The benefits of probiotics reach far beyond the ability to simply help digest food and go to the bathroom. Probiotics are beneficial bacterial affect our body in nearly every way - from the way our skin looks to how we think and behave. I'll get to that in just a minute.
But to understand the basics of probiotics means you should also understand the basics of how bacteria affects our body. Bacteria - and its constituent genes - are considered a microbiome, or our body's own ecosystem of sorts.
Does Your Gut Have Too Much Bad Bacteria?
Harmful bacteria is found in our small and large intestines, living side-by-side with helpful bacteria. Much of this helpful bacteria can come through the benefits of probiotics, fermented foods and eating lots of raw veggies and fruit.
Bacteria doesn't just stay put in our intestines, though. It can travel to other parts of the body, including into our blood.
If we have too much bad bacteria, the risk of developing autoimmune conditions is increased, including:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (1)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (2)
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Failure (3)
- Parkinson's (4)
- Depression and Anxiety
The Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria - just the good kind. We used to think that bacteria colonized in our gut and that was that. Now we know that bacteria tend to take vacations, with new bacteria coming in as the old move out. This is why it's important that we continually restock our gut's supply of good bacteria in probiotic form, so the bad bacteria doesn't take over - wreaking havoc on our body.
From birth through death, our body is filled with bacteria. The goal, however, is that the good can offset the bad. As mentioned above, the link between an overgrowth of bad bacteria, or too little good bacteria can dramatically affect our immune system.
Probiotics: Soldiers of Health
I've taken my fair share of antibiotics over the years. Years ago, I contracted a disease call necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the flesh-eating bacteria. I know bad bacteria all too well.
I had multiple surgeries and a lengthy stay in the hospital, but I came out alive. For that, I'm so grateful.
The reason I'm alive, in addition to the incredible foresight of a vascular surgeon, is because of antibiotics. After all, antibiotics kill bacteria.
To combat the downside of my heavy doses of antibiotics, as well as some questionable nutrition choices I made when I as younger, I take probiotics every morning and every evening.
My kids know probiotics as "soldiers." Today they're 3, 10 and 12. When my oldest was very little, I used to tell her that the chewable probiotics she was taking were soldiers that helped to kill bad germs in her tummy by rebuilding forces with good germs. She bought it and gladly takes them every morning.
Not a bad analogy, right? Feel free to use it with your kids, grandkids, or significant other if he or she need more convincing.
Probiotics Make Us Healthier
Now that you're familiar with how bad bacteria can lead to a number of conditions that can change us in every way - from how we think and feel, to how we move and breathe - it's hopeful to know the benefits of probiotics and eating foods that boost good bacteria can help to potentially offset much of what could hurt us.
- Probiotics are living microorganisms that help to provide a healthy balance to your body's ecosystem.
- Many people notice the benefits of probiotics in the way they digest food and go to the bathroom.
- Probiotics are largely found in your small and large intestine, but can affect many parts of your body.
- Probiotics can be found in supplement form and in foods, including yogurt, kimchi, natto, lassi, sauerkraut, etc.
If you're going to eat your probiotics, let's say from yogurt, I highly, highly recommend you go with a plain variety. You essentially negate any benefit of good bacteria in a probiotic-rich yogurt by eating a sugar-laced variety.
Prebiotics vs Probiotics
If you need some sweetness, add honey. Honey is actually a prebiotic. Prebiotics help to feed probiotics. It's a win-win. A few other examples of prebiotics include:
- Jerusalem Artichokes
Not All Probiotics Are The Same
Before you run out to go shopping for probiotics, know that they're not all the same. Probiotics are made of different strains. I once listened to a team of RDs talk about selecting good probiotics and they gave some really good advice.
They're suggestion is to only buy a well-researched brand.
How do you know what's well-researched?
The label will include the specific strain of bacteria instead of a general strain.
- A well-researched brand will look like: Lactobacillus casei Lc-11 or Bifidobacterium breve Bb-03
- A brand that doesn't display their research will look like: Lactobacillus casei or Bifidobacterium breve
Here is what you should look for on the label:
The difference is subtle. In my opinion, a better brand will always disclose the specific strain. And it's always worth a couple extra bucks to know that the company you're buying from has done its research on strains that could benefit your gut!
Here are a couple brands I've used and trust:
- Jarrow Jarro-Dophilus EPS (for me)
- Renew Life Ultimate Flora (if I need extra support)
- Culturelle Kids Chewables (for my kids)
Creating Unhealthy Guts
Taking a probiotic alone won't be enough for you to stay healthy. You may need additional supplementation, but more importantly, you need to take care of your diet.
Imagine bad bacteria is like a fire in your gut. Sugar fans the flames on the bacteria creating more and more. When people have a bacterial over growth, which include symptoms of constant bloating, gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, etc., it's important to see a doctor, but it's also important to cut out sugar.
I can't stress this enough. And for a time, that includes fruits as they're high in fructose. If you need help getting on track with cutting out sugar in your diet, follow my Belly Burn Plan. It's a simple way to greatly reduce refined sugars and high sugar fruits.
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- Lee, K. J., & Tack, J. (2010). Altered intestinal microbiota in irritable bowel syndrome. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 22(5), 493-498. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01482.x
- 2. Horta-Baas, G., Romero-Figueroa, M. D., Montiel-Jarquín, A. J., Pizano-Zárate, M. L., García-Mena, J., & Ramírez-Durán, N. (2017). Intestinal Dysbiosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Link between Gut Microbiota and the Pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Journal of Immunology Research, 2017, 1-13. doi:10.1155/2017/4835189
- Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK). (2017, July 11). Heart failure is associated with loss of important gut bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 24, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170711093012.htm
- University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2017, March 2). Link between microbiome in the gut, Parkinson's discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 25, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170302133859.htm
- Evrensel, A., & Ceylan, M. E. (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 13(3), 239-244. doi:10.9758/cpn.2015.13.3.239