Kombucha and yogurt are both cultured, fermented products that people consume for the taste as well as the health benefits. Contained within these substances are multitudes of beneficial bacteria, also referred to as probiotics.
These probiotics are required to maintain optimal gut health, which in turn has an effect on overall health. In fermented foods, the bacterial strains are sourced from animals.
This means that the bacteria may not settle properly in the gut. In contrast, probiotic supplements are designed to fit perfectly into the human body and the gut microbiome.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is formed by trillions of microscopic organisms including bacteria and viruses. The bulk of these microbes are found inside your large intestine, primarily the area called the cecum.
Many people are scared of bacteria, but in actuality, there are more bacterial cells in the body than there are human cells.
It is estimated that there are around 40 trillion bacterial cells living in the human body, compared to about 30 trillion human cells.
There are thousands of different species of bacteria found in the gut microbiome alone. Every species has a specific role to play in the overall health and function of your body. Some of these bacteria are harmful and can cause disease.
Cumulatively, the intestinal microbiome weighs up to 5 pounds (2 kilograms). For comparison, this is approximately the same weight as an adult brain.
The older you get, the more the gut microbiome begins to diversify. This means that you can find more microbial species in the intestines in adults than in children. The more diverse the microbiome, the healthier you are believed to be.
The gut microbiome can help with the digestion of fiber in the body. As the bacteria breaks this down, they produce short-chain fatty acids which other bacteria can then feed on.
Fiber is also very useful for preventing weight gain, controlling diabetes, and reducing the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
- Related Articles: Fiber for IBS Sufferers
The gut microbiome also plays a key role in the functionality of your immune system. The bacteria communicate with the immune cells in the body and control the reaction of your body to the pathogenic bacteria.
The microbiome is also believed to impact the central nervous system. This controls the functionality and health of your brain. It is clear to see why it is important to maintain a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.
What is Gut Dysbiosis?
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance of microbes and may be associated with weight gain. Specifically, gut dysbiosis is caused by an imbalance of typical populations of bacteria found in the digestive system.
When your good bacteria levels are decreased, the harmful bacterial levels become disproportionally high. This is a common occurrence after taking antibiotics or periods of intense stress.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that originated in China. The drink is mildly fizzy and has acidic notes to the flavor. It has been in existence for more than 2,000 years. It spread from China to Japan and Russia, before gaining popularity in Europe and the United States.
Black tea is brewed for at least a week with the addition of sugar and yeast. This encourages the formation of alcohol and acids, and the growth of bacteria through a process known as fermentation. This is a similar process to how sauerkraut and kimchi are made.
The bacteria and yeast clump together on the upper surface of the tea, forming a substance known as a SCOBY. This acronym stands for a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. This is vital for the fermentation of kombucha.
What Are the Health Benefits of Kombucha?
There is little scientific evidence to prove or disprove the health benefits of kombucha. Anecdotal evidence says that it aids digestion, flushes toxins out, and is a natural energy booster. It is also believed to boost your immune system, assist with weight loss, reduce high blood pressure, and prevent some cancers.
Kombucha can be made from other types of tea, such as green tea. This gives you a host of other health benefits including polyphenols, compounds that act as antioxidants to protect your cells from damage.
- Related Articles: Best Teas for IBS
There are a few health risks associated with the consumption of kombucha. As you must allow bacterial growth to make the drink, there is a small chance that mold will grow. This can be dangerous to ingest, and there has been one death as a result of kombucha intake.
Other potential health risks involved with consuming kombucha are liver problems, lactic acidosis, allergic reactions, and nausea. Lactic acidosis is a buildup of lactic acid in the body that can be very detrimental to your health if your body is unable to clear the lactic acid effectively.
What is Yogurt?
Yogurt is a dairy product that is made by fermenting milk with bacteria. The 4 most common bacterial strains for this are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus.
These bacteria are believed to help restore the balance of bacteria in the body, specifically in the vagina and digestive tract.
What Are the Health Benefits of Yogurt?
Yogurt containing live bacterial cultures (such as Activia) can be used to help relieve some of the symptoms of constipation or diarrhea. This is because the live cultures restore the diversity of the gut microbiome, allowing the digestive tract to move more smoothly.
- Related Article: Is Activia Yogurt Good for IBS?
For this reason, it can also be shown to reduce the pain associated with bowel movements. Research into this area has shown that consuming yogurt containing live cultures can increase the number of weekly bowel movements in people with constipation.
Yogurt containing live cultures is also believed to reduce cholesterol levels, so may help with the treatment of hyperlipidemia. Yogurt appears to lower overall and specifically LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, without raising the good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels.
Lactose intolerance is believed to be managed with the ingestion of live bacterial cultures. In some cases, adults and children seem to be able to improve their lactose tolerance levels by eating live yogurt.
Consumption of yogurt is also used as a holistic treatment for vaginal yeast infections.
There is a small amount of concern for immunosuppressed individuals consuming yogurt containing live bacterial cultures. For this reason, it is often recommended that people with weakened immune systems avoid eating large quantities of live bacteria.
What Are Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotic supplements are commercially produced live bacteria. They can be found in capsule, pill, or powdered forms, and are commonly added to other foods, like yogurt, for their health benefits.
The three main types of probiotics used are Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is the most common and will be present in most yogurts and fermented foods. This strain is believed to be useful for recovering from infectious diarrhea and can be used to help with the digestion of lactose in dairy products.
Bifidobacterium is found in several different dairy products. This strain is said to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other conditions. Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of yeast commonly found in probiotic supplements. It is used to treat diarrhea and other digestive issues.
What Are the Health Benefits of Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotics are believed to help balance and restore the natural biodiversity of your gut microbiome. After taking a course of antibiotics the gut microbiome can be severely depleted. Taking a probiotic supplement can restore the healthy bacteria back to normal levels.
Probiotics are also useful when attempting to balance the good and bad types of bacteria in the gut microbiome. This ensures the optimal functionality of your body.
Probiotics are classed as food rather than a drug or medicine. For this reason, they are often much less regulated than other health supplements. This means they do not go through as many testing processes and there is less of a guarantee of their effectiveness. They are typically not studied by the FDA.
This means that you can not be sure that the bacteria named on the packaging is what is actually contained in the packaging, or that the quantities match up. There is also no guarantee that the bacteria will live long enough in your body to reach your gut and have an impact.
What Are the Health Benefits of Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods have existed for centuries as a staple of many culture’s diets. In the past, before refrigeration, fermentation was a great method to preserve foods and drinks for longer.
The micro-organisms in the food are converted to alcohol, acids, and other organic compounds. These can then act as natural preservatives, keeping the food fresh. Fermentation is known to generate slightly sour, strong, and very distinctive flavors and odors.
It is believed that fermented foods are highly beneficial for your health. The sugars and starches in the foods undergo changes that enhance the naturally present bacteria.
The breakdown of the components of fermented foods often makes them easier to digest. This means that they cause fewer issues traveling through your body, leaving you in a happier and more comfortable state.
It is believed that the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of foods. The vitamins and minerals contained within foods are made more readily available for your body to absorb. At the same time, increasing the probiotics in your body helps them to make B vitamins and produce Vitamin K.
Probiotics support the growth of the mucosa (the inner lining of your gut). The function of this is to act as a natural barrier and to keep the immune system strong. The fewer good bacteria you have in your gut, the more inflamed the wall could become.
Several natural compounds are known to inhibit the absorption of nutrients in the gut. One of these is known as phytic acid, commonly seen in seeds and legumes. During the fermentation process, the phytic acid is broken down into bioavailable minerals.
The gut microbiome is believed to have an impact on your mental state. This is due to the enteric nervous system which connects the gut to the brain. Serotonin, the happy hormone, is made in the gut. It is believed that the healthier the gut microbiome, the better and more sustained the serotonin production of serotonin is.
Is Taking A Probiotic Supplement Better?
It is a good idea to incorporate a range of food types into your diet. This allows your body to receive a range of vitamins and minerals, making a well-balanced diet. Many people prefer to take probiotic supplements instead of consuming large amounts of fermented food.
Probiotics are specially formulated to allow your body to receive the maximum quantities of the beneficial bacteria. They are also much more targeted, meaning that the health benefits are likely to be felt more strongly.
Simply consuming fermented foods is often not sufficient if you have a specific goal in mind. You cannot tell exactly what strains of bacteria are contained in most fermented foods, nor the quantities of these.
This means that the effects may not be as strong or useful. In contrast, probiotic supplements will not only specify the bacterial strains used, but also the CFUs (colony forming units) – the total quantity of bacteria in the supplement.
Each probiotic supplement is likely to contain a different strain (or strains) or bacteria. These all have separate tasks within your body and will be targeting that specific function. Some bacteria are known to work best in conjunction with another strain, therefore the supplement may contain several, complementary strains.
This diversity allows for a greater variety in your gut microbiome. This will boost your immune system and overall health. Many fermented foods and drinks will only contain 1 or 2 strains.
If you have specific dietary requirements or allergies, you may want to look into taking probiotic supplements. Fermented foods cannot always guarantee that they are free from all allergens, or the bacteria may be hard to access without consuming these allergens.
- Related Article: How to Know if Probiotic Supplements are Working
Probiotic supplements simply contain bacteria with few other ingredients, making them much easier to align with dietary requirements. They are also a lot lower in sugar than most fermented foods, making them better for people trying to lose weight or managing diabetes.
Excess sugar in the body will also serve to feed the harmful bacteria, which can cause you to become sick as a result of overgrowth.
Probiotics supplements contain live versions of the bacteria. The same goes with fermented food, but if either spends too much time on the shelf, there is a risk that by the time of consumption, the bacteria may no longer be living.
The bacteria are fairly sensitive to moisture, heat, and light and require a food source to survive. Probiotic supplements tend to contain freeze-dried versions of the bacteria which allows them to survive for a much longer time.
If the bacteria have become weakened while waiting for consumption, such as in fermented foods, this means that they may not be strong enough to survive the journey to your gut.
The acid in your stomach is harsh and if the bacteria are weak there is a strong chance that this will kill them. This means that they do not reach the intestine, where they are meant to work.
How Can You Improve Your Gut Microbiome?
There are a number of ways to improve your gut microbiome on top of consuming fermented foods and probiotic supplements.
You should ensure that you are eating a diverse and balanced diet containing lots of fruit, beans, and legumes. These are high-fiber foods and support the growth of Bifidobacteria. For the same reason, it is recommended that you eat whole grain foods and beneficial carbohydrates.