Probiotics, How Do They Work, What Are Their Benefits & Side Effects and What are The Best Probiotics Foods & Supplements?
Probiotics are likely something you’ve heard about if you’ve done any type of research on health and wellness over the last few years. They’re kind of a big deal these days, and with good reason.
Though medical science is still somewhat behind the eight ball when it comes to probiotics, researchers are learning more and more about the incredible power of these health supplements.
In this article, we’ll take an in depth look at probiotics. If you have any questions at all about their benefits, use, or anything probiotic related, you’ve come to the right place.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are, in the most basic definition that suits our purposes here, good bacteria that are introduced to the body for their health benefits.
These good bacteria can come from food or supplements. As you’ll soon learn, the name “probiotics” makes up a fairly broad category.
I can hear you saying to yourself, “But aren’t bacteria bad?”
In a world filled with products to kill what are often referred to as germs, it seems silly to intentionally put them into our bodies. However, the bacteria in probiotics are helpful, as opposed to the illness-causing bacteria we try to eradicate.
Living With Bacteria
As a matter of fact, there are already probiotics present in your body. The majority of these bacteria reside in your digestive system. The point of probiotics is simply to increase the number of good bacteria and to diversify the types of beneficial bacteria.
It is estimated that the bacteria that coexist with our bodies outnumber our bodily cells by three to ten times. There are tons of these organisms living on or in us, but sometimes we still need more good types to balance out the bad. Bad bacteria are those that cause infection.
Probiotic supplements are made up of microscopic yeasts and bacteria. Good probiotics will contain live specimens with a delivery system that protects these organisms. This way many more can make it through the digestive system, and on to the intestines where they are able to colonize and do the most good.
Why Do We Need Bacteria in Our Digestive Systems?
The answer to this question is fairly complicated. Medicine doesn’t fully understand the role that these bacteria play in our health. However, it’s becoming abundantly clear through study results that these tiny bacteria can have a huge impact on our overall health.
The gut contains the largest collection of microorganisms in the body. The yeasts and bacteria located there play a role in the effective digestion of the food we eat. They also serve many other functions in the body.
Gut Microbiota Breaks Down Fiber
Gut bacteria help to break down dietary fiber into short chain fatty acids. Studies have shown that certain dietary choices (a diet high in fiber) allow good bacterial colonization in the gut. This led to higher levels of short chain fatty acids.
Short chain fatty acids are important because some types provide energy for colonic cells. They also help ensure colon health on a cellular level.
Probiotics Help the Body Synthesize Nutrients
They also help our bodies synthesize certain vitamins like vitamin B and vitamin K. Our bodies need these vitamins to function at their peak, and the bacteria located in the gut help the body to make them.
The profile of bacteria present in the digestive tract can affect the body in ways we would have never imagined. For one thing, the guta large proportion of our immune system. These bacteria play a role in fighting off infection and serve many other functions as well.
The Importance of the Human Microbiota
Your skin, mouth, reproductive organs, eyes, and nose all contain colonies of bacteria that play a role in your overall health. The sum of these bacteria are referred to as the “human microbiota”.
Science is really just getting around to determining what the human microbiota consists of, let alone all of the functions that it serves.While it’s obvious to tell when bacteria are hurting us by the symptoms we experience (vomiting bug, anyone?), the connections between bacteria and positive functions is more blurred.
When your microbiota gets out of balance, your health may suffer. Many conditions can be worsened by bacteria that’s out of balance, or improved with a balanced microbiota.
Importance of Gut Health
Gut health really means a properly functioning gut with a well-balanced microbiome.
Possibly the best way to impress upon you the importance of gut health is to explain some of the things that can go wrong when the microbiome of your gut is out of balance. It is hypothesized that gut health encourages diseases like diabetes, hormonal imbalances, and cardiovascular problems.
As probiotics provide healthy and diverse bacteria to your gut, they can help improve the way you feel.
Probiotics have been shown to be good for the immune system. As much of the immune system actually resides in the gut, keeping it healthy is in your best interest.
While vitamin C supplements have been traditionally used, probiotics are the immune boosters of the future.
Probiotics and Your Immune System
Probiotics are also great for helping the body’s microbiota bounce back from the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t just target and destroy the bad bacteria that are causing the illness for which they were prescribed; they take out good strains along the way. Probiotics can build good bacteria counts back up.
Some other benefits that are often attributed to probiotics include improvements in inflammation levels, vaginal health, and digestive problems.
We’ll check out some specific health issues and situations where probiotics might be helpful, and you can even check out the linked articles to get our picks here at Health Ambition for the best probiotics for each issue.
Probiotics Side Effects
Not every probiotic supplement is going to work the same way for everyone. This is due in large part to the unique fingerprint of every individual’s current gut bacteria profile. It is thought that we are handed down a portion of the probiotics present in our bodies from our mothers.
Therefore, the potential side effects of probiotics are varied. They may cause some people to have diarrhea, and they may cause constipation in other people. Nausea may occur, as well. There are also some cases of allergic reaction to some ingredients in probiotic supplements.
For the most part, the side effects that most people with experience from taking probiotics are minor digestive discomforts like gas and bloating. These may be chalked up to the changing bacterial profile, but if they persist, you might consider a different supplement.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that probiotic supplements aren’t right for you, only that you may want to consider a different one. A supplement that utilizes different bacterial strains is probably a good plan.
The Best Probiotic Supplements
While it is complicated to give a one size fits all recommendation, there are brands that tend to provide higher quality cultures than others.
We have kept an eye on brands and their lab test results and here are the ones that consistently did better when it comes to number of bacterias per pill:
If you are looking to solve a specific problem with probiotics, we recommend you look int our specialised guides below to chose the right product for you.
The Best Probiotics For Specific Uses
What Else Affects Gut Health?
From birth on, there are several factors that have the potential to influence (both positively and negatively) your gut health. Some of these are lifestyle choices, and some of the influences are pretty well out of our hands.
Lifestyle choices that may affect your body’s natural probiotics include:
- Drug or alcohol consumption
- and physical activity levels
Many disorders and diseases can have a negative effect on your gut’s microbiome.
Your physical surroundings can also make a great deal of difference when it comes to your gut. Pollution and other environmental factors can play a big role in the development and maintenance of good bacteria in the gut.
How Probiotics Work
Probiotics work in a few different ways. First and foremost, they introduce various strains of helpful bacteria to the gut. These supplements do this by utilizing capsules that can survive the digestive processes to get these bacteria further along the digestive tract.
The probiotics are introduced in large enough numbers that they are able to crowd out the bad bacteria.
Think of this facet of probiotics like weeds strangling out a garden, except that the good bacteria giving the bad bacteria the boot is a very good thing in this case.
The good bacteria also seek out and destroy bad bacteria. With these actions, probiotics are able to help balance the bacterial counts in the gut.
Little capsules or pearls aren’t the only place that you can find probiotics. Much of the food you already eat likely contains probiotics. Fermented and cultured foods in particular contain a significant amount of probiotics (and prebiotics, as well).
These food preservation techniques have been used for centuries in almost every culture around the world. Modern technology like refrigeration has made fermenting and culturing unnecessary for food safety, and has also deprived us of much of the good bacteria present in food stored in this way.
Some examples of fermented and cultured foods that are often consumed in modern times include sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso, and kombucha.
Many of these foods are widely available on grocery store shelves. We’ll cover a few of our favorite tasty probiotic foods in depth next.
Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Both of these dishes are made from fermented cabbage. Cabbage in particular may provide more bioaccessible nutrients in a fermented form, so it does double duty as a food full of probiotics and one that is potentially more nutritious than the fresh cabbage from which it is made.
Kefir is a dairy product that even people who have sensitivities to dairy may be able to consume. This is because in the fermentation process, some of the milk proteins are broken down. These proteins are oftentimes what cause people’s dairy sensitivities. It’s high in vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.
Miso is a paste-like Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans. Miso’s most famous culinary application here in the US is miso soup, which usually combines miso, broth, and tofu to create a nutritious, comforting dish. Use sparingly, though. Miso is a high sodium food.
Pickles are cucumbers fermented in a brine that is frequently made with vinegar, herbs, and spices. These crunchy, delicious fermented veggies are perfect on sandwiches, in appetizers, or by themselves as a salty, flavorful snack.
The Awesome Powers of Fermentation
If you’d like to incorporate fermented or cultured foods into your diet and don’t have access to many options locally, fermenting your own food is not terribly complicated. You can make your own yogurt or sauerkraut at home with just a few ingredients and a little patience. Fermentation takes time, for sure.
It’s also important to note that these preservation methods absolutely have the power to keep food from spoiling. If you have an overabundance of cabbage in your garden, it would be worth your while to make a run at fermenting it. Fermentation could help eliminate the food waste issue in the USA.
There are some doctors who believe that the nutrients in fermented foods are easier for your body to absorb. This means that not only do these preserved treats have a long shelf life, they may actually be better for you.
Who Should NOT Take Probiotics?
While take supplements like probiotics should always be discussed with your doctor beforehand, it’s important to note that there are some people for whom probiotic use could be particularly detrimental.
People with compromised immune systems should steer clear of probiotics unless they’re under direct orders from their physicians. Since gut health requires balance more than just high bacterial loads, an immune system that isn’t working as it should could mean probiotics hinder more than help.
People with certain food allergies should also be careful when using probiotics and check the labels over very carefully. Dairy allergy sufferers in particular take heed of this. Many probiotics contain small amounts of dairy proteins.
When choosing a probiotic, you can use these simple steps to find the right supplement for you.
- Determine which, if any health conditions you hope to improve with the use of probiotics. The intended results will go a long ways in finding the best supplement for you.
- If a more general probiotic is plenty, check out the reviews on our site. If you need a probiotic for a specific condition, check out which strains of bacteria and a general CFU count may best suit your needs. Seek out a supplement with a live bacteria guarantee.
- Get your probiotic of choice and take it as the label recommends, typically at least daily. You might choose to start more slowly to avoid potential digestive issues that can come with shocking your gut flora with too many new good bacteria too fast.
- Monitor how your probiotic is working for you. You can keep a log of your digestive health to help track whether the strains and amount of CFUs in your supplement is the right fit for you.It’s important to note here that not every probiotic works the same for every person. Each of our beginning gut microbiota is unique, so different strains may have various effects on different people.
To Sum Up Our Take on Probiotics
Probiotics can go a long ways to improving your overall health. They’ve certainly improved the way I feel. If you have any specific questions about probiotic supplements, feel free to ask us. As always, we’ll do our research and present you with the facts, not the typical online hype.