You’ve probably been hearing more and more about the benefits of probiotics — foods that contain “good bacteria” — like kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt, for example.
Should you be eating them regularly? How can you make the most of these good bacteria?
We asked a few doctors, dieticians, and even fermentation specialists to help us make sense of probiotics, and the foods that contain them naturally.
What are Probiotics?
Good question! Here’s the rundown on probiotics from Joann Kwah, MD, attending physician and director of the Patient Navigator program in the Department of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Health System, and an assistant professor at the Albert Einstein college of Medicine:
“Probiotics have several potential beneficial properties to the body as they are commonly known as the ‘good bacteria’ that already reside in our body. They are thought to help the body fight infections as well as to help with gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.
“Also, they have been used to try to prevent or treat allergies including skin conditions such as eczema. Finally, probiotics have also been used to fight vaginal infections. Studies are ongoing to validate if these benefits actually do exist.”
What Do They Do for Gut Health?
“Probiotics are thought to help the gastrointestinal tract in a few ways,” says Dr. Kwah. “First, it is thought that the addition of probiotics, or ‘good bacteria,’ can help improve the intestine's barrier function to protect the intestines from harmful bacteria, as well as suppress the growth of harmful bacteria that may be in the gut. Second, probiotics are thought to modulate the immune system in a protective way against inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's disease or colitis.
“Finally, probiotics are thought to possibly modulate the perception of pain in the gut, possibly helping to diminish pain that is common in functional disorders” — illnesses which somehow impair normal bodily processes, but cannot be seen during medical examinations like blood tests, X-rays, or endoscopies.