Welcome to Food Rx with Jessica DeLuise, PA-C, CCMS, a physician assistant and culinary medicine specialist! This monthly series will focus on the important role food plays in our overall health, plus we’ll be sharing kid-friendly recipes to add more fresh produce to your family’s diet.

Today, we’re talking all about probiotics and how they can help support a healthy immune system! Not sure what probiotics are, how they support a healthy immune system or if they’re safe for your family? Jessica is sharing all this and more in this month’s Food Rx episode.

The Rx

Support a healthy immune system with probiotics!

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are organisms (bacteria, fungi, yeast) that live all over our bodies, both inside and out. The network of organisms is called the MICROBIOME! These organisms are symbiotic, which means they live in our microbiome without causing any harm.

Probiotics are more 10x plentiful in our bodies than actual body cells. According to Mary Ellen Sanders, if the bacteria in our body were laid end to end, they would encircle the globe 2.5 times!

And demand is high! The probiotic industry will be a $69.3 billion market in 2023. This is up from a $16 billion market in 2008. That means that demand for probiotics will have grown by 427% in 15 years! 

What are prebiotics?

In short, prebiotics are food for your probiotics! Generally, I always suggest eating lots of fruits and veggies as part of a healthy diet. Many fruits and veggie serve as prebiotics or food for your probiotics.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics can lower the risk of colds and viruses.

Numerous probiotics have been shown to fight viruses such as colds, the flu, rotavirus, herpes and ulcers. In New Delhi, 100 children ages 2-5 were given L. acidophilus for 6 months and these children have fewer incidences of colds, flu, diarrhea and fever than the placebo group. They also stimulate our immune system to activate and fight these infections!

Probiotics can benefit babies, too!

In a 2004 study, researchers gave infants, average age 2.9 months, B. lactis or S. thermophilus for 210 days. The infants who were given the probiotics have a lower frequency of colic and needed fewer antibiotics compared to the control group.

Probiotics help diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome

Probiotics have demonstrated positive outcomes in some cases of infectious gastroenteritis, commonly known as a ‘GI bug’. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics published a study that showed lactobacillus was effective in helping treat children with infectious diarrhea. Lactobacillus can even reduce the risk of diarrhea, even infectious Rotavirus diarrhea.

There have been multiple studies that show probiotics can also help heal irritable bowel syndrome. Bifidobacterium infantishas been shown highly effective.

Probiotics are brain boosting

UCLA researchers found improved brain function in women who consumed yogurt. In animal studies, probiotics strains showed to help reduce anxiety which is promising for application in humans!

Probiotics lower cholesterol

Research on Lactobacillus reuteri show reduction in LDL cholesterol. Goal LDL is < 100.

Probiotics help protect against certain bacteria.

Lactobacillus paracasei offers significant protection against Listeria, a food-borne illness. Probiotics are incubated in the appendix. In the past, we, as health care providers, thought the appendix was function-less.  In 2007, Duke University conducted research into the researchers observed that when the body was under attack by pathogens, the appendix would release probiotic bacteria that would perfectly counter the specific type of invaders.

Probiotics helps with inflammatory symptoms like psoriasis and chronic fatigue syndrome.

An Ireland study showed improvement in both disease processes with the introduction of Bifidobacterium infantis.The study was so significant because it showed that probiotics affect the entire immune system, not just the gut.

Probiotics prevent CANCER.

Probiotics have been shown to stimulate production of anti-cancer chemicals. Lactobacillus casei, has also been shown (in Tokyo) to reduce the risk of bladder cancer, depending on frequency and dosage.

Probiotics can lower lactose intolerance. 

Accumulating evidence has shown that probiotic bacteria in fermented and unfermented milk products can be used to alleviate the clinical symptoms of lactose intolerance

Probiotics synthesize vitamins like Vitamin A, K, B1,B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12.

Consider this, maybe your vitamin deficiency could be helped with supplementation AND probiotics. The also help digestibility and bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals we eat in our food.

Food Sources of Probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Buttermilk
  • Aged cheese
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (with the Mother)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Brined pickles
  • Kombucha
  • Fermented veggies
  • Natto
  • Sourdough
  • Raw milk and cheese
  • Lassi

Getting Your Probiotics

Probiotics start accumulating before we are born! 60% of vaginal births will give infants their first probiotic inoculation of Bifidus Infantis. However, only 1% of cesarean births will give infants this inoculation.

When we supplement probiotics in pill or capsule form, they may not last in our bodies for more than TWO WEEKS!  At the National University of Singapore, infants were given probiotic supplements for the first 6 months of life. During these 6 months of supplementation, the supplemented probiotic strains were present in the infants’ feces. However, within weeks of stopping the supplementation, the probiotic strains were no longer found in the feces.

It isn’t simple enough to eat probiotic rich foods, but it is equally important to create an environment for favorable bacteria to grow. We can do this by eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, quality proteins, and whole grains. Sugar and processed foods fuel the unfavorable flora and do the opposite of what you want!

A variety of probiotic rich foods should be eaten as to gain a variety of probiotics. Most those who are aiming to get probiotics, eat yogurt. In fact, 44% of people who eat yogurt do so for health reasons.

Disclaimer: Before making any health or diet changes, please consult your doctor. The information shared as part of Food Rx is meant to be informative but not replace medical advice from your doctor.