Probiotics 101: What you need to know
People often associate bacteria and microorganisms as harmful 'germs', but did you know you have up to 39 TRILLION bacteria living inside you?!
Don't worry; not all bacteria are bad. Most of the bacteria your body hosts are found in your gut and are pretty harmless.
Some live bacteria are actually good for you and play an integral part in your digestion.
In this article, we share a simple overview of probiotics. We define what they are, why they may benefit our health, and how you can add probiotics into your diet.
Before we answer what a probiotic is, it's important first to understand the human microbiome:
The body's ecosystem containing all types of bacteria is called your gut microbiome or your gut flora, located mainly in your large intestine or colon. Ideally, your gut microbiome should contain a well-balanced number of good bacteria, as it helps with numerous bodily functions. An overcount of bad bacteria can be caused by illness, poor diet, and antibiotics. When you experience an imbalance, this can result in digestive issues, diseases, allergies, obesity, and more.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. When you consume correct amounts, probiotics are said to provide a wide range of health benefits.
You can get probiotics from supplements, or various foods such as yogurts and milk drinks, or fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha. These foods will help increase your intake of natural bacteria if consumed adequately.
Probiotics come in various strains (like species) that each have a different effect on the body. You will often see probiotic strain names on food or supplement labels, for example, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, which can be commonly abbreviated as L. or B.
The difference between probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics are different but certainly work hand-in-hand. Prebiotics lay the foundations to fuel the growth of probiotics. They are typically found in fibrous foods like whole grains, beans and legumes, vegetables, and fruit. The non-digestible food components will help feed and grow the number and variety of probiotics in the gut.
Benefits of probiotics
In recent years, more studies have shown that having the right balance of gut bacteria – or having a healthy gut – is linked to numerous health benefits, some of the most well-known include:
1. Improved digestion
Healthy bacteria will keep your gut lining at optimal strength, protecting it from harmful bacteria and viruses to help boost the absorption of nutrients from food.
Research suggests that probiotics may benefit people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)4, and particular strains like L. and B. have improved symptoms for those with mild ulcerative colitis5.
2. Healthier skin
Studies have found that the severity of specific skin allergies such as eczema could be reduced in infants when fed probiotic-supplemented milk6 or for children of women who took probiotics during pregnancy7.
Growing evidence also supports the use of various probiotics for the treatment of acne through its production of antibacterial proteins and ability to help calm inflammation8.
3. Weight loss
Some probiotics have shown the capability to support weight loss by preventing the absorption of dietary fat in the gut or helping you feel fuller for longer. One study found women on a diet who took a specific probiotic strain for three months lost 50 percent more weight than women not taking any supplements9.
4. Boosted mental health
Research has highlighted the positive link between probiotics with reduced anxiety and depression, encouraging better mood and memory10.
While there is an increasing number of studies that link probiotics to various health benefits, the differing results provide the reason to argue that more research still needs to be done.
Nevertheless, probiotics are generally beneficial for boosting overall gut health. If you are unsure where to start, we suggest that you speak with a doctor or dietitian to identify the best probiotic strains and dosages for you and your needs.
Author: Courtney Black
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