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In the quest to attain good health and wellbeing, you’ve probably read about many different fads and subjects. Many of them come and go, but one has stuck around for a good while now – probiotics.
Probiotics are actually part of your body’s own natural rhythm, something which resides within your body and keeps everything ticking along nicely. One main function of probiotics relates to your stomach, and ensuring overall gut health and wellbeing. There are other benefits however, including a boost to the immune system.
The problem is, there is a lack of real, solid evidence to suggest just how effective probiotics are, and whether there is any real downside to taking them. The market is full of probiotic products, and that makes it much harder to find the right option, and to ensure that there is a certain amount of regulation to the industry.
Studies have shown benefits, and little in the way of negatives, but not enough to conclude that there aren’t any downsides at all. As you can imagine, probiotics are still baffling scientists to this very day!
Aside from the confusion, there is enough confirmation to suggest that there are benefits to overall gut health, if nothing else, and if you do have any issues with your digestive system, probiotics could be a good option for you to look into. First things first however, what are probiotics, and what do probiotics do?
Article at a glance
- 1 What Are Probiotics?
- 2 What Do Probiotics Do, And How Do They Work?
- 3 What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
- 4 Aiding in The Digestive Process, And Overall Gut Health
- 5 Boosting The Immune System
- 6 Probiotics May Help With Vaginal Health
- 7 Probiotics May Help With Oral Health
- 8 May Help to Improve Some Mental Health Conditions
- 9 May Help With Certain Allergies, Including Eczema
- 10 What is The Best Way to Get a Good Intake of Probiotics?
- 11 What Foods Are Rich in Probiotics?
- 12 Is There Proof That Probiotics Really Work?
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria, but a good version, nothing which is going to cause illness. Our bodies are made up of millions of different types of bacteria, some good and some bad, but you need a good natural balance to ensure that your body works well, and that illness doesn’t take over and cause issues. This good bacteria is particularly useful in the stomach, and that is where the species and strains of probiotics live.
Probiotics have a range of functions, but the main one is to affect the nerve signals in the digestive system, which affect how food is digested and how it moves through the intestines. By ensuring that food moves through the system smoothly and at the correct speed, this cuts down on bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, and all manner of other digestive symptoms which can cause discomfort. In addition, those who suffer from digestive system disorders, perhaps IBS or inflammatory bowel disease, will find a greater relief from symptoms, by good bacteria doing its work.
Probiotics aren’t just bacteria, but types of yeast too. It is for this reason that many studies have shown probiotics to be useful in vaginal health too, and by cutting down the instances of thrush (yeast infections) and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
What Do Probiotics Do, And How Do They Work?
Probiotics basically maintain a natural balance within the body, between good bacteria and bad bacteria. If bad bacteria was allowed to multiple, inflammation within the body would prevail and illness would occur. The immune system would therefore be low, because the bad bacteria would start to affect every system, and many undesirable effects would occur.
By having a good balance of good versus bad, this multiplication of bad bacteria doesn’t occur, and the natural balance remains just as it should. We mentioned gut health, and that is really the main big-hitting point of probiotics. By affecting the nerve signals within the digestive system, the entire digestive tract is able to work correctly.
You will no doubt know that when you have a stomach problem, perhaps indigestion, bloating, or an upset stomach, you do not feel good in yourself in general. You have no energy, you don’t want to eat, you’re tired, lethargic, and your mood is on the down. Gut health is vital for overall health and wellbeing for this very reason, and it is also the one place in the body where the majority of bacteria dwells. By ensuring this part of the body has the right balance, your overall health benefits. This is the main answer to the question of how do probiotics work in the gut. Basically, they balance everything out and keep everything moving as it should do.
We should mention that there are many different types of probiotics, and many of them are beneficial for various different things. It is for this reason that you should do your research, ask your doctor, and shop around when trying to find the right type of probiotic to benefit you and your individual circumstances. The two main species of probiotics that you will hear about are bifidobacteria, and lactobacillus. Within those species there are countless different strains, and you can tell which species they belong to by the precursor to the name, e.g. B. or L.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
Harvard Medical School have undertaken several studies and research programmes into the benefits of probiotics, and to answer the question of do probiotics work. Of course, the biggest benefit is all about gut health, but there are other associated, and non-associated benefits to think about too.
The main benefits of probiotics are:
Aiding in The Digestive Process, And Overall Gut Health
We have mentioned at length that probiotics are primarily known for their gut health benefits, and that is certainly something to think about if you struggle with symptoms or conditions related to your stomach to any degree. For instance, if you suffer with IBS, probiotics could certainly help to relieve some of the symptoms, and the same goes for inflammatory bowel disease.
It could also be the case that you are struggling with diarrhoea problems because you have had to take antibiotics for a problem in another area, and in that case, probiotics may be able to help relieve the diarrhoea, and therefore help you fight the other infection and feel better much faster.
Most strains of probiotic bacteria have gut health properties, and remember, they live there naturally, so that’s their main job! Adding in probiotics to your diet, either via food or by a supplement, could certainly help you to have a better functioning digestive system, and therefore help you feel much better in yourself.
Boosting The Immune System
By keeping a good balance between good and bad bacteria, you are helping your immune system stay strong and healthy. Studies have shown that probiotics may help you avoid catching colds and viruses quite so easily as you otherwise would. A large amount of your body’s natural bacteria lives within the gut, so it’s vital to ensure a good balance in that part of your body, to ensure illness doesn’t prevail. By doing this, you are boosting your overall immunity to illness, and you’ll feel stronger within yourself as a result.
Probiotics May Help With Vaginal Health
Ladies, there is some good news about to come your way – probiotics may help you avoid vaginal yeast infections (thrush), and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Anyone who has ever suffered with either of the above, even once, will know that avoiding them is key!
We mentioned that probiotics are bacteria and yeasts, so taking probiotics may be able to balance up the yeast content in your vagina and therefore avoid yeast infections from occurring. There are many different issues which can cause that yeast balance to be out of whack in the general run of life, such as birth control, intercourse, stress, and tight clothing, but taking a probiotic may give you extra armoury in this regard.
Probiotics May Help With Oral Health
Yeasts don’t just live naturally in the vagina, but they dwell within the mouth too, and it’s not at all uncommon to suffer from oral thrush from time to time. Again, this is when the natural yeast balance becomes out of order, and the infection begins. By taking certain strains of probiotics, you may be able to avoid this from happening. Studies have also shown some encouraging results in terms of helping to avoid tooth decay by taking probiotics, alongside a healthy oral hygiene routine.
May Help to Improve Some Mental Health Conditions
Further studies need to go into this particular potential benefit, but one study undertaken in 2016 showed encouraging results. The study took 15 people and gave them probiotics for up to two months. The results showed improvements in anxiety and depression, as well as memory function.
May Help With Certain Allergies, Including Eczema
Again, further research is ongoing into whether or not probiotics have a strong link to allergy improvement, especially in terms of eczema, but there is some evidence to suggest a benefit could be on the horizon.
These are just some of the more likely benefits associated with taking probiotics, and as further research is undertaken, perhaps more may come to the fore.
What is The Best Way to Get a Good Intake of Probiotics?
The most natural way to get a good intake of probiotics on a daily basis is via your diet, but some people may struggle with that. The foods which are high in probiotic content are commonly found on supermarket shelves, but it’s important to find the right ones, and not the types which don’t really have the greatest content. For instance, mass production can often kill off natural bacteria within foods, so you need to go for fermented foods, rather than other methods.
Of course, one of the most common ways to supplement your diet with probiotics is by taking a probiotic supplement itself. This can be a table, capsule, or it can be a yogurt-based drink which is probiotic, e.g. it contains live and active cultures, to aid overall gut health. Remember to shop around and do your research into which strain is best for you, and read reviews into the product itself, as there is currently no regulation standard when it comes to probiotic products.
What Foods Are Rich in Probiotics?
The list of probiotic foods is always expanding, and some are a little obscure. Because of that, some people may find the food option alone quite difficult. On the other hand, yogurt is a very easy to find food and it has fantastic probiotic benefits! Remember to go for the option which says ‘live and active’ cultures on the packaging, otherwise it might not have much in the way of probiotics within it. Avoid Greek yogurt too if at all possible, as the production process doesn’t really contain much probiotic benefit, compared to the other variety we just mentioned.
Some foods to consider adding into your diet include:
- Yogurt (remember, live and active cultures)
- Fermented foods, such as pickles (but not in vinegar)
- Traditional buttermilk
- Dark chocolate
- Soy milk
This is not an exhaustive list, but it does contain some of the foods which are easier to incorporate into a regular diet.
Is There Proof That Probiotics Really Work?
There is no 100% conclusive proof on either side, but there are many studies which have been undertaken over the last few years which have shown very positive results, and not much in the way of downside or side effects. More research is ongoing, and will continue to bring new information to the table. Researchers basically agree that probiotics have some benefits, but there isn’t enough evidence to suggest they have no side effects.
The probiotic industry is ever growing, and that is a good thing and a bad thing. Remember, to always shop around for a product which suits you and always check reviews. The lack of regulation makes it very easy to waste your money on something which doesn’t really benefit you at all. However, if you find the probiotic that suits your body best, and one which is good value for your money, you could find yourself feeling much better as a result, and having a well-functioning gut. When it comes to overall health and wellbeing, there isn’t a lot to suggest that robotics aren’t going to give you what you’re looking for, but remember to double check everything with your doctor before deciding to take a supplement of any kind.