The Bifidobacteria (Bifidus) predominantly live in your colon or large intestine. They produce the very important short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which supplies energy to your colon cells to keep them functioning optimally. But butyrate also gets absorbed by the body, regulating a variety of metabolic processes, including your sensitivity to the hormone insulin (which regulates blood sugar) and even memory formation in the brain. The most beneficial of these are B. lactis and B. longum. Research shows the benefits for Bifidobacteria include reducing inflammatory bowel disease and several cancers, especially colon cancer. Another study showed that a specific strain of Bifidobacterium lactis helped control body fat mass and reduced waist circumference and food intake.
The research also showed that while probiotics colonised the gastrointestinal tract of some people, the gut microbiome of others just expelled them. There was no way of telling from their stool sample which category people fell into. “Some people accept probiotics in their gut, while others just pass them from one end to the other,” says Elinav. They found that the probiotic colonisation patterns were highly dependent on the individual. That tells us that the concept that everyone can benefit from a universal probiotic bought from the supermarket is empirically wrong, he says.
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."
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Remember, while bacteria gets a bad rap, not all bacteria is bad: As New York City-based certified dietitian-nutritionist Gina Keatley tells Allure, plenty of microorganisms, including probiotics, actually help your body function. "Probiotics may help stabilize the protective barrier in our gut so bad microorganisms don't take root, stimulate the immune response, and aid in production of vitamins, such as vitamin K," she says. Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman, adds that while we have more to learn about the role of probiotics, beneficial bacteria is understood to help crowd out harmful bacteria in our bodies. This good bacteria may also help lower cholesterol, aid in reducing colds and acute respiratory infections, and reduce the occurrence of vaginal yeast infections, she says.
A popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans, natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto can also contain vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegan diets. It’s also one of the highest plant-based proteins.
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