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Probiotics are a confusing subject to talk about; not because there is a lack of information, or a lack of update (quite the contrary), but because there is a lack of regulation and a lack of study to give a real pro versus con argument.
For the most part, researchers agree that probiotics are good for gut health and immune system boosting, but there is very little evidence to suggest any negatives. This isn’t because there probably aren’t any, but because studies which have been done so far have proven inconclusive, or haven’t given enough in the way of evidence to be convincing.
For now, we should simply say that probiotics have a great role to play in gut health, and if you want to boost your overall health and wellbeing, you should certainly be finding out more about this rather confusing, but very healthy, subject.
Article at a glance
- 1 What is a Probiotic?
- 2 How Can You Take Probiotics?
- 3 Probiotics Benefits?
- 4 Better Gut Health
- 5 An Immune System Boost
- 6 A Reduction in Allergies, Including Eczema
- 7 A Boost in Vaginal Health
- 8 A Boost in Oral Health
- 9 Possibly More Energy Overall
- 10 A Link With Better Memory and Focus
- 11 May Help With Weight Loss and Belly Fat
- 12 May Help With Heart Health
- 13 Are Probiotics Worth it?
- 14 Finding The Right Product For You
What is a Probiotic?
A probiotic is a strain of bacteria or yeast which lives in the gut and works to counteract any damage which bad bacteria may do. It also helps with the smooth running of the entire system, one of the largest in the body.
So, counteracting the bad is just one role of this good bacteria, as another is to affect the nerves which push food through the digestive tract, to ensure smooth running of the overall digestive system. If you regularly suffer from constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, gas, or any common digestive system conditions, such as IBS or inflammatory bowel disease, then probiotics have been found to be very helpful overall, and could be something which you find beneficial.
Probiotics also help to boost the immune system, because they are basically fighting against bad bacteria, and hopefully overwhelming it. If you have enough good bacteria within your gut, your immune system will be working much more effectively, and be much stronger, than if the situation was in reverse.
Probiotics need food in order to work, and this comes in the form of something called a prebiotic. You shouldn’t confuse the two terms, as whilst they are connected, they are two very different things. Prebiotics are types of fiber, which probiotics eat, in order to give them the strength to do their good work. If you can eat a diet which is rich in both prebiotics and probiotics, your overall health and wellbeing, as well as your gut health in particular, should be on top form.
How Can You Take Probiotics?
You can get a good probiotic intake from your food, but if you find it difficult to do this, perhaps because you don’t like some of the foods which are high probiotic content, then you can opt to take a supplement, either instead, or at the same time.
Supplements come in the form of tablets, capsules, and the very popular yogurt-style drinks. When you opt for one of these drinks, make sure that it does actually contain live and active cultures, as anything which doesn’t isn’t probiotic at all, and is just yogurt! It is vital that you shop around when it comes to supplements, and that you check reviews and the types of probiotic strains which are included in the ingredients.
Before taking any supplements, it goes without saying that you should always check with your doctor first. There aren’t many contraindications to taking probiotics because they tend to be present in your gut anyway, but studies have shown that those with a lower immune system (usually due to chemotherapy), or those who suffer with a leaky gut, may be at risk of the bacteria actually being absorbed into the blood stream, rather than the gut. This is a dangerous situation, although very rare. For the reason, just double check with your doctor first.
There are many probiotic benefits which should really convince you that probiotics are something you should be incorporating into your diet. Are probiotics good for you? Yes, there is certainly enough to suggest that boosting your friendly bacteria levels in your gut can contribute towards better gut health and overall wellbeing. Are probiotics bad for you? Not particularly, but more studies are going into this, as evidence so far has been quite inconclusive, as we mentioned earlier.
So, what are probiotics good for? And what are their overall benefits to your health and wellbeing?
Better Gut Health
Gut health is the number one probiotic benefit we need to talk about, and this is the one which most people primarily take probiotics for. If you suffer from any digestive system issues, such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, or any other condition which is linked with the stomach, gut, or intestines, then taking probiotics could certainly help you out.
We mentioned that probiotics affect the nerves in the intestines, which signal the way which food makes it way through the entire system. By ensuring this is running smoothly and that there aren’t any sluggish parts, blockages, or anything else getting the way, you are cutting down on unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, gas, and even diarrhoea. When your stomach is happy, basically, you’re happy, and you feel much better overall in yourself.
There are also suggestions that probiotics can help reduce the instances when diarrhoea may occur due to having to take antibiotics for another issue.
The flora which live in your stomach, e.g. the good bacteria, the probiotics, balance out the bad and keep your entire digestive system in harmony. Without this, bad bacteria would overtake everything and you would be suffering from side effects related to a bad stomach, as well as an increase in conditions related to this area of the body.
An Immune System Boost
Any type of good bacteria versus bad bacteria, where the good bacteria is winning, is sure to give you a boost in the immune system. Keeping everything running smoothly and keeping everything in balance helps to ensure that you are fighting fit, and probiotics can also help cut down instances of colds and flu. Obviously, it stands to reason that when your immune system is strong, you’re not going to pick up viruses as quickly as you would otherwise do. Studies have shown favourable results in terms of this benefit.
A Reduction in Allergies, Including Eczema
There is a link between probiotic use and a reduction in allergies, such as eczema. However, more research is needed into this possible benefit, as studies have shown favourable, but not concrete results. Despite that, the results are encouraging, so if you do have a particular allergy, this could be an option to look into, after discussion with your doctor.
A Boost in Vaginal Health
Studies have shown that taking the lactobacillus crispatus strain of probiotics could actually help reduce the risk of UTIs (urinary tract infections) in women by up to half. Any woman who has ever suffered with a UTI will tell you that is an improvement worth taking! The fact that probiotics also contain yeasts also means that the risk of yeast infections in the vaginal area, e.g. thrush, is also reduced.
A Boost in Oral Health
We just mentioned that vaginal thrush is reduced thanks to probiotics also being yeast strains, and the same can be said for oral health, as it is possible to get thrush in the mouth too.
Possibly More Energy Overall
More studies are going into whether taking probiotics on a regular basis actually gives you more energy, or whether it is the fact that your body is feeling more fluid (e.g. no stomach issues), and you’re feeling better overall, which means you feel more energised too. This is a good benefit to take however, as having more energy is never a bad thing!
A Link With Better Memory and Focus
Many recent studies have gone into whether taking probiotics can help to improve mental sharpness and whether it can also help with certain mental health issues, such as depression, but there are some encouraging results so far. More research oboist needs to go into this, but there is a growing link between the health of your gut and your mental health, as a 2015 study showed.
Another study involved trialing probiotics in 40 patients suffering from depression. Out of those patients, those who took the probiotics for eight weeks showed rescued levels of depression and also reduced levels of C-reactive protein, which measures inflammation in the body, compared to those who didn’t take the supplements.
May Help With Weight Loss and Belly Fat
Again, more research needs to go into this potential benefit, but there is a loose link between taking probiotics and aiding in weight loss, particularly in the area of belly fat. The suggestion reason for this is because probiotics may be able to absorb fat when it reaches the intestines, thus preventing it from accumulating and causing weight gain and the appearance of fat. Of course, we know that probiotics in certain foods, such as yogurt, help you stay fuller for longer, and that may be the reason for the entire weight gain support mechanism. Whatever the reason, it’s a good benefit to have!
May Help With Heart Health
The final prominent possible benefit relates to the heart. There are certain strains of probiotics which may be able to lower your level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your blood pressure as a result. There is a direct link between the two, and both are very beneficial, whether you have an issue with your heart or not.
Again, the link needs more research, but results are certainly encouraging.
Are Probiotics Worth it?
There is no denying the fact that probiotics have a wealth of major benefits in terms of gut health if nothing else, and there is certainly enough evidence to suggest the other benefits have serious power to back them up. Despite the fact that studies are ongoing in terms of the other types of benefits that may be connected to probiotics, gut health is still the number one big hitter.
It’s a common truth that if your stomach is feeling a little ‘off’, perhaps you have bloating, stomach ache, or you generally feel gassy, then you’re not going to be feeling your best on the inside, and you won’t feel like you look great on the outside either. All of this affects your self-esteem and may even stop you going out of the house, especially if you’re feeling particularly bloated that day. In addition to all of this, common digestive tract conditions, such as IBS, can be very distressing, especially when they flare up and cause extreme discomfort. Probiotics have been shown to help with all of this as the number one benefit and reason for being, so for this reason alone, they certainly are worth it.
Finding The Right Product For You
The concern however is how to find the best one for you. There are countless probiotic products on the market, and because there is little in the way of regulation, it can be easy to purchase a product which isn’t that useful, and doesn’t hold much in the way of benefit. The only way to really find a quality product is to shop around and go on reviews. You could even have a chat with your doctor, and find out the particular strains of good bacteria which may be beneficial for a type of condition that you suffer with.
At the end of the day, the benefits of probiotics certainly far outweighs any potential downsides, and with many easy ways to take them, either through diet or supplements, it’s not difficult to get your daily amount either. If you struggle with your diet, perhaps you don’t like many of the foods on the list, then you can certainly find a supplement to suit your needs. Remember, yogurt is a great option, and one you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.