What are Probiotics?
You’ve probably seen it on TV, other health blogs and even in products. But what exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics, to put it simply are the good bacteria (and yeasts). There are billions if not trillions of bacteria inside our bodies, both good and bad. Probitics are the ones that are beneficial, the others well some cause diseases.
Scientists are slowly shedding light on how these probiotics help us. Interestingly they may have a symbiotic relationship with us – the give and take kind.
According to Barbara of Bhealthylife.com, probiotics can be summed up into “The majority of helpful bacteria in your body live in your gut. Our busy lives and poor diets cause an imbalance and allow the bad bacteria to overrun the good bacteria, which contribute to the cause of many ailments, such as obesity, cancer, constipation, and high cholesterol to name a few. Probiotics help to restore the natural gut microflora to make way for a healthy immune system. “
Below are some of the health benefits of probiotics backed up by studies and observations. This will help us appreciate our little tenants in our bodies.
Probiotics helps boost mood
Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, you name it there are tons of antidepressants out there that treat anxiety and depression. These are mostly known to be effective. But may be what we need is to simply balance our very own gut ecosystem which links to our brain?
It has been known to scientists that the brain and the gut are connected, they even have a term called gut-brain axis. This makes your gut sort of your second brain. The gut produces same neurotransmitters that the brain produces such as dopamine and serotonin which in the brain helps regulate mood. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters may cause conditions like anxiety and depression.
So where does probiotics come in? According to a study published by Harvard Health publishing, a research was done where two sets subjects were tested. One consumed yogurt with probiotics and the other without any probiotics.
The result was that the subjects who consumed probiotics were calmer and in a better mood even when they were exposed to stressful visual stimuli.
Improves Cognitive function
We all want “The Limitless pill”. There are plenty of products on the world wide web that promises the same effects. However, improving our brain function might be closer than we think.
The primary connection of information between the gut and the brain is the vagus nerve. This is the longest nerve in the body. Scientists are just starting to uncover how connected the gut and the brain really are.
In one study, by the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Alzheimer’s patients who drank milk with probiotics for 12 weeks, scored higher on tests that measure cognitive impairment compared to those who drank only regular milk.
Probiotics shows promise in improving brain health especially when neurodegenerative conditions are present.
Probiotics can help treat and even prevent diarrhea
We have all been there! Gorging on our favorite Mexican or Indian food and paying the price for it, diarrhea. It may be a funny story for us but to low income countries it is serious as hell.
According to the World Health Organization or WHO, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 5. Globally, there are more than 1.6 billion cases of this devastating disease in the world every year.
Probiotics can help treat and prevent this disease.
In a study conducted by Bastyr University in Seattle, taking probiotics reduced the risk of antibiotic associated diarrhea by almost half. Antibiotics create imbalance in the gut of children which causes diarrhea. Probiotics help restore this delicate balance.
Certain strains of probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii help protect the gut from bad bacteria that cause diarrhea.
They help reduce risk of heart disease
We all love to indulge ourselves to greasy and yummy meals knowing the cost of it in the long run. Fries, burgers, that roast pork belly and of course that crispy bacon! Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves. Good thing our probiotic tenants can also help us prevent heart disease.
Most heart disease is caused by high bad cholesterol or LDL. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans according to CDC statistics.
The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark found out that probiotics especially in certain fermented dairy products lowered LDL cholesterol of test subjects and even increased the HDL or good cholesterol in the blood.
Now exercise and a proper diet are still the best ways to prevent heart disease. But probiotic supplements have been promising and would definitely help.
Probiotics Improves the Immune System
You might not think right away that the immune system and your gut are not connected. However, more than 60% of immune cells are located in the gastrointestinal tract or your gut.
In the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, it was found out that atheletes who took probiotic supplements daily are 40% less likely to have colds than those who took placebo.
Probiotics help the immune system in two ways.
Number one, probiotics help digest the food that we eat and helps us absorb its nutrients. This makes us healthier and less susceptible to invaders.
Number two, probiotics provide a barrier for bad bacteria and pathogens to enter in our system. Since the good bacteria are there it is less likely for other pathogens to enter.
Probiotics are known to reduce allergies
Allergies is the most common chronic disease there is. It occurs when our immune system overreacts to something that is not dangerous such as dust and certain foods and sees it as something that is threatening. Allergies manifest in something that is not harmful such as runny nose and hay fever to something more serious like anaphylactic shock which can be fatal.
In the past year, more than 16 million adults are diagnosed with allergies according to a report
by the CDC.
Probiotics have been known to prevent and treat a common allergy, atopic dermatitis. A study published on the Journal of the Chinese Medical Association found out that regular consumption of probiotics in both natural and manufactured sources have been shown to improve and treat atopic dermatitis in subjects. In the same study, it is noted that “Future studies will be important to better understand and refine the current knowledge base for potential use of probiotics in allergy.”
Probiotics can help protect bones especially in women
Osteoporosis or bone density loss is more prevalent in women than in men. According to the CDC, more than 55% of women over the age of 50 may have osteoporosis. Although this disease is preventable with proper diet and calcium in take particularly supplments, it is still very common in the United States.
Recent studies have shown that probiotics can reduce the risk and prevent osteoporosis especially in women. Dietary supplements containing probiotics and taken regularly, were shown to reduce bone loss by almost half compared to those who only took palcebo.
Although scientist are still unsure how probiotics help reduce bone density loss, one theory suggests that absorption of calcium and other minerals are improved by probiotic consumption.
They can help improve the survivability of premature babies
An estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely. That is about 1 of every 10 births and about 1 million babies are killed due to complications of premature birth according to the World Health Organization.
But there is glimmer of hope. Probiotics have been known to reduce infections among preterm or premature babies.
In a practice done at the UC Davies Children’s Hospital, all premature babies born are given probiotics and according to them, there is a significant drop in the cases of Necrotizing enterocolitis – a very serious inflammation of the intestines.
“If we give a probiotic, their [a premature baby’s] chance of getting Necrotizing enterocolitis goes down,” says Mark Underwood, the chief of Pediatric Neonatology at UC Davis and a professor of pediatrics.
Skin Care and Probiotics
Wait, isn’t probiotics found in the gut? Well they are, but there are strains of probiotics that have also been found out to be beneficial for skin health.
Acne is caused by a number of factors, hormones, excess oil in the skin and growth of bacteria. Certain bacteria when left unchecked may infect the skin and cause acne or worse, boils and zits.
In an article published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, probiotics prevents growth of bacteria that causes acne. These probiotics keep the balance of good and bad bacteria in the skin checked.
Certain creams and skin care remedies containing probiotics are now available in the market like this one in Amazon that can prevent acne with these good bacteria. And the best thing about it is, it’s gentle on your skin according to this article from Vogue, according to the experts.
Probiotics can help prevent ulcer
Now back to the gut. Probiotics have been known to be beneficial especially in the gut. Several studies have shown that probiotics are very helpful when it comes to the one of the most common gastrointestinal disease, ulcer. Over 25 million Americans will suffer from ulcer at one point in their lives according to the CDC.
One of the main causes of ulcer is the H. Pylori, essentially a bad bacteria in the gut. Antiobiotics can treat ulcers. However, antibiotics can also cause antibiotic resistance. Wherein super bugs have evolved not to be affected by antibiotics.
Thankfully, our friend the good bacteria, probiotics, have shown promise in help treating ulcers. Certain strains of probiotics specifically the Acidophilus and Bifidus (yes those are their names), slow the growth of H.pylori and even kill them.
Sources of Probiotics
We are now in awe of how (I hope you are just like I am) beneficial probiotics are. They are already present in our body but sometimes not enough. So how do we get more of them?
Here are the most common sources of probiotics. Get some!
This is probably the best and most delicious source of probiotics. It’s naturally made from milk fermented using these good bacteria.
BUT not all yogurt contains probiotics. Some yogurt do not have these good bacteria or get killed in the processing (poor fellas).
Yogurt also has other benefits such as a good source of calcium and minerals. And also the benefit of feeling good after eating it for dessert.
What’s that? What’s Kefir? Kefir is a milk product can be from goat or cow’s milk with Kefir (what else. Kefir grains are not like cereal grains, they grain like colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that looks like a wet paste of cauliflower.
Kefir may not be the most delicious, but it certainly trumps yogurt in terms of amount of probiotics and strains included.
You may or may not be familiar with this, for those who are not thet are finely shredded cabbage that is fermented by lactic acid and bacteria (the good kind).
Sauerkraut is often used as a side dish especially good with sausages.
Besides that fact that it is a good source of probiotics, it is very nutritious. Sauerkraut also has an abundance of vitamins C, B and K, and minerals such as iron and manganese.
Miso, for those who are not acquainted with Japanese cuisine, miso is seasoning, yes it is the one in miso soups.
Miso is made from fermented soybeans and fungi which gives them their unique flavor.
The fermentation process it goes through also gives it good bacteria. In additional to probiotics, it is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Kimchi is a popular Korean dish or more accurately a side dish. Basically it is fermented cabbage mixed with spices such as chili peppers, ginger, garlic and salt.
Kimchi contains billions of good bacteria, so much so that they named a kind of probiotic after the dish. The Lactobacillus kimchii (yes I am not making this up), is a probiotic that promotes gut health and good digestion.
There are countless probiotic supplements there out on the market. Most have basically the same ingredients and kinds of probiotics in them.
However, upon scouring online particularly Amazon, I found these two to be highly recommended, yes, I get a commission if you buy them. But these products are in my opinion the best value for your money in terms of the amount, quality and strains of probiotics they contain. The good review really helped me decide as well. The first is TruNature Digestive Probiotic and the other is Schiff Digestive Advantage Probiotic Gummies.
Both are good quality probiotic supplements and very convenient format as well, one is in capsule format the other are chewable gummies.
In a nutshell
Probiotics have plenty of health benefits that we are just starting to unveil. They live inside of us that keeps bad bacteria and other infectious pathogens at bay.
They are our natural defenses. Without them, we are more prone to invaders. I have already known about probiotics before, but as I wrote this article, I appreciate them more and more and I hope you will too.