Your intestine is filled with trillions of bacteria, or microflora. These bacteria are both beneficial and harmful. An unhealthy bacterial balance can result in gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal infections. Several foods and herbs may act as probiotics--which replace your friendly intestinal bacteria--to aid in digestive health. Consult your doctor before taking any herbal remedy.
An early 20th century Russian scientist noticed that Bulgarian peasants, whose diet was rich in fermented milk products, like yogurt, lived far beyond their expected life span—some past 100 years old. While the peasant story has been disputed, yogurt remains a product touted for its probiotic benefits. Microorganisms, like lactobacillus acidophilus, are added to milk products during the fermentation process. Most fermented dairy products in the United States contain two strains of beneficial bacteria—lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus, according to the University of California at Berkeley. You can also find probiotics in acidophilus-enriched milk.
New Zealand honey contains natural complex sugars that might act as prebiotics in your body. NutraIngredients.com cites a 2005 investigation by the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and Madrid’s Instituto de Fermentaciones, which observed the effects of honey on fecal bacteria. Results found honey increased levels of the probiotics, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Horapito, or pepper tree, is a New Zealand herb that reportedly acts as a probiotic on fungal infections. This herb’s main ingredient, polygodial, may fight yeast infections. NaturopathicDigest.com cites a 1982 study at Canterbury University in New Zealand. Candida albicans, a form of yeast, was produced to determine the effects of polygodial on its growth. Polygodial was successful in inhibiting the proliferation of the yeast.
Probiotics are suggested as a way to ease the gastrointestinal discomfort of those with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Peppermint appears to have a probiotic effect on the symptoms of IBS, such as reducing nausea, stomach cramping, bloating and intestinal gas. However, more scientific evidence is needed to prove peppermint's effectiveness in treating digestive disorder symptoms.
Olive leaf was first use by ancient Egyptians for its medicinal benefits. This herb became popular when health professionals began using it in 1995. Olive leaf may have probiotic effects on gastrointestinal disorders by boosting the immune system as well as reducing diarrhea and yeast infections. Olive leaf, while thought beneficial, has not been scientifically proven to treat intestinal disorders