Trillions of bacteria live in your body, especially your large intestine. This colonic community of bacteria, known as the gut microbiota, is involved in immune health, digestion and other functions.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. While this may sound strange, they’re actually a very important part of your immune system. In fact, up to 70 percent of your immune system cells reside in your gut!
There’s a huge amount of scientific evidence to support the health benefits of probiotic bacteria. It’s been found that the many different species of probiotics can not only enhance your digestion, but also your skin, respiratory system, cognitive function, mood… and so much more.
The health benefits associated with probiotics begin from the moment we’re born right through to old age. Much of our gut bacteria are established at birth and are usually nourished by the breast milk we receive from our mothers. As we grow and develop, our gut bacteria change, too. They're affected by our lifestyle, diet and other things we face in daily life – age, gender, stress, pollution, the environment and so on.
Below are a few of the reasons you should consider taking a probiotic.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
Probiotics may help keep your heart healthy by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure. Certain lactic acid-producing bacteria may reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile in the gut. Bile, a naturally occurring fluid mostly made of cholesterol, helps digestion. By breaking down bile, probiotics can prevent it from being reabsorbed in the gut, where it can enter the blood as cholesterol
A review of 5 studies found that eating a probiotic yogurt for 2–8 weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4% and LDL cholesterol by 5%.
Reduce Symptoms of Digestive Disorders
Over one million people in the US suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Certain types of probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains have improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis.
Surprisingly, one study found that supplementing with the probiotic E. coli Nissle was just as effective as drugs in maintaining remission in people with ulcerative colitis. However, probiotics appear to have little effect on symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Nevertheless, probiotics may have benefits for other bowel disorders.
Early research suggests they may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
They have also been shown to reduce the risk of severe necrotizing enterocolitis by 50%. This is a fatal bowel condition that occurs in premature infants.
Support Immune Function
Can you believe that the vast majority—approximately 80%—of your immune system is located in your gut?
Because so many of your immune cells inhabit your intestinal tract, a healthy and balanced immune response is largely dependent on strong communities of beneficial bacteria existing within the gut environment.
A high-quality supplement (preferably with multiple strains of good bacteria) works to crowd out the bad guys and support the foundation of your health at its core.
Help Balance Mood
Your mental and emotional balance hinge on a healthy gut environment. The good guys in your intestinal tract support the production of hundreds of nervous system chemicals that regulate your moods. Indeed, almost 95% of your body’s serotonin—the happiness chemical also found in the brain—is manufactured in your gut, so replenishing them often is one of the best things you can do to support healthy emotional function.
Your skin is your largest organ, and it protects your body from countless external threats. But, what many people don’t realize is that your skin is an important reflection of your internal health. Skin problems can result from nutritional and hormonal imbalances, as well as immune system disruptions, all issues that begin in the gut.
By helping you to better absorb the nutrients from your foods and supporting immune system response, probiotics can help you achieve healthier-looking skin that glows.
How to Choose the best Probiotic?
To be a true probiotic, a product must contain live and active bacterial cultures, and it should indicate as much on its packaging.
A general recommendation is to choose probiotic products with at least 1 billion colony forming units and containing the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii, some of the most researched probiotics.
look for a product that’s been tested for whatever you’re looking to address.
Remember: It may take some trial and error to find the probiotic that works for you. If you notice no benefits from one product after a few weeks, try a different one with a different strain of bacteria.