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Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. They are naturally found there, but can also be supplied from dietary sources or supplements. Both good and bad bacteria live in the gut, and gut health is determined by the balance between the two.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
There are many proven health benefits of probiotics.
- They help colonize the gut. While many strains of probiotics exist in your gut because of the environment you live in, others can be provided from dietary sources. After taking antibiotics or other pharmaceutical medications that can impact the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut, ingesting dietary sources of probiotics is important for replenishing the good bacteria. (Note: not all strains are colonizing. Some are transient and will only stick around in the gut for a few hours, days, or weeks.)
- They can lower inflammation markers in the body. C-reactive protein is a common marker used to assess heart health and the body’s total inflammatory load. Regularly taking certain strains of probiotics can have a positive effect on this and other inflammatory markers. They can also have a positive effect on blood pressure.
- They support healthy skin. Some skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, are rooted in autoimmune and inflammatory problems. Regularly ingesting dietary and supplemental probiotics may help to decrease symptoms and severity.
- They help address diarrhea. One of the main therapeutic benefits of probiotic supplements is helping to address causes of diarrhea, especially when associated with antibiotics or other medications. But probiotics can also address other causes of diarrhea, including illness and food poisoning.
- They promote healthy immune function. Most of the immune system lives in the gut. When the gut is healthy, the immune system is primed to function optimally. Probiotics have a modulating effect on the immune system, meaning that it helps it respond in the correct manner. An immune system that overreacts or underreacts can lead to problems. Probiotics have a balancing effect on immune function.
- They can support mental health. Research continues to support the link between gut health and mental health. Probiotic supplementation has been found to have a positive effect on anxiety, OCD, depression, and other mood-related disorders.
- They support healthy body weight. While your weight is not the most important marker of health, obesity can lead to many associated health risks. Gut health is often associated with obesity, but whether poor gut health leads to weight gain, or whether weight gain leads to poor gut health has not been definitively determined. Research has found that taking probiotics and eating fermented foods can have a positive impact on body weight and can even promote weight loss in some cases.
Should You Take Probiotics?
While probiotics have many benefits, many wonder whether they need to take them if they already eat fermented foods.
The answer is different for everyone. If you consume fermented foods on a daily basis, chances are you don’t need probiotics, although there can be benefits from different strains. Some supplements include soil-based organisms or Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast probiotic.
Not all supplemental probiotics are the same. There are refrigerated versions and shelf-stable varieties. The doses and strains can vary widely per brand and product. It’s important to read labels and understand that CFUs, or colony-forming units, reflect what was present in the probiotic at the time of manufacture. They will naturally degrade with storage, even if they’re in a refrigerator.
Also, some people may be sensitive to certain strains. Lactobacillus strains, for example, can lead to bloating or discomfort for people who may be sensitive to high-histamine foods. Any probiotics may lead to discomfort if SIBO is present (when bacteria from the large intestine mistakenly colonize the small intestine).
If you aren’t sure how to add probiotic foods or supplements to your diet, work with a nutrition professional to get personalized advice.
Today’s Simple Step
Whether you get them from foods or supplements, probiotics are a beneficial part of a regular wellness routine. If you are not consistently eating or taking them, start today.