Probiotics: What do you eat with that?

We live surrounded by commercial advertising that highlights the presence of probiotics in certain foods, particularly in dairy products such as yogurt. But what are probiotics and what are the benefits of including them in the diet? Alfonso García Galaz, a research professor at the Food and Development Research Centre (CIAD), helps us to understand this question.

Probiotics: How do you eat that?
Probiotics: How do you eat that?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that provide benefits to those who consume them, including the prevention of diarrhea, the reduction of plasma cholesterol levels, the stimulation of the immune system, etc. These are different from prebiotics, as the latter are not microorganisms, but substances that can be used by probiotics to stimulate their development within the host.

There are numerous benefits reported from the consumption of probiotics, and although there is controversial information about the usefulness of probiotics and the absence of the expected benefits when ingested by the consumer, there are also numerous causes that may explain this lack of beneficial results.

The scientific evidence

Probiotics are usually lactic acid bacteria that attend to the principle of regionality; that is, their effects occur only when they are used in the same regions where they are isolated. Thus, they must be able to withstand gastrointestinal transit in order to reach the small intestine alive, where they exert their benefits.

It has been reported that some probiotics are used in farms, and among the beneficial effects observed, weight gain in the animals that consume them has been documented, due to the absence of diarrhea. In addition, it has been proven that this gain has been in muscle mass and not in fat.

Studies have proposed that excessive consumption of probiotics in humans is correlated with a decrease in metabolic rate and, therefore, in energy accumulation and weight gain. Although they cannot be ruled out, this research is more scarce and does not provide as much evidence, compared to the many studies that have suggested the beneficial effect of probiotics on human health.

Their relationship to obesity

Obesity is a multifactorial disorder that is difficult to associate with the consumption of a single type of food, so there is not enough scientific evidence to say that excessive probiotic intake is associated with this disorder.

Studies have proposed that the presence of the probiotic Lactobacillus Plantarum may be correlated with a decrease in body weight. However, more studies are needed to fully correlate probiotic intake with obesity.

Intake should be individualized

The recommended doses for probiotic intake can vary, but daily consumption of one to one hundred million of these microorganisms has shown benefits in the medium term, which is equivalent to eating 250 ml of probiotic yogurt daily. This does not imply that consumption above these doses is harmful to the body, but simply that no more benefits have been observed than those already reported.

The intestinal flora or microbiota is an active population that is constantly moderated depending on the daily intake, so it is important that the consumption of probiotics is continuous. Furthermore, as probiotics are not a medicine but a food supplement, general doses cannot be established for the population; in any case, they should be personalized recommendations, depending on factors such as age, exposure to medication, etc.

Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics: fermented milk, yogurt, cheeses, and other dairy products, as well as formulations that clearly indicate the presence of probiotics, are an adequate source for their consumption.