billions. Some research has shown that in order for them to survive the stomach acid and reach the large intestine for implantation, the number of CFUs need to be at least 8 billion. Also, make sure you get a high quality brand. This way you know they’re free of contaminants, additives, pathogenic microorganisms and contain the number of viable microorganisms that the label states.
Do I really need to keep them in the fridge?
Yes and no. Any high quality probiotic supplement should be shelf stable for at least two weeks outside of the fridge. Keeping them in the refrigerator will keep the microorganisms alive longer.
Those on immunosuppressant drugs and/or autoimmune disease should consult with their physician before taking a probiotic supplement.