Probiotics can offer us a wide range of health benefits. Many of us suffer from gut issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, which affects our general wellbeing.
Therefore by targeting the health of our gut, we can potentially improve our quality of life. Improving our microbiome via the use of specifically beneficial probiotics is a great way to boost our gut.
Aside from gut-based benefits, there is now a comprehensive evidence base for the use of probiotics to improve other aspects of our health, whether it’s obesity, stress, sleep, mental health, or skin issues.
Therefore by simply improving the state of our gut bacteria, we can manipulate a range of health outcomes advantageously.
- What Are Probiotics?
- How Do Probiotics Work?
- How To Take Probiotics
- What Are The Side Effects of Probiotics?
- The Takeaway
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are types of bacteria in our large intestines and can influence our health. They are not the type of bacteria you associate with tummy bugs or illnesses requiring antibiotics.
Instead, probiotics are beneficial strains that our guts need in sufficient quantities to regulate our health both locally in the gut and systemically throughout the body.
You have probably heard of probiotic species such as Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, as these are commonly listed in the ingredients of many live yogurts.
These two are the most common types you will see in commercially made fermented foods and many multi-specified probiotic supplement products.
But there are many different subspecies of bacteria, all of which have distinct roles within the gut.
Probiotics are inherently good for you. We want to ensure we have more beneficial gut organisms than the kind of health-harming microbes that can negatively affect our health as a whole.
One clear example of a probiotic benefit is to counteract the harmful effect of antibiotics on our gut microbiota, and they help replace the helpful species we have lost during the treatment.
An excellent probiotic contains the bacteria proven to support the type of health condition you suffer. It usually has more than one type of microbes and makes it to the large intestine unaffected by the acidic environment of the tummy.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Probiotics can do many different jobs in the body. They can help us absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, produce the short-chain fatty acids responsible for our gut wall lining, and even communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which can also influence our mental health.
Studies have even shown that unique gut microbes can influence our level of inflammation, alter immune activity and regulate hormonal production, making them essential assets for our whole system health.
Probiotics are used to replenish the beneficial microbes lost after infections, antibiotic treatments, etc., or counteract microbes’ unbalance, for example, in conditions where we have elevated levels of harmful bugs and lower levels of beneficial species.
Probiotics have been shown to alter the environment of our microbiome and have reduced symptom severity scores in several studies.
While we need more research to fully confirm the extent of the benefit of taking probiotics for a wide range of health issues and which specific species work best for what, at present, it is clear that probiotics do work.
What Are The Health Benefits of Probiotics?
Probiotics can offer us a wide range of potential health benefits, whether we are looking for the treatment or prevention of a condition or just want to help our bodies.
Here are eight ways probiotics can help you:
Help Balance The Good Bacteria in Your Digestive System
Probiotics can help ensure we have enough good bacteria and not too many harmful bacteria. Ideally, we would all have the right balance of bacteria in our guts, but modern life, stress, and illness mean that often we don’t (1).
Probiotics can help replace the bugs you have lost through antibiotic treatments, poor diet, or gastrointestinal infections.
Supplementation of probiotics has been shown to replenish key gut species and reduce dysbiosis and gut microbes’ imbalance in the intestines.
Studies involving fermented foods such as live yogurts and multi-strain probiotic products have increased beneficial forms of live bacteria such as Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus gasseri intestine (2).
Reduce Symptoms of Digestive Disorders
One of the most popular health benefits of taking types of probiotic bacteria is the improvement in symptoms of digestive disorders like IBS and types of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (3).
Many gut disorders involve a form of gut microbiota dysbiosis which means that by optimizing gut bacteria, we can reduce the symptoms associated with the disease.
In some instances, we can even reduce the level of visual inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease, showing just how powerful probiotics can be at modulating the colonic environment (4).
Specific probiotic strains can also reduce slight intestinal bacterial overgrowth symptoms, which up to 70% of people with IBS suffer from (5).
Can Prevent and Treat Diarrhea
Human studies have shown that products containing probiotics can both prevent and treat cases of diarrhea, whether caused by antibiotic use, food poisoning, or traveling.
In particular, microbial strains such as lactobacillus casei and yeasts such as saccharomyces boulardii appear to be most helpful at treating acute antibiotic-associated diarrhea episodes (6).
Finding probiotic supplements that don’t require refrigeration can be a good option for the prevention of travel-induced diarrhea.
However, studies also show that taking your probiotic yeast such as Saccharomyces boulardii can be an excellent preventative and treatment aid for traveler’s diarrhea.
Severe infection of the intestine such as C.diificile is well treated via transplanting a healthy gut microbiota into a C.diff patient, which reduces diarrhea-based symptoms, showing just how powerful the health benefits of probiotic bacteria can be for the body (7).
Improve Some Mental Health Conditions
Certain probiotic strains may be capable of improving mental health problems.
In particular, research shows that because the gut and brain can communicate via the gut-brain axis, when we improve the health of our intestinal microbiota, we can also improve our state of mind (8).
Our gut microbes can impact the level of inflammatory activity in the body, which can reduce our depression risk and influence our production of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin.These clever microbes may even alter our stress response, making us more resilient against modern life (9).
When consuming more fermented foods in our diet and taking the specific probiotic, we may bolster our reserves against anxiety and low mood.
There is currently a lot of research being conducted into the effect of these “psychobiotics,” and they will likely play a vital role in the future of mental health treatment.
Help To Keep Your Heart Healthy
Probiotics can improve key markers of heart health such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory cytokines.
These effects seem most noticeable in people who already suffer from hypertension or elevated bad cholesterol, but there may also be a role in preventing these health issues (10).
A pivotal study showed that people who took probiotics containing lactobacillus strains had lower bad cholesterol and total cholesterol levels than those who did not take any probiotics.
Similarly, another large-scale study showed that just 9 weeks of taking the Lactobacillus reuteri strain had around a 10% reduction in cholesterol, making it an impressive heart helper (11).
Probiotics may improve cholesterol levels via binding with it and preventing it from being absorbed into the body. In addition, by reducing immune system-based inflammatory cytokine levels, probiotics enhance our cardiovascular health as a whole.
Reduce The Severity of Allergies and Eczema
Probiotics can improve both allergic reactions and skin conditions such as eczema by positively modulating the intestinal environment.
In particular, it appears as if many people have a positive response to either synbiotics (prebiotics and probiotics combined) or specific strains of beneficial bacteria, which increase t cell activation, therefore, improving allergies such as hayfever (12).
Probiotic organisms can also improve gut wall integrity, preventing unwanted particles, bacteria, and allergens from entering or leaving the gut via the blood, which can also reduce allergy levels. In addition, quality probiotics can help minimize immune overreaction, which dampens an allergic response.
It, therefore, appears that in addition to eating plenty of sources of vitamins and minerals in the diet, taking good bacteria throughout life can enhance our quality of life when faced with various allergies.
There is also a good evidence base for the benefits of probiotics in infants with eczema, as when their milk was supplemented with good bacteria, their symptoms decreased (13).
Probiotics can even help to prevent children from developing eczema in the first place, as women who took probiotic products during pregnancy were 83% less likely to have infants with the condition.
Boost Your Immune System
Certain types of probiotics may positively enhance immune function. This is because much of our immune system is housed in our intestines.
If we have exposure to infection-causing germs, we need to protect enough good bacteria to stimulate a healthy immune response (14).
In particular, taking products that contain probiotics can help us produce enough of the immune cells our body needs to fight infection and reduce excessive inflammatory responses known as cytokine storms.
Probiotics can also help prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria, which can improve both your immune response and the health of your body as a whole.
One study even showed that Infants given probiotics had fewer respiratory infections when compared to a control group (15).
Promote Weight Loss
Of the most significant benefits of taking probiotics is that research shows weight loss may be promoted.
A study looking at mice transplanted the microbiome of an obese mouse into a lean one, and they too gained weight. Conversely, an obese mouse who was given a lean microbiota also lost weight, showing what an impact taking probiotics can make.
In humans, taking probiotics can help keep us fuller for longer, reduce the amount of body fat we have by encouraging the excretion of any excess, and promote the hormones linked to weight loss (16).
Even a low-dose probiotic supplement appeared beneficial against weight gain. However, certain strains have more merit than others, with lactobacillus acidophilus even promoting weight gain in some people, so be sure to choose the right product for your needs.
How To Take Probiotics
You can find both prebiotics (which feed the good bacteria) and probiotics (the bacteria themselves) in several forms, both as a dietary supplement or in foods that have undergone the fermentation process.
A good food source of probiotics is yogurt, but you can also find beneficial microorganisms in foods such as kombucha, kefir, miso, and sauerkraut.
Therefore there are many vegan-friendly alternatives to dairy-based probiotic foods.
As far as supplements go, you can find tablets and powders containing popular lactobacillus strains and other colony-forming units that will help you balance your good and bad bacteria. These can be lactose-free if need be may also contain prebiotics.
Whether or not you get your probiotics from supplements or foods, you also want to ensure you get enough prebiotic foods to feed the live bacteria. You can find prebiotic fibers in foods such as oats, garlic, onion, and green bananas.
Probiotics usually take around 3 months to show effects, and perhaps longer if you are just consuming probiotics foods in your diet, rather than taking a targetted supplement.
However, you may also notice beneficial effects sooner if you take probiotic capsules to help with acute diarrhea or antibiotic use.
You may take probiotics either morning or night, but must probiotic capsules state to take the supplement on an empty stomach to give them the best chance to make positive changes in the intestine.
You may wish to include probiotic-rich foods in your diet every day and then add in a supplement if you have a gut-based disorder such as IBS, plan to travel, or just want to improve your immune function over winter.
What Are The Side Effects of Probiotics?
Most people who use probiotics are incredibly safe, and there will not be any negative effects of supplementation.
Probiotics are derived from beneficial bacteria and yeast, which support our health, both locally in the colon and throughout the body as a whole.
Science research has confirmed the safety profile of probiotics, with only a few exceptions.
If you are seriously immune-compromised, have recently undergone surgery, or have a severe health condition, then do check with your doctor first to ascertain if you can take probiotics safely.
Bear in mind that many probiotic microorganisms such as lactobacillus are derived from dairy sources such as yogurt, so if you have a form of lactose intolerance, it is a good idea to pick a dairy-free option.
Side effects or problems associated with taking probiotics are few and far between.
However, you may experience some very mild symptoms within your digestive tract as your body adjusts to the new microorganisms such as lactobacillus bulgaricus, contained within your supplement.
Therefore, take care when introducing a new probiotic strain to your diet by slowly increasing the dose to avoid any negative effects on your digestion.
Probiotic foods have long been consumed for health in traditional communities worldwide, and now the research shows just how many benefits are connected to taking probiotic products.
Probiotics may reduce the severity of ulcerative colitis, reduce our level of bad bacteria, and improve our risk of several diseases by lowering our blood pressure, easing constipation, and enhancing our digestion.
The effectiveness of probiotics is well established. Probiotics may support our health in many ways, so much so that your doctor may now prescribe foods that contain probiotics or probiotic supplements to reduce the risk of recurring urinary tract infections.
At the very least, taking more yogurt into your diet and other forms of lactic acid bacteria such as fermented cabbage may have a beneficial effect on some chronic diseases.
Therefore taking a daily probiotic supplement and eating more probiotic-rich foods should provide you with a very positive result for your health and wellbeing.
- Is it OK to take a probiotic every day?
Yes, most supplements are designed to be taken daily. However, you may choose to take a course for 3 or so months before taking a little break.
It depends on whether you are taking probiotics for an acute condition or being preventative against yeast infections or other diseases.
Eating yogurt daily is also recommended to encourage healthy colony-forming units.
- What are the signs you need probiotics?
Suppose you are taking frequent trips to see your doctor because of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, intolerance to dairy products, or upper respiratory infections.
In that case, the chances are you may benefit from taking probiotic supplements.
- Should I take probiotics on an empty stomach?
Ideally, yes. A study showed that probiotics might reach the colon easier than in people who consume probiotic supplements with food.
However, if you suffer from a side effect of digestive discomfort after taking your probiotic supplements, probiotics may also be taken with food if necessary.
- Do probiotics remove toxins?
Taking probiotic supplements regularly, such as those containing Bifidobacterium, may result in improved toxin clearance, especially as they have an immune-stimulating property.
Probiotics are live microorganisms and may support the health of our body as a whole – including our ability to excrete harmful toxins.