For anyone interested in health and wellness, probiotics are likely not a new subject. Over the last few years, we are seeing more and more products with added probiotics. With the overwhelming amount of supplements and food products advertising probiotics, you might wonder what all the hype is. Turns out, there's a reason for it.
What Are Probiotics?
Simply put, probiotics are the tiny microorganisms that act as “good” bacteria in your gut. Imagine a constant battle between the good and bad bacteria in your gut. If the good bacteria wins, your overall health remains stable and high functioning. However, if there becomes an imbalance and the bad bacteria begins to outnumber the good bacteria, health issues can arise.
When taking a probiotic in whichever form, you are adding good bacteria into the fight, like sending in reinforcements. More and more scientists are heralding the benefits of a healthy microbiome, meaning you have good gut health. They are telling us that a healthy gut means overall good health. And the way to maintain your gut health is through a proper diet, exercise, and maintaining the proper balance of good and bad gut bacteria.
The Ways To Take Probiotics
There are two main forms you can take a probiotic:
- Dietary Supplements
- Fermented Foods
With a dietary supplement, it’s important to note that these don’t undergo the same testing and approval process as prescription drugs do. Each manufacturer is responsible for the efficacy and safety of their probiotic supplement. For that reason, it’s crucial to choose a brand that is reputable. Even then, there are no guarantees with a supplement. Along with the issue of variability between supplements, the different strains of probiotics have different health benefits, so you must research which strains will help you in the way you hope.
One example of a probiotic supplement is HealthImpaq’s Ultra Probiotic. It contains 40 billion cultures and is designed to provide a high potency and balance of the beneficial bacteria you should look for in a probiotic supplement. HealthImpaq combines their formula with MARTREK technology, which allows strains to survive in the stomach acid and ultimately reach deep into the small intestine. This advanced strength formula has a blend of four strains: Bifidobacterium Lactis to stimulate the body’s immune response; Lactobacillus acidophilus to help maintain your gut flora numbers; Lactobacillus Plantarum to help support your digestive tract; and Lactobacillus Paracasei to boost your energy levels.
Fermented foods go far beyond pickles. Yogurt and even some milks and cheeses are great sources of probiotics. Additionally, some foods are now having probiotics added to them, whether in a powder or supplementary form. As with a probiotic supplement, you need to know which strain of probiotics will help you and check the nutrition facts of the probiotic foods you choose.
The Health Benefits Of Probiotics
Probiotics have dozens of listed health benefits. Let’s take a look at just a few of the general areas of your health that could benefit from adding probiotics to your diet:
1. Reduced risk of infection
Probiotics have proven to be an important helper in the fight against infections, both for adults and children. One strain in particular, Lactobacillus acidophilus, has shown to help prevent illness. This boost to your immune system is especially helpful in the fight against the following infections:
2. Respiratory infections
Particularly effective in preventing respiratory infections in children, probiotics appear to help prevent and reduce the severity of these types of infections.
3. Urinary tract infections
The strain of probiotics known as Lactobacillus crispatus has shown promise in the treatment of UTIs in women, with one study showing a 50% reduced risk.
4. Yeast infections
The vagina is like an ecosystem and when the ecosystem is out of whack, various vaginal infections and yeast infections can creep in. Though yogurt was long thought a “folk” remedy for test infections, some studies are showing promise in probiotics helping to balance the microflora of the vagina.
5. Gastrointestinal and digestive issues
A favorite benefit for many probiotic users is the improvement to gastrointestinal and digestive health. This benefit to the digestive tracts seems to present in both adults and children. The most notable are:
Whether due to travel, antibiotics, or another reason, probiotics have proven to be especially helpful in treating diarrhea. This is largely thought to be due to the rebalancing of gut bacteria. Several studies have shown the efficacy of probiotics in treating diarrhea, including one that showed a 42% reduction in antibiotic-associated diarrhea and another that showed that probiotics can reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea by 25 hours. It was also shown that probiotics reduced the risk of general diarrhea by 57% in children and 26% in adults.
7. Irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease
Studies are showing promise in the prospect of treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD) with probiotics. While probiotics may not cure someone of IBS or IBD, they can help reduce the symptoms of these illnesses.
8. Ulcerative colitis
One study of the ability to treat ulcerative colitis with probiotics may have surprised some doctors - it showed that supplementing a patient with a strain of probiotics called E. coli Nissle was as effective as drugs in keeping ulcerative colitis patients in remission. Certain other strains - Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus - also appeared to improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
9. Necrotizing enterocolitis
An important function of probiotics in the world of digestive issues is the benefits it shows in treating necrotizing enterocolitis, a bowel disease that occurs often in premature infants and can often be fatal. In fact, one study showed that probiotics reduced the risk of severe necrotizing enterocolitis by about 50%.
Exciting for parents of children with eczema, there are some probiotic strains that are showing promise in treating the inflammatory skin condition. In one study, infants that were fed probiotic milk had improved eczema symptoms. Another study found that pregnant mothers could have an influence on whether their children do or do not have eczema. It showed that women who took probiotics during their pregnancy had an 83% lower risk of their children developing eczema in the first two years of life. While more research needs to be done, the improved inflammatory response is encouraging.
11. General health
Along with many specific benefits, the benefit to your general health and wellbeing is undeniable. The boost to your immune system will help during cold and flu season. Lower levels of inflammation could mean less pain and fewer allergies. Probiotics can even help your dental health, reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Along with those, probiotics can also help with:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Weight loss and obesity
- Lactose intolerance
- Mental health
- Infant colic
- Regulate blood sugar
- Lower cholesterol
- Regulate hormones
- Regulate the digestive system
Probiotics Side Effects
As many health benefits as there are with probiotics, there are also some potential side effects to be aware of.
In the short term, you may find that you experience any of the following in the first few days of taking a probiotic:
- Mild stomach problems
While these are typically mild, they can be uncomfortable, but are usually a temporary side effect that will go away after a short time.
There is some potential for long term side effects, primarily for those with compromised immune systems. If you have any kind of underlying condition, speak with your primary care physician before starting a probiotics regimen.