What Are Probiotics Good For?
Bacteria: it’s a word with many negative connotations. However, it’s important to understand that not all bacteria are harmful. We might wash our hands in antibacterial soap to keep germs and diseases at bay, but without helpful bacteria, many systems in our body would not work properly at all.
Probiotics fall into this category of helpful bacteria. You’ve probably heard the term on advertisements for digestive aids or certain types of yogurts and drinks. But what are probiotics, and why would you want to take them?
Probiotics Definition: What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are a range of beneficial microorganisms, including different types of bacteria and yeast. They occur naturally in the digestive tract but also in many foods that are fermented with bacteria. This isn’t as gross as it sounds; think about yogurt or kimchi. These foods only have their unique flavor because of the beneficial bacteria that allow them to transform from one ingredient into something completely different.
Collectively, the microorganisms in your gut are known as your microbiome. This microbiome can become unbalanced due to illness, or because of some medications such as antibiotics. Antibiotics kill lots of different bacteria, not just the harmful ones doctors prescribe them for. This leaves the microbiome lacking healthy, helpful bacteria, which can lead to diarrhea, cramps, or other digestive issues.
Probiotics help rebalance the flora of the gut, replacing good bacteria, and helping prevent or even treat digestive issues and other health concerns.
What Are the Different Types of Probiotics?
The most commonly known probiotic in yogurts and fermented foods is Lactobacillus. This probiotic may have a positive effect on the digestive system, relieving diarrhea, and helping the body to process lactose.
Bifidobacterium is a probiotic found in some dairy products. Again, this type of bacteria has a soothing effect on the digestive tract and may be particularly helpful for those with IBS.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of yeast, which may also have a beneficial action on digestive processes.
Bacillus coagulans is a type of beneficial bacteria, which is commonly used as a treatment for diarrhea, including infectious kinds caused by viruses. It helps reduce stomach upsets and gut problems after a course of antibiotics and has even been indicated in the prevention of respiratory infections due to the boost it gives the immune system.
What Is the Best Probiotic?
It really depends on the benefits you want. Lactobacillus is thought to be the best probiotic for vaginal health, but it is also taken for many digestive concerns. Probiotics for IBS tend to have a combination of several types of bacteria, including Bifidobacterium.
Probiotics are often sold as digestive aids or general health boosters, but sometimes they’re explicitly marketed towards men or women. The best probiotic for men is usually one that helps support prostate health as well as digestive function. Many of the health benefits come from the boost that a healthy gut gives to the immune system.
Many probiotic supplements claim to be created for men’s or women’s specific health needs, but it’s always worth checking the pack to see what the differences actually are. There’s no point paying more for a supplement that’s essentially the same, just with different packaging.
What Foods Contain Probiotics?
Many types of popular foods, particularly fermented foods, contain probiotics. The bacteria form naturally as part of the fermentation process, without having to be added in artificially. These foods include:
Other foods have probiotics added into them to give them extra health benefits or are fermented under extremely controlled conditions to maximize the number of bacteria present. These include probiotic yogurt and probiotic drinks.
How to Eat Probiotics?
The best probiotic for people with busy lives is one that’s easy to consume. Unlike prescription drugs, there’s no need to take a probiotic on an empty stomach. Probiotics will thrive on the food you eat, and a warm, welcoming gut with a healthy diet regularly passing through it is a probiotic’s ideal home.
When taking probiotics, ensure you’re getting plenty of fluids and eating lots of fruit and vegetables. It’s also important to consume enough dietary fiber, particularly if eating additional amounts of yogurt or other dairy products. Eating more dairy can lead to constipation when combined with an unbalanced diet.
Probiotic yogurts are one of the most popular ways to eat probiotics. Yogurt is easy to eat either as part of a meal or a quick snack and can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Yogurt is also high in calcium and vitamin D, which both work together to increase bone density and help prevent osteoporosis. Yogurt also contains healthy fatty acids plus a range of vitamins and minerals, including potassium and magnesium.
Probiotic drinks are another simple way to consume the helpful bacteria. They are generally small, single-use containers filled with a fermented drink containing plenty of helpful bacteria.
Another way to take probiotics is by taking a supplement, usually a capsule. Probiotic supplements are widely available online and in health food stores. Probiotic supplements are sometimes marketed as a supplement for generally improved digestive health, but many others will have specific health claims and promises, including treating diarrhea, constipation, boosting colonic health, and many more.
When taking probiotics, side effects aren’t usually a problem. Some users reported a feeling of bloating when first taking probiotics, which quickly passed as the probiotic became a regular part of their daily routine. This could be due to the body adjusting to having the additional good bacteria in the digestive system, and learning to rebalance.
This can also cause a bit of extra gas as the body retunes. Embarrassing, maybe, but certainly not harmful. People who suddenly stop taking probiotics can experience the same symptoms, for exactly the same reason. It’s totally normal for your body to have an adjustment period whenever there’s a change in diet or supplementation.
Other side effects include:
- Feeling thirsty. Always drink plenty of water, particularly with yeast-based probiotics
- Headaches, usually from home-fermented foods, which have other, less helpful bacteria in.
- Constipation, sometimes caused by eating too much dairy or a lack of fiber.
If you should have an allergic or adverse reaction to a probiotic, seek medical assistance. This is, however, very rare. It’s usually a reaction to one of the other ingredients of the yogurt, supplement, or drink being consumed.
What Do Probiotics Do?
It’s not fully understood, as yet, quite how probiotics have such a positive effect on the systems of the body. We know that the microbiome needs rebalancing after an illness and that sending “packages” of the missing bacteria in the form of probiotic foods and supplements is a great way to try and achieve balance in the gut.
Probiotics don’t only affect the gut, though. According to a 1996 study, vaginal health can be positively affected by a good probiotic. Since the probiotic is heading for the gut, how does the boosted number of good bacteria help the vagina? Scientists still don’t have all the answers to this, but it’s clear that plenty of people are feeling the positive benefits.
Bacteria in the gut are an important part of the digestive process. They actually help break down food properly, ensuring the body receives the nutrients it needs. Increasing the number of helpful bacteria could ensure you are getting the most nutritional value from your food, which could be another potential health benefit of taking a good probiotic.
One thing we do know is that when we boost the number of good bacteria in our gut, we diminish the amount of space there is for harmful bacteria. In a way, it’s about creating an army of bacteria guards, ready to protect our digestive systems from the nasty germs that want to make us feel ill and run down. And, when we feel healthy, we tend to feel happy, making probiotics a holistic way to improve overall physical and mental health.
There are many reasons people might want to take probiotics, which is shown in the sheer diversity of supplements available. There are, of course, a few key benefits of probiotics that are well documented. Here are the main three benefits that attract most people to begin taking probiotics.
Diarrhea and constipation are two opposite ends of a painful and uncomfortable spectrum. Constipation can be caused by an unbalanced diet, stress, dehydration, poor toilet routine (holding it in), and underlying medical issues such as IBS. Pregnancy can also cause constipation.
Diarrhea may be the result of a virus, food poisoning, an unbalanced diet, anxiety, parasites, or an ongoing problem such as Crohn’s Disease. Both diarrhea and constipation may be eased by taking a probiotic because of the rebalancing effect it has on the gut’s flora. Many supplements are specifically designed to help with either diarrhea or constipation, with specific combinations of different bacteria aimed at treating the problem.
The gut itself isn’t all about evacuations. Good gut health actively promotes health and wellbeing throughout the body. Keeping a balanced microbiome in the digestive tract can actually boost the immune system, and in doing so, may help increase longevity.
Improving the levels of good bacteria in the gut keeps bad bacteria under control. When this is working in balance, it’s known as equilibrium. The gut has a direct line to the brain via the central nervous system, and the balance of microorganisms in the gut may impact the way the brain processes information and even emotions.
The best probiotic for women may be one that helps support vaginal health. Probiotics for women are often designed to help prevent conditions such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush. Thrush is extremely common after a course of antibiotics, due to the reduction in the useful bacteria that keep the candida yeast at bay. Replacing these bacteria can help return candida levels to normal.
Other Benefits of Probiotics
The gut has a huge impact on the rest of the body. Healthy digestion means the body retains the right amount of nutrients and water, leading to overall better health. Here are just a few of the other benefits people have noticed from taking probiotics:
- Therapeutic action on acne
- Boosts mood
- Improved metabolism
- Reduced allergic reaction/response in some people
- Improved immune system
- Fewer cravings for sugary foods
Probiotics have so many benefits and very few side effects. No wonder so many people use them to deal with health issues and to improve day-to-day health.
Probiotics are yeasts and bacteria that have a positive effect on the human body. They are particularly beneficial to the digestive system and for good vaginal health. Probiotics are widely available as supplements or in yogurts and drinks.