The Proof in Probiotics

PROMOTING LIFE. Do probiotics really live up to all the hype surrounding it? Get the real scoop about this popular health trend below

Probiotics (which, by the way, literally means “promoting life”) is booming. Chances are you have stumbled upon probiotic products in pharmacies or grocery stores, whether as supplements, yogurt or even granola bars. And whether or not you have heard about probiotics, it is most likely that you have been consuming foods that are actually rich in probiotics as well, for example tempeh.

Consequently, the market for probiotic products has been constantly on the rise. As a matter of fact, the global market for probiotics is predicted to reach US$66 billion by the year 2024, according to Grand View Research. So, it certainly seems that probiotics is here to stay.

Probiotics 101

The most basic fact you should know about probiotics is that we’re talking about live bacteria. Yes, after spending decades—if not centuries—researching ways to combat and kill bacteria, we have started recruiting some of them to our side. Scientists are now getting better in differentiating the good and bad kinds of bacteria. And probiotics, as you might have guessed, are part of the good guys.

Just to avoid any kind of confusion, our bodies actually produce their own probiotics. It’s just that sometimes we can lose some of them, like, for example, when we’re taking antibiotics or are under a lot of stress. Conditions like these can then cause an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in our body. Ideally, the ratio between good and bad bacteria would be nine to one. If the balance tips more towards the bad side, it can cause health issues like diarrhea, urinary tract infection, constipation, gas, bloating and fatigue.

This is where probiotics come in handy. They help maintain the balance of good vs. bad bacteria and, therefore, keep our bodies in top form. Their job description, so to speak, includes fighting off the bad bacteria, replace the good ones that we may have lost, keep pathogens away and aid our digestive system. In short: They ensure that our guts stay healthy.

This is also the reason why it’s often suggested to eat high-fiber and fermented foods— yogurt, tempeh, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, dark chocolate and pickles—after you take antibiotics, as they contain a lot of probiotics. And for severe cases, where foods containing probiotics is not enough, probiotic supplements will be necessary.

Probiotics in Perspective

While the aforementioned benefit of probiotics for our digestive health is undeniable, you might have also seen or heard a number of other claims, including how probiotics can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, aid in weight loss, treat eczema and prevent a host of ailments from the common cold to urinary tract infections. There are even new studies linking probiotics and a possible solution to anxiety and depression.

Now, to put these claims in perspective, we need to understand how the human gut and probiotics work. Put simply, probiotics that “live” in our body are part of what is called the microbiome, which is a “community” of microorganisms contained in all of us and includes bacteria, virus, fungi and many other microorganisms. Denizens of this microbiome outnumber our own cells ten to one. So, their interactions with our bodies play a huge part in our growth and overall health. To what extent? Now, that is what we still don’t know.

Further Research Required

At the moment, we cannot say for sure what the optimal microbiome conditions are for each individual. This, in turn, means that we are yet to determine how to optimally make use of probiotics as we haven’t really understood all the aspects of the relationship between our body and the microbiome contained within. True, there are a lot of studies linking probiotics and multiple health benefits. But unfortunately, we don’t really have conclusive scientific evidence to support these claims.

Fortunately, we are pretty confident that probiotics can help treat irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea, since helping move food through our digestion system is part of its natural functions. But as for the many other claims—everything from weight loss to depression relieve and prevention of urinary tract infections—that have popped up on supplement labels and yoghurt packaging … well, the jury is still out on these.

It should be noted that the United States’ Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of probiotics for health treatment. Similarly, the European Union has enforced tight controls for the use of the word “probiotics” on packaging and advertising.

Are We Pro Probiotics?

The bottom line is, if you’re in good health, chances are nothing would happen if you start consuming more probiotics. And if you’re looking to, say, lose some weight, there are a ton of better (and proven) ways that you can use.

All that being said, research on probiotics is still ongoing and we have more than enough reason to believe that we will uncover new ways to make use of these tiny critters. In the meantime, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being pro probiotics.

 

Text Ricky Ronaldo
Photography Robby Agus
Styling Peter Zewet
Styling Assistant Primawan Hakim
Grooming Morin Iwashita
Model Anton / E Models

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