Probiotics - What are the benefits?
Gut health is a hot topic today—and for good reason. The bacteria in your gut play an important role in your overall health. These bacteria help ensure that your body absorbs essential nutrients, digests the cellulose found in many plant-based foods, enjoys proper enteric nerve function and more. Plus, there is a great deal of interaction between your immune system and the bacteria found in your digestive system. Some researchers believe that 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut!
What does all of this have to do with probiotics? A lot.
What exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, usually bacteria, that can provide health benefits when consumed in appropriate doses. Probiotics are found in foods prepared by bacterial fermentation, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh and kimchi, and can also be taken as supplements.
The most common microorganisms found in probiotics are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other common probiotic bacteria are Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.
Many of the microorganisms that are in probiotics are the same as or very similar to those that naturally live in your body.
What are the potential benefits?
Probiotics can help maintain the “good” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract and help restore balance when “bad” bacteria begin to grow and take over. This is important because when “bad” bacteria get out of hand they can stop your digestive system from functioning correctly, resulting in discomfort and, potentially, illness.
Having a healthy balance of gut bacteria has been linked to a wide range of health benefits. Because of this, many researchers and medical professionals believe that probiotics can play a role in:
- Digestive health – Among other things, probiotics can reduce the risk of getting diarrhea as a side effect of taking antibiotics.
- Immune function – Probiotics can promote the production of natural antibodies in your body and strengthen the gut barrier that stops harmful microorganisms from entering your blood stream.
- Mental health – Gut health has been linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
Heart health – Probiotics can help lower your levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower your blood pressure.
Does it matter which probiotic supplement I use?
Yes. Each species of probiotic bacteria has many strains, and each has a different potential impact on your body. Different supplements contain different species or combination of species of these bacteria. Be sure to read the product label to see exactly what that supplement contains.
While you’re reading the product label, you should also look at the probiotic’s dosage, which is labeled as CFUs (Colony Forming Units) per serving. Compare this to the CFUs used in successful human clinical studies for the issue you hope to improve. Also, look for a supplement that guarantees this level of CFUs throughout the product’s shelf life, and check if any special storage instructions must be followed in order to keep the microorganisms alive.
How do probiotics get past the acid in your stomach?
If you choose to take probiotic supplements, an important thing to keep in mind is that probiotics are living organisms, and in order to provide maximum benefits these organisms must be alive when they get to your small intestine. This means that they have to get past your stomach acid—and many (if not most) probiotics are likely to die upon contact with this acid.
Luckily, there is a solution for this. Look for a probiotic that has been made using acid-resistant capsules, such as acid-resistant K-CAPS®. Also known as “enteric” capsules, these special vegetarian pill capsules are designed to get through your stomach intact and then disintegrate in your small intestine. Probiotic supplements that make use of technology are likely to be labeled as being “delayed release.”
The bacteria in your gut play an important role in your overall health. Probiotics can help you keep your digestive system healthy.