Probiotics and Your Gut
4 Reasons Bacteria Is Good for You
Collectively, your body is comprised of three to five pounds of bacteria (the same weight of your brain). That’s a lot of bacteria, but did you know it’s vital for your health? And the types of bacteria in your digestive tract impact your gut health. Probiotics are one way to improve the bacteria in your gut.
Your gut, or your gastrointestinal (GI) system, can tell you a lot about your health if you listen to it. Although research is ongoing, probiotics have shown promise in helping improve the bacteria in your digestive system and are linked to a wide range of benefits.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics, as defined by the World Health Organization criteria, are live organisms which can be beneficial in appropriate dosages. They help your body digest and absorb nutrients more efficiently, and each genus or strain has its own unique benefits. Probiotic foods include yogurt, soy, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Supplements in capsule, tablet or powder form are also available.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
The properties of the bacteria in terms of their benefits are strain specific. The most common types include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus is a genus of bacteria, and the name following it indicates the strain. This particular genus helps break down lactose and produces lactic acid. This helps reduce cholesterol and can help some forms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The genus Bifidobacterium helps strengthen the immune system, improve digestion of fiber (which can help beat bloat) and limit the growth of bad bacteria. Studies have shown that combination probiotics (multiple different strains) may lessen symptoms in individuals with traveler’s diarrhea or antibiotic associated diarrhea.
These types of bacteria can be found in your local grocery or general merchandise retailer store, located near the vitamins and supplements aisle. Dosage can vary by the product. Although the common recommendation is to look for 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units per day, Gastroenterologist Darren M. Brenner, MD says this is unsubstantiated. “In reality, each strain or combination of strains of bacteria have to be tested at multiple concentration levels to see which is best for the patient,” says Dr. Brenner.
For some, too much can result in bloating or diarrhea, so reduce your dosage should any side effects occur.
Studies suggest probiotics can also:
- Improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders
- Reduce allergy symptoms
- Help skin ailments
When to Proceed With Caution
The initial makeup of our gut microbiome begins with delivery and feeding, taking into account the type of birth, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding (the makeup differs from each).
Since your body’s bacteria are already equipped to replicate on their own, supplements may not be necessary for everyone. Additionally, they are always in flux mediated by the types of foods or supplements we consume.
In general, probiotics are recommended for individuals who are taking antibiotics, as they can alleviate some of the side effects of medicine, such as diarrhea. If you have irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive issues, consider trying various types of probiotics to find the one that works for you.
Probiotics may not be appropriate if you have a weak immune system. Consult your physician to see if probiotics could be beneficial in your routine.