Natural Nutrition: Probiotics

Natural Nutrition: Probiotics

By Felicia Marzolf, Dietetics Student

Hello everyone, my name is Felicia Marzolf and I am a senior dietetics student at Central Michigan University. I am going to be working with GreenTree this semester for a senior community nutrition project. As part of my project, I will be writing a series of articles on nutritional topics of interest. Please be sure to pass on any nutrition related issues you would like for me to cover. My email is I thought I would start my first article by discussing probiotics and why they are beneficial to your body.  I will also talk briefly about prebiotics and their relationship to probiotics.

What are probiotics and are they healthy for me?

Probiotics are microorganisms that are shown to benefit your health. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that primarily live in your gut. They help with good health and digestion. For probiotics to be successful, they must be able to survive the journey to the gastrointestinal tract, colonize and reproduce. Next they attach and adhere to the intestinal wall and correct the balance of bacteria in the gut. Which bacteria can best survive and attack the “bad stuff”? It may be better to take a probiotic containing a mix of bacteria versus a probiotic with only one type of bacteria. Prebiotics are an important part of the effectiveness of probiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates which the probiotics feed on. Prebiotics include things like whole grains, bananas, onions, and garlic.

For the most part a person’s gut bacteria is maintained naturally, but when a person takes an antibiotic, undergoes surgery or radiation, or is seriously lacking nutrients in their food, the balance of bacteria can be disrupted. In this case, probiotics can be really helpful in correcting the imbalance and getting rid of the “bad” bacteria.

What are common sources of probiotics?

Probiotics are produced naturally in the intestines, are contained in certain foods, and also come in the form of supplements.

Natural probiotics in the intestines include: Saccharomyces boulardii which is a yeast and Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which are bacteria. Lactobacillus is part of a class of bacteria known as lactic acid, which lowers pH levels and prevents harmful bacterial growth. Bifidobacterium produce lactic acid as an end product of fermentation.

Foods that contain probiotics: Soy drinks, yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh keifer, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. You want to get about 1 billion live cells with these foods. An example is about a cup of yogurt.

Supplements: Dietary probiotics supplements come in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts. Each supplement contains a specific type of probiotic, as well as a different amount of bacteria. Probiotic supplements can contain a single strain of bacteria or a mixture of different bacteria. Probiotics are naturally found in our food supply, so due to this, they are not FDA regulated. Make sure to do your research into brands before making your choice. Here is a list of some independently tested (Independently tested means the probiotics contain what the label says and do not contain contaminants such as disease-causing bacteria.) probiotic brands: Garden of Life Raw Probiotics, Nature’s Bounty Advanced Probiotics, Lee Swanson Genetic Designed Nutrition Ultimate Probiotic, and Enzymatic Therapy Acidophilus Pearls.

What do probiotics help with?

Probiotics are commonly used to promote good digestion, but scientists say probiotics may help with:

  • Treating digestive tract conditions and inflammatory conditions in the stomach such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers.
  • Treating irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, acid reflux and spastic colon.
  • Treating diarrhea
  • Preventing or reducing the severity of flu or cold
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Decreasing symptoms of lactose intolerance
  • Helping prevent infection – urinary tract infection and yeast infection
  • Preventing harmful bacteria from taking over in the gut lining
  • Inhibiting or destroying toxins from “bad” bacteria

Are probiotics safe and effective?

Probiotics are safe to use. In rare cases, they may trigger an allergic reaction, and there is the possibility of mild upset stomach, diarrhea, or flatulence and bloating for the first few days of being on a probiotic. However, probiotics are naturally found in foods such as yogurt, so they are considered safe.

When taking a broad spectrum antibiotic, do not take bacterial probiotics at the same time, because this could cause antibiotic resistance. However, it is important to start taking a probiotic for two to three weeks after finishing the antibiotic, in order to prevent the bad bacteria from coming back.

The science on the effectiveness of probiotics is still not determined. That said, studies do exist that show probiotics are beneficial to digestive health, though it is still unknown which bacteria or bacteria combinations are the most effective. Outside of the natural probiotics in our food supply, probiotics come in the form of dietary supplements, and because of this do not need to be approved by the FDA. Due to the lack of FDA regulation, manufactures can make claims about products that are untrue, so consumers should be cautious and do some research before they make product choices.

Any Questions? Please contact FeliciaMarzolf, Central Michigan University Dietetics Student at, or her Supervising Nutrition and Dietetics Professor, Dr. LeslieHildebrandt, PhD, RD,


This article was written by Felicia in a volunteer capacity. The views expressed may or may not be those of GreenTree Cooperative Grocery.