What Are Probiotics
One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is, there is good and bad to everything. The purpose of this post is to address the question: what are the health benefits of probiotics.
For starters, what do you think when you hear the word, bacteria? Good or bad? Most of the time, as soon as we hear the word bacteria, we think – bad. After all, they’re the cause of diseases such as pneumonia, strep throat, urinary tract infections and the dreadful methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (aka MRSA) and a host of others including the dreadful flesh eating vibrio vulnificus.
But, believe it or not, there are good bacteria! The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our body’s cells 10 to one. Most of these bacteria reside in our gut, and the majority is quite harmless.
The human gut is very complex and has a huge impact on overall body health. A healthy gut contributes to a powerful defense system, brain health, heart health, healthy sleep, improved mood, and effective digestion, and it may help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases
The gut is basically the gastrointestinal tract. It is the passage way food travels as it supplies the nutrients for our bodies. It consists of the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the back passage known as the anus.
The gut processes food from the time it is first eaten until it is either absorbed by the body or passed out as stools (feces).
Most of these good bacteria reside in the intestines where most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients take place. While some foods and liquids are absorbed through the liner of the abdomen, the majority are absorbed in the small intestine.
So we have good or friendly bacteria and bad or unfriendly bacteria, just as there’s good and bad cholesterol.
The goal is to achieve a balance between the two for optimal health. Studies have shown that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in our digestive system is linked to overall health and disease. Having the right gut bacteria balance is even linked to numerous additional health benefits, including weight loss, healthier skin and a reduced risk of many diseases.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria and aid in keeping this essential balance.
What are the health benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are microorganisms that are of a certain type of friendly bacteria, which provide health benefits when introduced into the digestion equation. Probiotics are live microorganisms which are consumed through hard (fermented) foods or supplements. They seem to be safe for most people.
They are often taken as supplements that are supposed to colonize our gut with these health-boosting microorganisms. One thing to note is that there are different cultures or strains of probiotics. Each one yields different effects to the body. For example, one strain can lead to weight loss, while another can lead to weight gain. More detail on this to follow.
These benefits are the result of the ability of probiotics to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria. An imbalance means that there are too many unhealthy microorganisms and not enough healthy-good bacteria. This can be the result of illness, medications such as antibiotics, poor diet and other factors. Consequences can include digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity and more.
Probiotics can help prevent and treat Diarrhea – Diarrhea is a common side effect of taking antibiotics. It occurs because antibiotics can negatively have an effect on the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
Probiotics may also facilitate with different varieties of diarrhea not associated with antibiotics. Depending on the type and dose of the probiotic taken, effectiveness varies.
Probiotics can improve some mental health conditions – An increasing number of studies link gut health to mood and mental health. Both animal and human studies indicate that probiotic supplements will improve some mental state disorders.
Probiotics can help keep our hearts healthy – Probiotics may help keep our hearts healthy by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
Certain dairy lactic acid-producing bacterium scale back cholesterol by breaking down bile within the gut. Bile, a natural produced fluid largely a product of cholesterol, helps digestion. By the breaking down of bile, probiotics can prevent it from being reabsorbed in the gut, where it can enter the blood as cholesterol. Five studies have found that eating a probiotic yogurt for 2–8 weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4% and LDL cholesterol by 5%.
Lowering cholesterol keeps arteries clear which keeps our blood flowing properly and our hearts happy and healthy.
Probiotics may also lower blood pressure – Studies have found that probiotic supplements reduce blood pressure, but only modestly.
A proper blood pressure also keeps our hearts happy and healthy.
Probiotics may reduce certain allergies – Probiotics may reduce the risk and severity of certain allergies, such as eczema in infants. However, more research is needed.
Probiotics may help reduce symptoms of some digestive conditions – Over one million people in the US suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (28Trusted Source). Probiotics could facilitate the scale back of the symptoms of gut disorders like colitis, IBS and necrotizing enterocolitis.
Probiotics may help boost the immune system – Probiotics may help give our immune system a boost and inhibit the growth of the harmful gut bacteria I mentioned earlier.
Also, some probiotics are shown to support the assembly of natural antibodies in the body. They may also boost immune cells.
A large review found that taking probiotics reduced the chance and extent of metastasis (respiratory) infections. Some has also been shown to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women by 50% (39Trusted Source).
Probiotics may help to lose weight – Probiotics may help with weight loss through a number of different mechanisms. I touched upon this earlier.
For example, some probiotics stop the absorption of dietary fat within the gut. The fat is then excreted through fecal matter instead of being stored in the body.
Probiotics can also assist you in feeling fuller for longer, burn additional calories and store less fat. This is partly caused by increasing the levels of certain hormones.
They may also help with weight loss directly. In one study, dieting women who took a certain probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus for 3 months lost 50% more weight than women who didn’t take a probiotic. Another study of 210 people found that taking even low doses of Lactobacillus gasseri for 12 weeks resulted in an 8.5% reduction of belly fat (46Trusted Source).
However, it is vital to remember that not all probiotics aid in weight loss. For example, surprisingly, some studies found certain probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can even lead to weight gain.
Also, important to note that more studies are needed to clarify the link between probiotics and weight.
Where to buy probiotics
You can get probiotics from a range of foods or supplements.
If you want to buy a probiotic supplement, then there is an excellent selection online at the Vitamin Shoppe. You can take probiotics as tablets, capsules and powders that contain the bacteria in dried form.
Live probiotic cultures are typically found in a soured dairy farm product like yogurts and milk drinks. Fermented foods like preserved (pickled) vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and soy products may also contain some lactic acid bacteria.
However, be aware that some probiotics can be destroyed by stomach acid before they even reach the intestines where they are effective — meaning that you get none of the intended benefits.
If you want to experience any of the health benefits, it’s important that you consume adequate amounts.
Most of the studies showing advamtages used dosages of one billion to a hundred billion live organisms or colony-forming units (CFU) per day.
Please feel free to leave any comment, question or concern below.