If you’re looking to improve your overall wellness, it’s worth adding probiotics to your regimen through a supplement, your diet, or both. What makes probiotics so powerful is their ability to be used as either a preventative measure or targeted solution for a variety of concerns including immunity, mood disorders, gut health, and so much more.
Probiotics, aka the good gut bacteria that line your digestive tract, help support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and stave off infection. They’re essential for synthesizing certain neurotransmitters; producing vitamin B12, butyrate, and vitamin K2; and stimulating the production of IgA and regulatory T cells, both essential to immune function. Probiotics hop on board at birth and help the GI tract produce its own unique microbiome, and supplemental probiotics help increase the number of those good bacteria in your gut. And with about as many gut bacteria molecules as cells for the rest of your body, you can understand why probiotics can impact so many different facets of health.
Choosing the Right Probiotic Supplement
Various strains of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Saccharomyces have been shown to offer the most health benefits, and most probiotic supplements contain a combination of different strains. By choosing the right ones, you can address your unique health concerns and priorities. The product label will help you determine genus, species, and strain as well as the number of colony-forming units or CFUs. When choosing a supplement, you’ll also want to consider the brand quality and reputation, a high CFU count (the average adult needs 10-20 billion CFUs per day, though specific health conditions may require more), strain diversity, if it contains any added sugar, and if it’s composed of “live and active” cultures (rather than “made with active cultures”). Supplements should be taken about 15-30 minutes before breakfast, ensuring that it gets to the digestive tract instead of getting stuck behind your meal.
Probiotic Food Sources
If you’d rather get your probiotics through diet, some of the best food sources include fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso, and natto; kombucha, kefir, probiotic yogurt, and fermented veggies like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. Again, be on the lookout for added sugar and preservatives, both of which are bad for your gut and your overall health. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
Now that you know how to source your probiotics, here’s some of the many ways they can be beneficial to your health.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
1. Improved Digestive Health
Probiotics are perhaps most famous for their digestive health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of diarrhea and constipation, increased regularity, and less bloating and flatulence. Probiotics also appear to benefit IBS sufferers by reducing pain and severity of symptoms, and research shows that it can benefit those with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as well as help eradicate H. pylori. Research is ongoing as to whether probiotics may help celiac disease and other gluten issues.
2. Decreased Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance, caused by improper or overuse of antibiotic medication, is considered a major problem worldwide. Through the use of supplemental probiotics, however, it’s possible to build back a healthy gut microbiome. There’s also evidence to suggest that the use of probiotics will make an antibiotic medication more effective, as well as help prevent your body’s bacteria from becoming resistant.
3. Improved Mood and Brain Function
Our gut is considered our second brain, and the connection between the digestive and nervous systems is known as the gut-brain axis. Although research is ongoing, promising results have been gleaned from both human and animal studies with improvements seen in a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, memory function, and stress. For example, one study of 40 patients with depression not only saw an improvement in mood but reduced levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker) and insulin after eight weeks of taking probiotic supplements.
4. A Stronger Immune System
Probiotics give your immune system a boost in several ways, including inhibiting the growth of bad gut bacteria, preventing UTIs and promoting the production of antibodies. Probiotics also help reduce inflammation, which is the root cause of many diseases and health problems. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory properties of probiotics may help prevent food allergies from developing in children.
5. Healthier Skin
The skin, your body’s largest organ, has its own microbiome just like your gut. A growing body of research supports the use of both topical and pill/food-sourced probiotics in improving certain skin conditions like eczema and acne, potentially reversing sun damage, and possibly even preventing some skin cancers. Your skin’s pH also increases with age, leading to dryness that allows bad bacteria to grow and cause issues. Some probiotics feed healthy bacteria to balance the skin’s pH and protect it from free radical damage. Probiotics also seem particularly beneficial to children with skin problems such as pediatric atopic dermatitis and infant eczema.
6. Natural Treatment for Hypertension
Studies show that probiotics help reduce blood pressure in a number of ways, including by improving lipid profiles, lowering insulin resistance, regulating renin levels, and activating antioxidants. This is particularly hopeful treatment for hypertension as probiotics have relatively no side effects, as opposed to prescription medication. The best results were seen in individuals with existing hypertension who took multiple probiotic strains for a minimum of eight weeks, containing at least 100 billion CFUs.
7. Possible Diabetes Treatment and Prevention
Ongoing research suggests that probiotics may provide a natural alternative treatment for diabetes. One study linked a high consumption of probiotic-rich yogurt to a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Another found that probiotics improve insulin sensitivity and lower the autoimmune response in patients with diabetes. Also, the use of synbiotics, (a dietary supplement combining pre- and probiotics), appears to help manage blood sugar, particularly when it’s elevated.
8. May Improve Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Just like the gut brain axis, your gut and liver share an axis, too. Because of this, researchers are looking to see how probiotics can improve, or even prevent, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Studies show that a blend of lactobacillus-bifidobacterium probiotics can reduce levels of two key liver enzymes, ALT and AST, which are byproducts of liver damage.
As you can see, there is lot probiotics can do for you and your health. If you need help navigating the tricky world of these beneficial supplements—whether it’s determining the best strains for you, the number of CFUs you should aim for, or something else—please contact me. I’m here to help!