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By now just about everyone has heard of the friendly, probiotic bacteria in yogurt. There are also friendly bacteria in wine that have the same effects on health.

Over the last 50 years, yogurt has become the world's most popular health food. In the 1960's, the leading yogurt maker in the United States ran television advertisements featuring an interview with a 90-year-old yogurt eater "and his mother." About 2005, makers of yogurt began extolling the virtues of the probiotic bacteria in their product, the most widely advertised product, ironically, containing no actual live cultures of the Lactobacillus bacteria that exert beneficial health effects. And more recently, "Greek" yogurt, with its thicker curd, has become all the rage. It isn't enough for yogurt to be good for you. It has to taste good and have the right feel in your mouth.

A very large part of the world, however, doesn't eat yogurt, Greek or any other kind, because they are lactose-intolerant.

Presumably these non-consumers of dairy products would also benefit from the daily dose of healthy bacteria, but yogurt causes so many unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating, diarrhea, flatulence) that it is out of the question. There are fermented yogurt products made with soy and coconut, and with goat's milk for people who are allergic to cow's milk, but they aren't yet widely available in supermarkets. For this reason, researchers have started looking for alternative sources of probiotics for daily consumption.

Wine to the Rescue

Researchers in Spain have identified 11 strains of live bacteria in wine, including the health-friendly Lactobacillus bacteria, as well as Oenococcus (literally, "wine bacteria") and Pediococcus, the kind of bacteria that release a buttery flavor, especially in Chardonnay. Researcher  Dolores González de Llano of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid told Live Science "Up to now, many studies have reported that the best [foods] to deliver probiotics are dairy fermented products, so that the probiotic properties of wine-related [Lactobacillus] were hardly studied. But nowadays there is a need for novel and nondairy probiotics, from the increasing number of lactose-intolerance cases occurring in the world population, coupled with the unfavorable effect of cholesterol contained in fermented dairy products."

Why Are Probiotic Bacteria Important?

Probiotic bacteria make a huge difference in digestive health. Every healthy person's digestive tract contains trillions of microorganisms. There are more bacterial cells in the human body than there are human cells. One of the important functions of probiotic bacteria is to make sure that pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria do not take over.

Another function of probiotic bacteria is simply to take up space.

Up to 1/3 of stool is not the leftovers of digested food. It is living bacteria.

Without these bacteria, stools become harder to pass and constipation results. 

Probiotic bacteria also provide nutrients to the human body. Friendly bacteria feed on fiber. In the process of digesting fiber for their own needs, they release small amounts of glucose for our needs. For this reason, a bowl of bran cereal can provide as much energy as a bowl of ice cream, if there are healthy bacteria in the colon. These bacteria also play a role in creating vitamin K, which is essential to the function of the bones and blood vessels, and some release butyric acid, which protects the lining of the colon against cancer.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • O'Connor A. Really? Red Wine Is Good for the Stomach. New York Times. 14 May 2012.
  • Queipo-Ortuño M, Boto-Ordóñez M, Murri M, Gomez-Zumaquero JM, Clemente-Postigo M, Estruch R, Cardona Diaz F, Andrés-Lacueva C, Tinahones FJ. Influence of red wine polyphenols and ethanol on the gut microbiota ecology and biochemical biomarkers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jun. 95(6):1323-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.027847. Epub 2012 May 2.
  • Photo courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/2294658165
  • Mindmap by SteadyHealth.comWine.jpg

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