Your digestive tract contains “good” microorganisms – probiotics – and bad. Probiotics help to maintain healthy digestion and a strong immune system by keeping harmful bacteria in check. Intentionally or accidentally, you have probably consumed foods containing probiotics such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lb. casei, Lb. paracasei or Lb. rhamnosus. These bacteria are the live cultures found in yogurt. You can also find probiotics in raw cheeses.
Cheeses are excellent carriers for probiotics -- their low acidity and high fat preserve and nurture the microorganisms while they move through the digestive system. Cheeses that contain probiotics are either aged or made from raw, unpasteurized milk.
Raw cheese -- made from raw, unpasteurized cow or goat's milk -- comes in almost any variety. Cheddar, feta and Gouda are common probiotic cheeses as are provolone, Edam, brick, caciocavallo, Emmental and Gruyere. When purchasing cheese, look for the words "organic," "probiotic," or "made from raw milk" on the label.
Probiotics have been credited with many positive health effects. Mayo Clinic nutritionist, Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., notes that there is evidence of their efficacy in treating diarrhea, vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome and childhood eczema. Probiotics may also lessen the severity of colds and flu, and prevent bladder cancer from recurring.
In 2010, Finland researcher Dr. Fandi Ibrahim and colleagues at the University of Turku proved, through blood tests, that daily consumption of probiotic Gouda cheese by adults ages 72 and older offset immunosenescene -- the age-related reduction of natural and acquired immunity.
Gas and bloating are mild side effects of probiotics. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health points to the lack of research as a consideration regarding the safety of probiotics -- especially if you have a compromised immune system. You should also be aware of the potential for probiotics in promoting infections and overstimulating your immune system.
Probiotics cheeses are regulated as foods, not as medicine. Therefore, consult your physician before using any probiotics product as an alternative treatment for any health condition.