Your gut is teeming with bacteria — in fact, we humans have more bacteria in our bodies than we do cells, and the majority reside in the lower digestive tract (intestines). However, not all bacteria is beneficial, or belongs there, so we need enough 'good' bacteria to stave off the many and varied side effects the 'bad' bacteria can bring about. An imbalance of bacteria is known as 'dysbiosis', and can be a factor in many common nasties such as diarrhea, bloating and general stomach discomfort.
When a strain of good bacteria actually has a beneficial effect in the body, that's when it's known as probiotics. An increase in probiotics in the body is beneficial on many fronts; probiotics play a major role in digestion and, as such, can help ease digestive discomfort (something almost 9 out of 10 Australian women experience). But this is not their only benefit, they keep harmful pathogens at bay — for example, the probiotic Lactobacillus Reuteri has been shown to kill tooth decay-causing bacteria — and help maintain a healthy immune system. Probiotics may also help people with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and even assist with easing yeast infection and urinary tract infection in women.
Probiotics can be found in many fermented foods and drinks, such as probiotic yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, kimchi, tempeh and pickles, as well as specialised supplements. A probiotic yoghurt is one of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to introduce probiotics into your daily routine.
No, not all yoghurts and yoghurt products contain probiotics. Regular yoghurts retain some 'live and active cultures', which are the two bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles) used to convert milk into yoghurt during fermentation, but these don't have specific health benefits, as such. Only some yoghurts are classified as probiotic yoghurts, which means they contain both live cultures and probiotics. Some probiotic strains, when consumed in high enough quantities, have been proven to have health benefits.
To optimise gut health, dietitian Melanie McGrice recommends, "a diet rich in fibre, prebiotics from foods such as vegetables, legumes and fruit, probiotics from yoghurt, water to flush out your system and plenty of physical activity."