You may have seen the word “probiotic” labelled on some foods at the grocery store. Chances are you have no idea what it is, or what it means for your health. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria found in our gut, and these tiny microbes—millions of them—play an important role in our health, and if you have enough of them you can help your immune system fight off a cold, the flu, or other infection. In fact, up to 70% of our immune response comes from our gut.

How do they work? These probiotic microbes stick to the sides of our intestines, leaving fewer opportunities for bad bacteria to attach. The good bacteria can produce natural chemicals, which work to prevent the reproduction of harmful bacteria.

“Our immune system recognizes certain chemicals and will instigate a response to fight off infections,” says Jason Tetro, a microbiologist, and self-titled probiotic know-it-all. “It’s not about boosting our immune system. That’s just a buzzword. What we are really doing with probiotics is stabilizing our immune system, which allows us to recover quicker from illness.”

We are what we eat

Tetro adds that we should be taking probiotics every day, and while we can get them from supplements, they are also found naturally in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, a fermented milk drink. And contrary to what you might be led to believe, he says that most yogurts produced in Canada don’t contain enough amounts of the probiotic bacteria to have any added health benefit.

“With refrigeration, and a diet that includes more processed foods, we are not eating enough fermented foods,” says Tetro. “We’ve really lost touch with fermentation, which is how we had been eating for the past 6,000 years. But there are some positive signs with a renewed interest in fermentation.” 

Probiotics are the new superheroes 

Not all probiotics are created equal. Some have proven benefits, while others are suggested to be of benefit, and others still are currently being evaluated for effectiveness.  

“There are a number of conditions for which probiotics are suggested to be of benefit, including eczema, food allergies, lactose intolerance, treatment of recurrent bacterial infection called C. difficile, inflammatory bowel disease, and generally an improved resistance to common infections,” says Bryce Wylde, one of Canada’s leading alternative health experts.

When our immune system is imbalanced, we are in trouble. According to Wylde, this can be caused by diet, travel, stress or certain medications. A good clinically proven probiotic that has been tested in over 1000 scientific studies, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, can help bring us back in balance.

Probiotics are good at minimizing the duration of an illness, but it is important to stay healthy year-round, by building up a strong immune response. With kids going back to school and people returning to work after summer vacation, new bacteria are being introduced, so now is the time to consider probiotics. 

When we get sick, who doesn’t want to feel better quicker? Probiotics can help do that, and support our overall health.