It wasn’t that long ago that the word “probiotics” wasn’t part of our collective vocabulary. Then, suddenly, it was everywhere thanks to a new understanding of the role that beneficial bacteria living in our digestive systems play in our overall health.
That said, it can be difficult to know whether you need to take probiotics – and if you do, which probiotics to take. A quick perusal of the shelves in any pharmacy or vitamin store can be overwhelming since there are many options.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about what probiotics do and the 6 reasons that you should be taking them.
Let’s start with the basics. Probiotics are living microorganisms that may be taken as a supplement or found in certain foods. While much of the talk about probiotics focuses on beneficial or “good” bacteria, some yeasts are also considered to be probiotics.
The bacteria and yeasts living in your digestive system are sometimes referred to as your gut microbiome. The default assumption about bacteria is that they’re bad – after all, nobody wants a bacterial infection. The truth is that some bacteria are harmful while others are beneficial. The bacteria living in your digestive system play an important role in your digestion and overall health.
Probiotics are used to introduce beneficial bacteria to your body in a controlled way. While some people have a good balance of the bacteria that aid digestion, others do not. Many things can affect the delicate balance of the gut microbiome, including:
Probiotics may be recommended by doctors as part of the treatment for a wide variety of diseases and conditions such as:
Beneficial bacteria help your body to digest food, absorb nutrients, and induce peristalsis – the process by which food moves through your intestines. When the balance of bacteria is off, you may experience digestive issues and abdominal discomfort.
There are significant benefits to taking probiotics as part of your daily health regimen. Here are 6 of the most important benefits of taking probiotics.
#1: Probiotics Can Prevent and Treat Antibiotics-Associated Diarrhea
Anybody who has taken antibiotics knows that they can wreak havoc with your digestion. The reason is that antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, including the beneficial bacteria that normally live in our digestive systems. It’s one of the reasons that diarrhea is a common after-effect of antibiotic treatment.
We found several studies confirming that probiotics are an effective treatment for diarrhea associated with antibiotics. A 2015 study found that giving children probiotics could both prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea and shorten its duration. Adults can benefit too, as confirmed by this study which concluded that probiotics could reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by as much as 42%.
#2: Probiotics Can Prevent Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are uncomfortable and can be remarkably persistent, requiring the application of messy creams to clear them up. The good news is that certain probiotics may be able to restore a healthy balance to the vagina and get rid of yeast infections for good.
A healthy vagina is home to a variety of beneficial bacteria. We found multiple studies confirming that taking probiotics can prevent yeast infections. A study from 2009 found that women with yeast infections who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri experienced a reduction in yeast cells within 24 hours.
The second study, from 2012, found that women who were given probiotics containing a combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum experienced a significant reduction of yeast within 28 days.
#3: Probiotics May Provide Relief from Some Forms of Mental Illness
A little-known fact about serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone, is that 95% of the serotonin in your body is manufactured in the digestive system – not in the brain. It stands to reason, then, that the health of your digestive system would be correlated to mental health.
In 2016, a systematic review of studies found that taking probiotics was positively correlated with a reduction in certain mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as spatial and non-spatial memory.
Another study from 2016 asked a group of petrochemical workers to rate themselves on a General Health Questionnaire as well as on the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS.) The study group who took probiotics, probiotic yogurt, or a combination of the two all experienced improvements in general well-being and a reduction of symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
It’s important to note here – and for each of these benefits – that taking probiotics is not a replacement for advice from your doctor. You should always get professional medical advice if you are experiencing symptoms of any disease.
#4: Probiotics May Reduce Cholesterol
One surprising benefit of taking probiotics is that they may help your body break down foods containing cholesterol and thus reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
A study from 2000 looked at the impact that consumption of fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir had on cholesterol levels. It concluded that probiotic consumption led to a 4% reduction in total cholesterol and a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
#5: Probiotics Can Decrease Symptoms in Diseases of the Digestive System
There are certain chronic diseases that impact the digestive system and it’s possible that taking a probiotic supplement may help reduce the most unpleasant symptoms of them.
The first is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. We found one study that concluded that the probiotic E. coli Nissle was just as effective at keeping ulcerative colitis in remission as prescription medications. The evidence of probiotics helping with Crohn’s disease was inconclusive and requires additional study.
A 2010 study revealed that there may be similar benefits for people who have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. However, the results for IBS were not conclusive and additional studies will need to be carried out to confirm whether probiotics are beneficial.
#6: Probiotics Can Help You Lose Weight
One of the most exciting potential benefits of taking probiotics is that they may help you lose weight. The bacterial strains in your digestive system play an important role in how your body uses nutrients and if the balance isn’t right, it can lead to weight gain.
We found multiple studies confirming that probiotics containing the strain L. gasseri helped to reduce inflammation in study subjects as well as helping them to lose weight. These findings underscore why it can be so complicated to shed unwanted weight.
One of the most confusing things about choosing a probiotic supplement is deciding which strains to take. Most of us don’t have detailed knowledge about which beneficial bacteria are living in our digestive systems – and therefore, we don’t know what we need to take to restore balance.
Let’s start with general guidelines and then we’ll review some specific strains and when they are recommended. The general recommendation is to take a probiotic supplement that:
It may take some trial and error to find a formula that works for you. If you have specific symptoms you want to treat with probiotics, here are some recommendations.
As noted above, it’s a good idea to discuss any symptoms you’re having with your doctor, who may want to conduct tests to determine which probiotics are best for your health.
One of the probiotic supplements we recommend is ProbioticBALANCE from Prime Health Daily. It has 5.75 Billion CFU’s per serving and supports healthy immune function and digestion. It has Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium longum.
It’s one of the better formulas out there in our opinion and a good entry point for someone looking to start working on their gut health. You can learn more about ProbioticBALANCE from their official website by clicking here.
One final note. Gummy supplements are popular, but they typically do not contain a wide variety of bacterial strains and may not be ideal if you’re trying to rebalance your gut biome. In fact, many gummy probiotics contain only a single strain.
Taking a probiotic supplement can be beneficial but it’s not the only way to introduce healthy bacteria to your body. Here are some foods that contain probiotics:
You can buy most of these foods at your supermarket. Keep in mind that it’s also quite easy to make fermented foods at home if you’re so inclined. And once again, if you can’t get enough Probiotic foods you can always take a Probiotic supplement.
One of the few we recommend is ProbioticBALANCE as we feel it’s a good beginner supplement to get you started and covers most of the bases. You can learn more about it or pick up a bottle here.