Probiotics Keep You Healthy

woman eating yogurt
August 18, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Probiotics are a kind of beneficial bacteria – living microorganisms that provide a health benefit when you ingest enough of them. The roots of the word “probiotic” mean “for life. Without beneficial bacteria, your digestive, immune, and emotional systems can suffer.

These digestive helpers can…

  • Improve your digestive function and comfort.
  • Support good colon health.
  • Decrease allergies.
  • Assist in the manufacture, synthesis, or absorption of vitamins and minerals, e.g. Vitamin K and calcium.
  • Combat anxiety and depression.
  • Improve mood and brain functions.
  • Enhance communication between your brain and intestinal tract.

This is just the beginning of the long list of benefits from probiotics. In my opinion, probiotics are key to solving a host of health problems. Alas, your good bacteria may be under attack from your diet – think processed foods and alcohol – and your doctor – think antibiotics. What do you get from probiotics and how do you make sure you have enough? Let me explain.

Probiotics and Longevity

Longevity researchers find that probiotic-rich staples are part of the diets of some of the longest-lived populations in the world. The Japanese, for instance, frequently eat the fermented soy breakfast food nattō. Other scientists have discovered that good bacteria in the intestines can boost the immune system, preventing cold, flu, and potentially deadly pneumonia.

Probiotics and Healthy Weight

Research shows that overweight people have different bacteria in their gut than thin ones. Animal studies have revealed that substituting good bacteria for the bad ones results in weight loss, and early human trials support those findings. I’ll keep you updated as we learn more about which bacteria are the ones to look to for weight management.

Probiotics and Cancer

Ongoing research examining probiotics’ effect on cancer suggests several possible ways that these beneficial microbes fight the disease. For example, fermented dairy products appear to have anti-tumor effects. In addition, probiotics may suppress the growth of unhealthy bacteria that create an environment favorable to cancer. Finally, probiotics are showing potential as a means of protecting against colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country.

Probiotics for Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Here again, researchers are finding promising outcomes in clinical trials focusing on the use of probiotics to treat or prevent Type 2 diabetes. Early studies indicate that a combination of dietary improvements and proper probiotic supplementation, especially with the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria strains, may be the best bet for anyone with pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Probiotics for Lowering Bad (LDL) Cholesterol and Raising Good (HDL) Cholesterol

Research has shown that probiotics can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels in three important ways.

  1. These bacteria use cholesterol as fuel, so there’s less of the substance in your body.
  2. Probiotics also reduce the amount of cholesterol your liver makes.
  3. Ingesting probiotics may lead to a significant increase in good (HDL) cholesterol. This is a real advantage, since it is difficult to raise HDL levels, and that alone can be a boon to your heart health.

As I noted earlier, there are plenty of reasons to add probiotics to your daily regimen. The simple fact that they help maintain supplies of good bacteria in the intestines – thereby enhancing digestion and preventing bad bacteria from gaining a foothold – is a huge advantage to your health. And if occasional constipation, bloating, or diarrhea troubles you, probiotics help reduce these annoyances by maintaining a healthy colon. Even suffers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have found some relief with probiotics!

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The truth is, the list of probiotic benefits is long and constantly growing as researchers continue to find new and exciting ways these good bacteria can improve our health. There is preliminary research showing that serious autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, may be linked to too few good intestinal bacteria and too many of the bad variety.

Best Foods for Probiotics?

Because probiotics are live bacteria, they can only be found in fermented foods. The most common fermented foods are sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt.

However, all of them—with the exception of yogurt—have very a distinct, acidic taste that can be a turnoff to some. And to those who do enjoy them, I doubt you would want to eat them every day (which is the only way to ensure a steady supply of healthy bacteria). Yogurt, in my opinion, is the most palatable of the group, but most yogurts in grocery stores (even “probiotic” yogurt) have so much sugar in them that whatever probiotics your body gains comes at the cost of added sugar that it doesn’t need.

Finally, one more thing to consider about eating probiotic foods. Most of the probiotics in your food are destroyed by your powerful stomach acids. As a result, the gut bacteria on the other side of the stomach are left to themselves doing all the dirty work all by themselves.

What to Look for in Probiotic Supplements

While I won’t discourage you from eating probiotic foods, I will say that they are not the best way to deliver probiotics to where they are needed most. There are a variety of probiotic supplements on the market but not all are created equal.

Again, our stomach acid can break down nearly anything. A lot of supplements cannot get past this natural layer of defense. But enterically coated and microencapsulated probiotic supplements can. They are designed to survive through your stomach acid so the good bacteria can be delivered to your intestinal tract where they do their best work.

For adults, I recommend a daily dose of at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) with five or more strains of probiotic bacteria.

Not only will you have a better “gut feeling”—less indigestion, constipation, gas and bloating—but a healthier, more energized body as well.

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