For most people, the mention of probiotics conjures up images of yogurt. But don’t dismiss the microbes as a marketing gimmick or food fad. The latest probiotic research suggests that live-active cultures of these friendly bacteria can help to prevent and treat a wide variety of ailments.
"There is an increasing interest in probiotic interventions," wrote the authors of one of the most recent studies, a meta-analysis of previous research in last week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those researchers found that probiotics were particularly useful against a common gastrointestinal problem: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
But studies show that probiotics can help with a great deal more -- warding off infection and boosting immune systems, as well as helping to improve women’s health and perhaps even fighting obesity.
The word "probiotic" is a compound of two Greek words: "pro," to signify promotion of and "biotic," which means life. Their very definition is something that affirms life and health. That's true even by modern standards: the World Health Organization defines a probiotic as any living microorganism that has a health benefit when ingested. Similarly, the USDA defines a probiotic as "any viable microbial dietary supplement that beneficially affects the host."
That doesn't mean that all probiotics, or probiotic-containing foods are created equal. So what should you look for? "There is a lot of 'noise' in this space as more and more 'food products' are coming out with Probiotics," Dr. Shekhar K. Challa, a gastroenterologist and the author of Probiotics For Dummies tells The Huffington Post. "Unfortunately it is impossible to quantitate the CFU's of probiotics in most food products."
CFUs -- or colony-forming units -- is a microbiological term that describes the density of viable bacteria in a product. In other words, the CFU tells you how rich in probiotics a food actually is -- and how much will be available to your body. While labels don't typically have CFUs, Challa recommends choosing plain over flavored yogurt and looking for unpasteurized Kefir and Sauerkraut to up the probiotic count in the food you eat. He also recommends unpasteurized versions of miso, pickles, tempeh, kimchi and kombucha tea.
So what can probiotics help you with? Read on: