Gut Health

Top 10 Benefits of Probiotics

Top 10 Benefits of Probiotics

More and more research shows that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease. Probiotics are live microorganisms that help to improve the balance of bacteria in your gut. They can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements.

 

There are numerous benefits to supplementing with probiotics, including weight loss, digestive health, immune function and more. In this article, we’re going to cover the top 10 health benefits linked to probiotics.

 

What Are Probiotics?

 

Probiotic strains

 

Inside your gut are trillions of microorganisms. Collectively, these make up what is known as your gut microbiome. The ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut microbiome plays an important role in your health.

 

The ideal balance is 90% good bacteria and 10% bacteria. Good gut flora stave away pathogens, help your body break down fiber and complex sugars, help your body produce essential vitamin K, folic acid, and vitamin B, regulate bowel movements, decrease inflammation, moderate immune health, and of course support a healthy metabolism. However, when you look at the gut of the average person today, you’ll find just the opposite combination, 10% good bacteria and 90% bad bacteria, largely due in part to the over-processed diet many Americans consume, as well as certain substances like alcohol, antibiotics, and cigarette smoke. These things tend to starve the good bacteria while feeding the bad.

 

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut. They are found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, but they can also be taken as a supplement.

 

The most common types of probiotics are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii. Different types of probiotics may have different effects. For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus or any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing. Therefore, choosing the right type—or types—of probiotics is also an important thing to consider.

 

1. Probiotics Help Balance the Friendly Bacteria in Your Digestive System

 

Woman with healthy stomach

 

Perhaps the most important benefit of probiotics is that they help to balance the friendly bacteria in your gut. Probiotics include “good” bacteria—live microorganisms that can provide numerous health benefits when consumed. These benefits are thought to result from the ability of probiotics to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria.

 

An imbalance means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. Consequences of an imbalance can include digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity and more.

 

Supplementing with probiotics, and consuming probiotic-rich foods, can help to restore balance in your gut, potentially alleviating certain symptoms and conditions, and supporting overall health and digestive function.

 

2. Probiotics Can Help Reduce Symptoms of Certain Digestive Disorders

 

Restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut may help reduce symptoms of certain digestive disorders. Digestive disorders are on the rise today, and over one million people in the US suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

 

Certain types of probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains have improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis. Research suggests that probiotics may have benefits for other bowel disorders as well. Some studies show they may even help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

 

3. Probiotics May Help Boost Your Immune System

 

80% of your immune system is located in your intestinal tract. Your GI tract acts as a barrier between your body and the external world, protecting you from the various toxins that you ingest. Probiotics may help give your immune system a boost and inhibit the growth of harmful gut bacteria.

 

Furthermore, certain probiotics have been shown to promote the production of natural antibodies in the body. They may also boost immune cells like the IgA-producing cells, T lymphocytes and natural killer cells—all of which play an important role in fighting off disease.

 

4. Probiotics May Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat

 

Researchers have discovered that probiotics may help with weight loss through a number of different mechanisms. Some probiotics prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine. The fat is then excreted through feces rather than stored in the body.

 

Probiotics may also help you feel fuller for longer, burn more calories and store less fat. This is partly caused by increasing levels of certain hormones, such as GLP-1. They may also help with weight loss directly. In one study, dieting women who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus for 3 months lost 50% more weight than women who didn’t take a probiotic.

 

5. Probiotics Can Help Prevent and Treat Diarrhea

 

Another popular use of probiotics is their ability to prevent diarrhea or reduce its severity. Diarrhea is often a common side effect of taking antibiotics—compounds that kill bacteria in the gut. Sometimes antibiotics disturb and negatively affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Consuming probiotics can help to restore this imbalance, and also potentially remedy antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

 

In one study, researchers found that taking probiotics reduced antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42%. Probiotics can also help with other forms of diarrhea too. A large review of 35 studies found certain strains of probiotics can reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea by an average of 25 hours.

 

The research suggests that the effectiveness varies depending on the type and dose of the probiotic taken. Strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii are most commonly associated with a reduced risk of diarrhea.

 

6. Probiotic Supplements May Improve Certain Mental Health Conditions

 

An increasing number of studies are linking gut health to mood and mental health. This is attributed to probiotics ability to support hormone production, as well as due to the gut–brain axis, the two-way biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.

 

Both animal and human studies have fond that probiotic supplements can improve some mental health disorders. A review of 15 human studies found supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains for 1–2 months can improve anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and memory.

 

7. Some Probiotic Strains Can Help Keep Your Heart Healthy

 

Some probiotics may also help keep your heart healthy by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure. Certain lactic acid-producing bacteria may reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile in the gut. Bile is a naturally occurring fluid that helps digestion, and is made mostly of cholesterol. By breaking down bile, probiotics can prevent it from being reabsorbed in the gut, where it can enter the blood as cholesterol.

 

A review of 5 studies found that eating a probiotic yogurt for 2–8 weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4% and LDL cholesterol by 5%.

 

Consuming probiotics may also lower blood pressure. A review of 9 studies found that probiotic supplements reduce blood pressure. However, it took 8 weeks of daily supplementation to notice any significant changes.

 

8. Probiotics May Reduce the Severity of Certain Allergies and Eczema

Some probiotic strains may also reduce the severity of eczema in children and infants. One study found eczema symptoms improved for infants fed probiotic-supplemented milk, compared to infants fed milk without probiotics.

 

Another study followed children of women who took probiotics during pregnancy. The research concluded that those children had an 83% lower risk of developing eczema in the first two years of life.

 

9. Probiotics May Improve Nutrient Absorption

 

Around 90 percent of nutrient absorption happens in the small intestine, and intestinal microflora play an important role in this process. Probiotics help break down food into nutrients that can enter the bloodstream and be used by the body.

 

Those who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s or any other type of gastrointestinal disorder will often have trouble absorbing nutrients from food. Research now shows that both probiotics and prebiotics can help to improve the absorption of micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals from foods that we eat.

 

  1. Probiotics May Reduce Gas and Bloating

 

Intestinal gas is often a result of too many species of bad bacteria in the gut, which cause food to ferment badly. Gas is actually a normal byproduct of digestion, and contains a combination of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and often methane. The average human actually produces between 1-4 pints of intestinal gas each day.

 

The many bacteria in our intestines help to break down food, and also help to consume excess gas as well. It is actually the ‘friendly’ bacteria in our gut that swallow up gas. The more colonies of friendly bacteria we have, the less gas we are likely to have as well. However, the opposite is also true: when we have large amounts of bad bacteria, we end up with more gas and flatulence.

 

This is why certain strains of probiotics can help to relieve gas and bloating. It appears that Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis bacteria are able to help reduce gas production in the gut. They also help to crowd out unhealthy microbial populations and deter more gas from being created.  This can make a huge difference in the amount of bloating and flatulence someone experiences in a regular day.

 

Benefits of Probiotics for Women

 

Probiotics may also offer benefits specific to women’s health. Research shows that 40-60% of women experience urinary tract infections (UTI) with some regularity. Probiotics help to strengthen the immune system and fight off bad bacteria, and may help reduce the frequency in which women experience UTIs. Along with UTI protection, probiotics may also protect women from vaginal yeast infections. Furthermore, research suggest that having a good ratio of certain probiotic strains can improve fertility in women.

 

 

Benefits of Probiotics for Men

Just as probiotics have benefits specific to women’s health, they also appear to have benefits specific to men’s health. Research has identified a link between gut bacteria and prostate health. While more research is needed, early studies suggest that probiotics may help men keep their prostate healthy, which is increasingly important as men age. Another thing that men struggle with as they age is decreasing levels of the hormone testosterone. Research suggests that probiotics may boost testosterone in men, as well as boost sperm production and sperm count.

 

How to Include Probiotics in Your Diet

 

Adding probiotics to your diet can have many benefits, and it is easy to do. You can get probiotics from a variety of foods or supplements. Foods that contain probiotics include fermented foods such as:

 

  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Soy sauce (only traditional soy sauce like Nama Shoyu)

 

You can also take probiotics as supplements. When choosing a probiotic supplement, be sure to go for a multi-strain probiotic as this will help to colonize your gut with a diverse balance of different beneficial bacteria.

 

If you want to experience the health benefits mentioned above, it’s important to make sure that you consume adequate amounts. Most of the studies showing benefits used dosages of 1 billion to 100 billion live organisms or colony-forming units (CFU) per day.

 

 

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553134/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21436726/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049942/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031164/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15481739/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19018661/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22570464/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27413138/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16517616/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11114681/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11069570/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23083673/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25793197/

 

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