a few raspberries in yogurtThe first time you heard about the necessity of probiotics for your health was probably during a round of antibiotics. Your healthcare provider likely explained that the drug you were taking to fight an infection was going to wreak havoc with the bacteria in your gut that keep your digestion running smoothly.

Is this the only benefit that probiotics have for your health?

Emerging research shows that these live bacteria and enzymes – found in foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha (a fermented tea drink), are vital to more than gut health; they provide an incredible array of health benefits.

Other natural sources of probiotics are:

  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh

Unfortunately, most of us don’t consume enough probiotics for optimum health through our diets – meaning lots of people are missing out on the health benefits of these little bacterial and enzyme powerhouses.

What can probiotics do for you?

While far from exhaustive, we’ll go over some of the most important and scientifically verified benefits of probiotics.

Keep reading to discover the real deal on probiotics.

What are Probiotics?

what are probioticsAs you read earlier; probiotics are the bacteria and enzymes necessary for proper digestion and gut health in general. But, what exactly are they and what do they do in our guts?

Probiotic bacteria fall into one of two kinds.

1) Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacterium bifidum: living inside the mucus lining of your large intestine or vaginal tract, bifidum prevents infectious bacteria and yeasts from invading. Bifidum makes positive changes in pH levels through the production of lactic and acetic acids. Additionally, this bifidum increase the absorption rate of essential minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

B. infantis: stimulates the production of cytokines affecting the immune system, and will kill off such infectious agents as salmonella, clostrida, and shigella.

B. longum: thrives in the large intestine. Longum prevents pathogenic bacteria and yeast from invading. This could mitigate the severity of gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, and nausea while on antibiotics.

2) Lactobacteria

Lactobacillus acidophilus: is a commonly known probiotic and is also one of the most critical for small intestine health.

This probiotic bacteria inhabits the lining of the intestine, but it can also take up residence in the vagina, cervix or urethra. Acidophilus inhibits infection, and produces natural antibiotics like lactocidin and acidophilin, enhancing our immunity. Acidophilus is an anti-microbial against pathogens such as; staphylococcus aureus, salmonella, E. coli and candida albicans.

Lactobacillus brevis: also called L. brevis, is a lactic acid producing probiotic that helps your body to synthesize Vitamins D and K.

L. bulgaricus: Is used to ferment yogurt and plays a protective role by generating lactic acid, creating a friendly environment for other probiotic bacteria species.

L. plantarum: creates lactolin, one more natural antibiotic. Plantarum will also produce L-lysine, a potent anti-viral amino acid. This bacterium eliminates nitrate while increasing nitric oxide levels and eliminating pathogens.

L. rhamnosus: exhibits a high bile salt tolerance and survives in less hospitable environments. This bacterium has demonstrated benefit for both the elderly and infants. Rhamnosus mitigates lactose intolerance, protects your small intestine, and produces lactic acid in your large intestine. There are many strains of lactobacilli that include; L. fermentum, L. caucasicus, and L helveticusi.

These are the most basic facts about the different kinds of probiotics we rely on for digestive health – but in what other ways do probiotics optimize our health?

Weight Loss

strawberry smoothieAccording to a study published in the journal Obesity; taking probiotics can protect against weight gain and aid in your weight loss efforts.

Past research has demonstrated that imbalances in our microbiome (the trillions of bacteria living in the gut) can increase the chances of suffering metabolic disease like diabetes, weight gain, and poor nutrition due to impaired digestion.

This time test subjects were placed on a high fat and high calorie diet to determine what effect if any consuming probiotic supplements would have on weight gain. The subjects who consumed a probiotic shake as part of their daily food intake had lower total body mass gain and fat accumulation than the subjects who didn’t.
Immune Health

Research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition details the effects that probiotics have on strengthening our immune response for greater resilience against infection.

This research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found out that athletes in New Zealand had almost 40% fewer colds and intestinal infections when they took a probiotic compared to when they were given a placebo.

Maintaining healthy intestinal flora by eating probiotic rich foods or taking supplements will also help your immune ability by increasing production from your lymphocytes; a strong marker of a robust immune response.

If you’re sick of being sick, consuming more probiotics is a proven way to turbocharge your infection fighting ability.

Skin Problems

Salmon over some noodles with chop sticks on the edge of plateProbiotics have been studied for their power to minimize and even prevent the symptoms of psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.

Studies have proven that probiotics are instrumental in mitigating the effects of eczema, psoriasis, and other bothersome (and sometimes painful) skin conditions.

The health of our gastrointestinal tract affects an incredible range of organs and systems throughout the body.

Improve Your Mood

Research shows that individuals suffering from depression and other mood disorders respond positively to supplemental probiotics added to the diet. Researchers conclude that probiotics have strong potential in alleviating distress and anxiety in psychiatric patients suffering from mood disorders.

There is a proven link between gut health and our mental health; if you’re feeling down, try including probiotics in your diet for a pick me up.

Women’s Health

Similar to the digestive tract; the vagina relies on a delicate balance of bacteria for health. An imbalance can result in extremely uncomfortable conditions:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Yeast infection

L. acidophilus has been found useful in both preventing infection and managing an already active case of vaginosis or yeast infection.

Probiotics may be of particular benefit to pregnant women since bacterial vaginosis is a risk factor for pre-term labor. If you’re expecting a baby – take probiotics for your health, and your baby’s.

Probiotics are Tasty!

probioticsIt’s easy to start enjoying the health enhancing benefits of probiotics. Try some of the probiotic rich foods mentioned in this article and see which ones are enjoyable and easy to add to your diet.

From pickles and sauerkraut to yogurt and kefir – there are many delicious ways to maintain your gut health!

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George Citroner

GW Citroner is a Hudson Valley, NY based writer whose work has appeared in over 20 publications and on an incredible range of Health & Wellness topics.

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