Probiotics: Hype or Healthy?

 

Over the last few months, we’ve covered a couple hot topics in health, wellness, and nutrition–like omega-6 fatty acids and hyaluronic acid–and what the research actually says about them.

We’re out to see if they’re just hyped up fads…or if they have solid evidence that backs their use.

Today, we’re going to take a look at one direct way of strengthening the gut: probiotics.

Unless you’re a microbiologist or trained in medicine, you probably have some vague ideas about what they are and why people take them.  Let’s see if those ideas are true!

 

What Are Probiotics Exactly?

Your body is a complex system of cells, processes, as well as good and bad bacteria.

While we usually think of bacteria as “bad,” bacteria is just a name for microorganisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye, and believe it or not, your body only functions properly if some types of bacteria are present at healthy levels.

Enter: probiotics.

These supplements and forms of food help you achieve healthy bacteria levels.

Probiotics are a collection of good bacterium and yeasts that are considered safe and healthy for your body (mainly your digestive system or gut).

 

Some of the most common probiotics according to  include:

Lactobacillus –  One of the most recognized probiotics, lactobacillus is often found in yogurt and some types of fermented food products, such as kombucha and kefir.

Bifidobacterium – This bacteria is often found in dairy products. It is believed that Bifidobacterium may help with certain digestive conditions.

Saccharomyces boulardii – A healthy form of bacterium yeast, S. boulardii helps stabilize the balance of harmful bacteria and yeast in the

 

The Importance of Probiotics in the Body

There are trillions (literally) of microbes in and on our bodies—this is normal!

While many have been identified and studied, there are still many that microbiologists still don’t fully understand or even know about.  The same goes with the subset of bacteria called probiotics; researchers have discovered many beneficial effects but still more needs to be studied.

 

The primary roles of probiotics are the effect they have on the nerves in your intestines that helps food pass through the digestion process, nutrient absorption, and immune system functioning.

 

An unhealthy digestive system can manifest in multiple ways, such as bloating, bouts of diarrhea and constipation, sensitivity to certain foods like dairy products or other grains that should be healthy. It is believed that introducing probiotics into the body through probiotic-rich foods or supplements can help balance out the lack of good bacteria that could contribute to gut health problems.

 

Probiotic Research

Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of probiotics in helping a variety of ailments, from liver disease and allergy disorders to tooth decay and the common cold. An article published by Harvard Health that research has been promising with different strains of probiotics. Some of the most unique benefits have been discovered in the therapy of:

  • Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and recurrence of bladder cancers
  • Ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea
  • Infections of the digestive tract
  • Eczema in children

 

Probiotics used in controlled trials have been able to lessen the course of diarrhea in children and reduce diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics. There have also been a few studies done on probiotics for constipation, one of which found that these healthy bacteria helped increase the number of bowel movements every week by 1.3 and also helped generate softer stools, so they moved more easily through the system.

A study expected to be published in the Journal of Medicine actually showed that taking probiotic supplements may help to support healthy bone density in adults. The researchers in the  study elderly women probiotics for one year and saw a 50 percent reduction in bone loss levels. The reasoning behind this reaction is suspected to be that probiotics help the body absorb more nutrients from food as it is digested.

 

What Is the Best Way to Get Probiotics into Your System?

Most of the probiotics you can find to take will be found in dietary supplement form. If you do go for supplements, you must make sure that you know a little about the bacteria that is cited on the label and if it is a good fit for you.

(To be safe, check with your doctor!)

You can also find foods that are naturally rich in probiotics or have probiotics added to them.

 

Foods that have naturally occurring probiotics:

–    Pickles

–    Sauerkraut

–    Kimchi

–    Yogurt

Even some types of dark chocolate and cottage cheese contain natural probiotics!

Getting these foods into your diet can help ensure you are providing your gut with healthy bacteria that it probably needs.

In conclusion…

Overall, probiotics have a lot going for them in the health and nutrition world, but more research needs to be done, and that does take time. If you believe your body could benefit from probiotics, it is never a bad idea to talk to your doctor about supplements you could take that contain probiotics.

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