This is a word that is thrown around in the food and supplement industry and used in the media to sell things. “Live cultures,” “friendly bacteria, ” and “intestinal flora.” They are all the same thing, but what does this all mean, really?
Probiotics are Lactobacilli spp. or Lactic-Acid Producing bacteria. They naturally live in your digestive tract, on your skin, and on leaves of vegetables. They are also found in dirt and many other places as well. The word ‘probiotic’ is formed by the Latin and Greek roots that translate as “for life.”
Your digestive tract is an ecosystem diverse with various kinds of bacteria. Some are good for you and others, not. When you were born your digestive tract was completely sterile. No bacteria lived there. But when you came through the birth canal you got covered in Lactobacilli. With your first sips of breast milk your tiny digestive tract became inoculated with probiotics.
Probiotics are important because they help you digest your food more fully and provide you with trace vitamins essential for your life. They produce cellulase, which is an enzyme that breaks down fiber and cell walls. This ‘unlocks’ the nutrients that are interlaced in the fiber– boosting nutritional absorption.
These little bacterial critters also protect you. They grow well in the intestinal tract crowding out other organisms. They keep pathogenic bacteria and yeasts from growing in your intestines, which can deplete you and make you sick.
They do this in two ways. Firstly, by growing in large numbers they leave no room for the other organisms to take hold to your intestinal wall. Secondly, they produce secondary metabolites called “bacteriocins” that prohibit the growth of other organisms. Lactic acid is one of these metabolites.
Lactic acid is too acidic for most organisms to grow in. This is similar to Doug Fir trees. They drop their needles around the base of the tree. As the needles disintegrate they leech alkaloids into the surrounding soil that is toxic to baby plants—keeping them from growing and competing with nutrients and sunlight.
Many people buy probiotics in supplement form. They are also found in fermented foods. Not all fermented foods contain Lactobacilli, however, this organism is particularly beneficial. The main foods that Lactobacilli are found in are fermented vegetables, yogurt and kombucha. Kombucha does contain sugar and caffeine and small amounts of alcohol, which for some people with dietary issues like Candida, diabetes, alcoholics, or others with alcohol sensitivity is bad. Store bought yogurt is made with a monoculture of bacteria inoculant that is added and produced industrially.
Fermented vegetables are an incredible addition to the diet because they provide and inoculate your digestive tract with every bite. They are filled with live-cultures and highly assimilable nutrients like vitamin C and protein.
When purchasing fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut or kimchi, make sure you are buying them unpasteurized or raw. This is very important because otherwise the Lactobacilli have been killed in the process of canning and pasteurization.
The health benefits of eating fermented vegetables are that they boost the immune system, support digestion and offer dense nutrition for rebuilding energy reserves.
The other great thing about fermented vegetables is the way it preserves the harvest. In our region the farmers grow amazing vegetables. Once the frost comes, the season ends. If you ferment your local produce, the season doesn’t end.
Also, if you're interested in some lovely, handcrafted probiotics created by yours truly, then go check them out at shopgutsandglory.com!