Ever wonder what the real deal about probiotics is?
It seems you can’t turn on the TV or go online these days without seeing an ad for probiotics.
These “good” bacteria are highly praised and often heralded as an almost magical cure for digestion problems. But, what does the science say?
We checked the hype. Here you go:
If you’re here and reading this, that means you’ve come across the term “probiotics” at some point.
If you don’t know what probiotics really are, that’s okay. Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics (duh). Antibiotics work to treat infections throughout your body by destroying bacteria in your body. In other words, they are against your body’s bacteria.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are defined by WebMD as “live bacteria … good for your gut” (1).
In essence, probiotics are “good bacteria.” Your body is full of fantastic resources; proteins, fats, carbohydrates, liquids, anything a parasite, bacterium, or virus could ever hope for. Your probiotics set up an environment that keeps these invaders away and you healthy.
Probiotics work by supporting and increasing the number of healthy bacteria in our bodies (2) . Between 500 and 2000 species of microorganisms are ALREADY living in our guts (3). 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.
These aid in digestion and other essential digestive processes. Not only do probiotics help support your body’s natural good bacteria, they also help restore the balance between good and bad bacteria in your gut (5). This balance is essential to maintaining a healthy, happy quality of life.
This notion of balance is essential to human health. Doctors call it homeostasis.
Unfortunately, when we take antibiotics, we are at a great risk of disrupting the balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies. One of the most common side effects you see with antibiotics is diarrhea (6).
Though antibiotics are sometimes necessary in order to fight off serious infections and help people recover, it’s also the case that taking antibiotics, especially for certain groups of people, creates the chance that the number of good bacteria in your body becomes significantly lower than the bad bacteria (7).
This is why antibiotics often lead to digestive problems, including bloating, diarrhea, and sometimes fatal complications (8). 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 (9).
Not all probiotics are the same. In fact, there are millions of different strains and variations of probiotics that nourish different individual species of bacteria. Naturally, with all this selection there are certain bacteria that boost your health better than others depending on your individual biochemistry (10). Because of this, it’s important to check and see what strains of probiotic you are taking. It is recommended that you consult your doctor about which probiotic is best for you.
WebMD and Harvard Health both indicate that probiotics are beneficial to those who are subject to gut and digestive health problems (11). This includes people taking antibiotics, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or other digestive disorders.
Consumerlabs.com asserts that probiotics are proven to help those who have subpar digestive health and says that the constant and regular use of quality probiotics has been known to effectively cure disorders including diarrhea, constipation, diverticulitis, eczema, allergies, and depression (12).
For those who suffer from gut problems and have found no solution, trying probiotics may be a way to finally restore your body’s natural healthy balance and overcome digestive problems.
Unlike antibiotics that are usually given in the forms of a pill or a shot, probiotics can be ingested in food. Some foods naturally contain a certain number of probiotics—foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. This means that taking probiotics can be a fun and tasty addition to your day!
With various hundreds of brands and flavors to choose from you should have no problem finding your favorite way to add to your daily diet- or even find a recipe to make your own.
Now, if the food you’re eating has been irradiated or thoroughly heated you kill the bacteria and don’t receive any probiotic benefit. So, if you’re looking to eat a Key Lime Pie yogurt loaded with sugar, you’ll be missing out on the probiotic benefits.
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 (13). Having a healthy gut ensures one can better fight off and prevent infections and have an overall healthier quality of life.
So, digestive health can have far-reaching implications. 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 (14). Butryic acid alone is responsible for lowering the risk of colon cancer and increasing the health of your intestinal lining while propionic acid is used to fuel your nerve cells and increase the health of your nervous system (15)
This little bit of information is mind blowing- I know, I know, I’m a bit of a nutrition nerd… but according to Consumerlabs.com, there are more probiotics (good bacteria) in your gut than there are cells in your body (16)!
This mind-blowing fact is a testament to the importance of probiotics in human health. When this number of probiotics is out of balance, it can have serious consequences. Being able to visualize the number of good bacteria in your gut in this way underscores how important they are to human health.
Though we may overlook probiotics, our bodies certainly don’t! With billions of bacteria residing and working in our guts, our bodies depend on these beneficial bacterial to conduct essential daily functions.
It’s very rare that you can ingest anything without side effects.
Even the foods we eat affect our bodies in ways that may go unnoticed. Some foods may cause bloating; others may make us feel lethargic. However, the side effects are usually negligible. This is also true for probiotics.
WebMD mentions that probiotics may cause a bit of an upset stomach or diarrhea for some; however, some may attribute this to the actions probiotics take within your gut (17).
It’s scientifically proven that probiotics tend to decrease instances of diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive health problems (18). Taking probiotics may cause minor side effects, but the benefits of probiotics outweigh these effects for most people. As with anything you ingest, if you experience any abnormal or alarming symptoms, it’s best to consult with your doctor. The big idea is that on a chemical and biological level no two people are alike and so a strain of bacteria that cures one person’s tummy troubles can cause another to sprint to the bathroom.
There are many foods that include probiotics in addition to fermented foods. The key here is that you can eat your fill of pickled/fermented foods like kimchi, pickles, miso soup, sourdoughs, and others I talk about earlier you can do more to grow your good bacteria than you realize.
Imagine you’re in the gym with the goal of developing larger biceps and not having your massive thighs grow another inch. If all you do is squat, you won’t make any progress because you’ll be feeding the muscle growth in your legs instead of your arms. It’s the same way with bacteria in your gut. If you want more good bacteria you have to feed it resistant starch or fiber so they have enough energy to grow and survive. On the other hand, if you eat too many sugary foods you’ll end up feeding the “bad bacteria” and suffer the poor health and cravings that follow.
There are four 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:
Brand Quality: You want a great brand that delivers what they put on the label with no additives or filler.
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.
Research: Most important, determine which strains work the best for your body and health goals.
Harvard Health tackles the myth that probiotics are good for vaginal health.
The center notes that while many women believe probiotics can be an effective measure against vaginal problems such as yeast infections, they do not recommend using them, calling it nothing more than a “folk remedy” (19).
Harvard Health notes that some women ingest probiotics or even insert probiotic yogurt into their vaginas in order to improve their female health; however, the science behind this practice doesn’t actually support the remedy.
Please ladies, don't do that.
With the massive amount of benefits you can gain from eating probiotics, you might expect them to be extremely unaffordable. However, according to WebMD, many of the most popular (and most delicious) probiotics are very cheap (20)!
You don’t have to worry about breaking the bank to maintain your health when you can purchase cheap and beneficial probiotics in foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and miso. The variety of available flavors will leave you happy, and because the products are so cheap, you will be able to eat them on a regular basis. This will help you in not only boosting your health and immune system, but in maintaining the boosts that you acquire.
Remember: health is not just a one-time thing. It must be nurtured and maintained for a lifetime, and buying and consuming extremely cheap and highly beneficial probiotics is one of the best ways to do this. Naturally, you can take this a step further and pick up a reputable probiotic supplement for under 50 cents a day according to pricing on consumerlabs.com (21).
Probiotics can even impact your mood and mental health. One research team gave 20 subjects depressed subjects probiotics for 4 weeks (22). 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 (23)!
Another 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 (24).
Establishing a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut has far-reaching implications and improves mental health, including depression. This suggests that adding a quality probiotic supplement to your diet can effectively manage and even improve mood disorders.
So you might be asking yourself: where can I get these probiotics? Though the word itself might sound pretty scientific, you do not need to go to your local pharmacy or drugstore in order to purchase them.
As noted by WebMD and the Global Healing Center, probiotics are naturally found in many of the products in our grocery stores (25). In addition to products such as soft cheeses, miso, and kimchi, grocery stores also carry items such as pickles, dark chocolate, and kefir. These products all contain high amounts of beneficial probiotics and are especially easy to find.
So don’t forget: whenever you feel like you need a probiotic boost, all you need to do is go to your local grocery store and shop around.
Importantly, probiotics have been shown to be beneficial to children and even babies. Slate.com notes that studies have shown that probiotics can help reduce the instance of eczema in babies and may be beneficial to allergy concerns (26). Though the science of studying probiotics with regard to children is still young, preliminary studies suggest that it can have great benefits. Scientists do, however, caution against using probiotics for people with cancer or with weakened immune systems, so it’s best to consult with your doctor before starting a probiotic regime for your children (27). Though side effects are rare, it’s best to always take precautions- this is literally kid-tested mother-approved!
If you are looking to store probiotics but are not sure how, do not worry! Storing probiotics is actually quite simple. Just store your probiotic in a place that is not overly hot because your probiotics are technically living foods, since the bacteria is alive and well.
Of course, if you have foods such as yogurt or kimchi, it naturally follows that they should be put in colder places, such as the refrigerator. For other foods, such as pickles or chocolate, just make sure that the place where you store them is not hot enough to damage the foods.
There you have it! Whether you’re new to the probiotic trend or a seasoned veteran, you know can navigate the world of probiotics. It’s important to start off with whole-food probiotics to nourish and fuel your gut then add is a safe and trusted supplement to make sure you have the optimal balance of species and strains in your gut.
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