Photo credit:  AJCann via Flickr

Photo credit: AJCann via Flickr

What is a probiotic? You’ve heard the word before and may even have a vague idea that probiotics help with digestion – but what does probiotic really mean?

The term has actually been around since 1965. The US National Library of Medicine defines probiotic as viable microorganisms that have positive health effects when sufficient amounts reach the intestines. In laymen’s terms: probiotics are good bacteria.

That sounds like an oxymoron but these tiny organisms help your body break down food faster and gain more nutrients. We all have microbes occupying our digestive track – but we aren’t born with them. Instead they are introduced to our digestive system through the foods we eat and drink. This means we can often deplete our supply of “good bacteria” when we practice poor dietary habits, get too stressed or throw off our digestive equilibrium by traveling frequently. When we lose those good microbes, bad ones take over and we experience digestive problems.

When these good bacteria are in balance then it aids your digestive system in breaking down foods more efficiently and getting your body the nutrients it needs from the food you eat. Recent medical studies have shown that probiotics help prevent and relieve gas and bloating.

To ensure that you are getting the sufficient amounts of probiotics you should be conscious of your diet and avoid processed foods. Keep your stress levels low because when you are in high stress situations you cause your body to burn through the probiotics in your system. These tips are especially important for someone who travels frequently, which can also cause an imbalance in your digestion system balance.

However, it can be difficult to consume probiotic rich foods in the quantities needed to make a difference, so there are also probiotic supplements available to help boost your good bacteria numbers. As awareness of probiotic needs grow, so do availability and options when it comes to supplements. Most are found in liquid or tablet form and can easily be combined with meals, beverages or taken directly.

When people hear that probiotics are bacteria they can be turned off, but it’s important for everyone to understand the health benefits involved. These bacteria are necessary to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. So whether you’re at the grocery store, health food store or shopping for supplements, make sure you are stocking up on probiotics so you’re staying fit, healthy and keeping your digestive system in balance.