Probiotics are defined as “live bacteria … good for your gut” (1).
And, as noted by Harvard Health, many of these organisms actually work FOR our bodies and not against them (4). Probiotics work by supporting these healthy species of bacteria.
This is a detailed article about probiotics... what it is, how it works and how it can help you achieve your fitness and health goals.
Probiotics supercharge your immune system. Restoring your digestive balance is important because your digestion system is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Research states that sixty to eighty percent of the body’s immune system is located in the gut (5).
Having probiotics in your gut improves your digestive health and leads to a much healthier life. For example, probiotics turn food waste in your gut into butyric and propionic acid (8).
Butryic acid alone is responsible for lowering the risk of colon cancer and increasing the health of your intestinal lining (9).
Probiotics can improve mental health. Establishing a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut has far-reaching implications and improves mental health, including depression.
One study in mice shows that supplementing with a probiotic can even change the messages sent from the vagus nerve to the brain, meaning there is an actual bond between your gut bacteria and how you feel or think (12).
Another research team gave 20 subjects depressed subjects probiotics for 4 weeks (13). Compared to the placebo group, who took a sugar pill, the probiotic takers scored significantly lower on the Ledien Index of Depression Sensitivity scale- meaning they ended up as happier (14).
Probiotics protect and enhance your digestive system. Probiotics have been studied most in regard to digestive health (15).
Some studies also show that probiotics may be beneficial against inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (22).
Probiotics counteract the side effects of antibiotics. One of the most common side effects you see with antibiotics is diarrhea (27).
Though antibiotics are sometimes necessary in order to fight off serious infections and help people recover, it’s also the case that taking antibiotics, creates the chance that the number of good bacteria in your body becomes significantly lower than the bad bacteria (28).
This is why antibiotics often lead to digestive problems, including bloating, diarrhea, and sometimes fatal complications (29).
Taking probiotics can help support the growth of healthy bacteria while you take antibiotics, helping to maintain your body’s natural balance and improve your gastrointestinal health while letting the antibiotics clear out the dangerous bacterial infection (30).
Probiotics have been shown to aid in belly fat loss. Obese people have shown to have different gut bacteria than lean people (31).
Some probiotic strains have even been shown to have weight loss benefits (32). In 2013 a study of 210 individuals with abdominal obesity was undertaken to determine if probiotics could enhance weight loss at all.
The group who took the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri caused an 8.5% loss of belly fat mass over a period of 12 weeks (33).
When they stopped taking the probiotic, they gained the belly fat back within 4 weeks.
There is also some evidence that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis can help with weight loss and obesity prevention (34).
Probiotics balance the gut to protect you from numerous diseases. The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora (37).
Your gut actually contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms including bacteria, yeasts and viruses, with majority being bacteria. However, not all organisms in the gut are friendly. Some are good, others are bad.
Probiotics (and prebiotic fibers) can help correct this balance, making sure our gut flora is functioning optimally (44).
The gut flora manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins (45).
Probiotics could cause an upset stomach. It’s scientifically proven that probiotics tend to decrease instances of diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive health problems (52).
Taking probiotics may cause minor side effects, but the benefits of probiotics outweigh these effects for most people.
There are two big categories I recommend when searching out the perfect probiotic to ensure that the bacteria will help you and be delivered where it needs to go in the gut.
CFU Count. Your gut is designed to break food down so you have to make sure are taking a hefty dose of bacteria, measured in Colony-forming Units (CFU). Typically you want to see a count of 5-10 billion to ensure a proper amount reaches their new home.
Strain Diversity. Having a blend of probiotics allows each species to work together giving you more health benefits than they can individually.
You can take it as a supplement or get them naturally from probiotic rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi and others.
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics (note the "e"), which are dietary fibers that help feed the friendly bacteria that are already in the gut (53).
Probiotics may reduce depression and anxiety, improve heart health and enhance immune function, to name a few.
The importance of having a healthy gut doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but research indicates it is just as vital as food choices, good sleep and exercise.
Maintaining a healthy gut goes way beyond just taking a probiotic supplement, but adding it to your daily lifestyle is a great start.
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