What are probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms similar to the “friendly” bacteria found naturally in the body’s digestive system. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) of Maryland states that we each house two to five pounds (1.0 to 2.26 kilograms) of live bacteria inside our bodies.
How do probiotics work?
Unlike antibiotics, which work by killing bacteria, both friendly and unfriendly, probiotics work with your body. By boosting populations of beneficial bacteria, you effectively crowd out the bad bacteria, at at the very least make it more difficult for them to thrive.
Do probiotics really help with colds and flu?
Yes. After an 18 month study that examined the effect of probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis on children aged 3 to 5, the results showed that:
- the Lactobacillus acidophilus group had 53% fewer fevers, 41% fewer coughs, and 28% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
- the group given both bacteria strains had 72% fewer fevers, 62% fewer coughs, and 59% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
- the Lactobacillus acidophilus group recovered from cold symptoms 32% faster and the two-bacteria group recovered 48% faster than the placebo group, when they did get sick, with less antibiotic use (68% and 84% less, respectively)
In the article “Probiotics and the Flu“, the National Kefir Association states:
Probiotic-containing foods like kefir are essential during cold and flu season for preventing offending molecules from entering the bloodstream and creating reactions that can cause symptoms of ill health. South Africa-based Ingrid van Heerden, D.Sc, “DietDoc” for www.health24.com, says that probiotic containing foods like kefir are important for maintaining a strong natural defense system because they stimulate the production of immunoglobulin in the intestines, which improves the body’s immune response.
A recent survey of kombucha drinkers indicated that 82% felt they had increased resistance to cold and flus.
black tea and green tea kombucha
Other studies have shown similarly positive results. If you consider how much surface area there is in the digestive track (some estimates calculate that it forms up to 70% of the immune system), it makes sense that keeping it healthy helps keep you healthy.
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and (IBD) inflammatory bowel disease are other ailments that plague many people as they age. New studies are showing that certain probiotics can help with IBS and IBD symptoms, too – without the side effects of medications. To address problems in the intestinal tract, researchers have focused on probiotics that remain intact past the stomach (yogurt is not going to help much), such as Lactobaccilus plantarum 299v. Lactobaccilus plantarum species are commonly found in milk kefir (along with many other beneficial bacteria and yeasts). (You can see my post on fermenting yogurt and milk kefir here, along with my “secret weapon” for cold weather fermenting.)
Can I make probiotics at home?
Yes – and it’s easy! I have started fermenting kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, and viili yogurt. I got my kefir grains and yogurt culture (and sourdough starter) from our affilaite Cultures for Health and my kombucha scoby from a friend. You may also be able to find starters through online forums such as Heal Thyself. I tried beet kvass, but no one would drink it except for me. The post “Water Kefir Versus Kombucha” identifies the probiotics typically found in water kefir and kombucha.
I’ve made sauerkraut, lacto-fermented asparagus, and lacto-fermented dilly beans. Any naturally fermented product that is not heat treated (pasteurized) is likely to help.
If you purchase probiotics, make sure you look for live and active cultures (read the label – you want good bacteria that are still frisky). Watch out for brands that are full of sugar and/or artificial ingredients. These work against your body’s ability to heal.
I know many of us are looking for ways to keep our food budgets low while still preparing healthy foods for our families. Fermenting at home can provide healthy foods for pennies on the dollar compared to store products. You can also “sneak” probiotics in for fussy eaters by making probiotic smoothies using your homemade ferments, such as probiotic smoothies.
Duncan’s probiotic breakfast smoothie
I hope you’ll be encouraged to add more live foods to your diet this year, and keep an eye out here and on my blog for more information on their benefits and how to culture your own. It takes time to build up the numbers of protective organisms in your digestive track, so it’s best to start as soon as possible taking live culture foods to boost your immunity before cold and flu season gets into full swing.
If you’ve found this post helpful, you may also enjoy the next posts in the series:
Preparing for Cold and Flu Season with Essential Oils
The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Fighting Colds and Flus
The Best Herbs and Spices for Colds and Flus – Plus a “Secret Weapon”
Coping with Stomach Flu Symptoms (Why the BRAT diet may not be your best choice)
If you want to know more about live culture foods, but don’t have a clue, check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods by my friend, Wardeh, from GNOWFGLINS.