Back in the old days, one way people preserved milk was by adding already fermented milk to the fresh milk. The result was yogurt, either in the form of kefir or a thicker version that could be eaten with a spoon. Yogurt is filled with “friendly” bacteria, which, a growing body of scientific examination finds, provides multiple health benefits.
ONE OF THE WONDER FOODS
Probiotics, another name for the friendly little organisms that inhabit yogurt, when ingested take up residence in the intestines and prevent disease-causing bugs from settling in. The live cultures of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, the two most widely studied strains can be found in cheese, kefir, and yogurt as well as in supplements. In a 2005 report by the American Society for Microbiology, probiotics show promise for relieving diarrhea, eczema in children, and urinary-tract and vaginal infections. Other research suggests that probiotics might also improve digestive problems and irritable bowel syndrome, offset side effects of antibiotic use, and shorten the length and severity of the common cold.
GOOD FOR DENTAL HEALTH
A Japanese study with 942 participants ages 40-79 found that people who ate 55 grams (a couple of tablespoons) of yogurt a day (or more) of foods high in lactic acid (found in sour milk products such as yogurt and cottage cheese) were less likely to have periodontal disease. Yogurt, which contains the most lactic acid, had the greatest effect on gum health. Benefits were seen only in nonsmokers, however. (Journal of Periodontology, vol. 79, p. 131)
HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING THE REAL THING
To make sure you’re getting live cultures, look for the National Yogurt Association’s Live & Active Cultures seal. Supplements are okay, but they often contain fewer good bacteria and don’t include as many healthful nutrients, especially calcium, as yogurt.
The probiotics in live cultures pose no risks to people who are generally healthy, adults, children or toddlers. But they may present risk for people with compromised immunity. For example, in a 2008 study Dutch researchers randomly assigned 298 patients with severe acute inflammation of the pancreas to receive conventional treatment plus either probiotics or a placebo, both administered through a feeding tube into the small intestine. Twenty-four people in the probiotics group died, compared with nine in the control group, a result that the researchers could not explain. So if you have any question in your mind about the health of your immune system, talk with your doctor first before starting any kind of probiotic therapy.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this weblog is not to dispense medical advice nor in any way is meant to be construed as diagnostic or prescriptive. Always check with your physician before beginning any new program or trying any of the items discussed in the posts that appear on this site.