Probiotics: What Are They and How Do They Benefit Your Health?

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Probiotics BenefitsProbiotics are turning up in foods, drinks, and even in the form of natural supplements. There are many health benefits of probiotics. But how much do you really know about them?

What Are Probiotics?

In order to understand what probiotics are, it helps to start at the beginning. The word “probiotic” is derived from two Greek words: “pro,” meaning “promoting,” and “biotic,” which means “life.”

Although different organizations vary on their exact wording, they all generally define probiotics as live microorganisms, like bacteria, that provide benefits for your health and well-being when ingested.

Although most people usually think of bacteria as a bad thing, probiotics are considered “good bacteria,” thanks to the long list of improvements to the body. These good bacteria occur naturally in our digestive systems and can also be found in a variety of foods and natural probiotic supplements.

How Do They Work?

There are many different types and strains of probiotics. You don’t necessarily need to know the name and function of each and every one. However, it is important to know that each strain benefits the body differently because not all probiotics work in the same way.

Scientists are still trying to decipher exactly how probiotics function in the body. They’re believed to play a role in boosting the production of antibodies to support the immune system, producing substances that can prevent infection and harmful bacteria from spreading in the body, destroying or at least inhibiting toxins from “bad” bacteria, and strengthening intestinal mucus to protect against infection.

Probiotics may also help to produce the essential B-vitamins that your body needs to metabolize food and maintain healthy immune system function.

Types of Probiotics

As I mentioned earlier, there are many different types of probiotics. The most common ones come from two main groups: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

Even within each group, there are different species, which then branch out into different strands. And they all serve a different function in the body. For instance, lactobacilli, of which there are 50 species, are naturally in our digestive and urinary systems, as well as in fermented foods like yogurt. While bifidobacteria are primarily found in your colon.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

When it comes to health benefits of probiotics, the most notable is the effect on digestive health. On the most basic level, probiotics help move food through your digestive system. Your digestive system needs a healthy balance between good and bad types of bacteria—which is where they come into play.

The problem is that our lifestyles interfere with that balance; habits like poor diet, smoking, stress, and the environment all contribute toward filling our bodies with more bad bacteria than good. When this happens, your digestive tract can’t filter out and eliminate toxins as well as it should. It’s also less apt to take in the nutrients that our bodies need in order to function properly, resulting in infections, muscle pain, fatigue, and diarrhea.

Probiotics can help restore that bacteria balance in the body, thereby improving overall digestive function. By improving digestive health, probiotics can help treat a wide range of digestive and intestinal issues. These include diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, cramping, and bloating.

One of the other major benefits of probiotics include boosting our immune system. There has been increasing evidence showing that the presence of good bacteria in your stomach can help with developing certain parts of the immune system. Although the exact connection isn’t yet known, the research shows that there is a promising link between the immune system and probiotics.

If your immune system isn’t functioning properly, that means it isn’t protecting your body from germs and can lead to a host of serious health conditions, including allergies, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders. That’s what makes it such a significant benefit.

Here are a few more notable advantages of probiotics:

1. Blood Pressure

A 2014 study published in the journal Hypertension found that consuming probiotics for more than eight weeks could lower blood pressure, especially among individuals with higher readings. Although there are several different factors that could contribute to this link, these findings show that probiotic foods can help manage blood pressure levels.

2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Probiotics have been shown to be an effective remedy for this uncomfortable infection; one that’s unfortunately very common among women and often recurs. A UTI happens when bad bacteria attacks the urethra and can travel through to the bladder, resulting in an infection that causes a constant and intense need to urinate (although almost nothing comes out), burning when urinating, cloudy or odd-smelling urine, lower back pain, and fatigue.

Although you usually need antibiotics to treat a UTI, studies have shown that probiotics can actually prevent these recurring infections.

3. Brain Function

A UCLA study discovered that when women regularly ate yogurt containing probiotics, it affected their brain function, suggesting that probiotic nutritional benefits translate to good brain health as well. The study revealed that the change in bacterial activity in the stomach (caused by the probiotics) resulted in changes in brain activity.

Although this is an area of study that still needs more research, these findings tell us that there is indeed a connection between what happens in your gut and what happens in your brain.

Probiotic Foods List

Not all probiotic foods are created equal. The problem is that it can be hard to quantify the nutritional benefits of probiotics if you don’t know exactly how many viable bacteria are in a food product. In other words, it’s extremely difficult to measure how probiotic-rich food really is, and how much of those probiotics your body will utilize.

That being said, some probiotic foods are naturally going to be better than others. Here’s a rundown of the foods that will provide the best nutritional benefits:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Pickles
  • Soy milk
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kimchi (Korean vegetable dish)
  • Kefir (fermented milk beverage)
  • Miso (traditional Japanese ingredient made from fermented soybeans)
  • Kombucha tea
  • Tempeh (Indonesian patty made from fermented soybeans)

Natural Probiotic Supplements

In addition to foods, you can also find natural probiotic supplements. Most of the probiotic supplements on the market contain the two common groups of probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, and are available in powder, capsule, or liquid form. The success of your supplements depends on which microbes it contains.

Your best bet is to consult a health professional to find the probiotic supplements that best suit your needs.

See More :

Sources:
“13 Probiotic-Filled Foods,” Reader’s Digest web site; http://www.rd.com/slideshows/13-probiotic-filled-foods/, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Champeau, R., “Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows,” UCLA web site, May 28, 2013; http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617.
DiLonardo, M.J. “What Are Probiotics?” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/what-are-probiotics, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Falagas, M.E., et al., “Probiotics for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a review of the evidence from microbiological and clinical studies,” Drugs 2006; 66(9): 1253-1261.
“How to boost your immune system,” Harvard Medical School web site; http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Kovacs, B., “Probiotics,” WebMD web site; http://www.medicinenet.com/probiotics/article.htm, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Melnick, M., “6 Healing Benefits Of Probiotics,” Food Matters web site, May 17, 2012; http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/6-healing-benefits-of-probiotics.
“Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You,” American Gastroenterological Association web site; http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/probiotics, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Walton, A.G., “New Study Says Probiotics May Help People With High Blood Pressure,” Forbes web site, July 21, 2014; http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/07/21/probiotics-may-help-people-with-blood-pressure/.
“Your Guide to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs),” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/your-guide-urinary-tract-infections, last accessed April 8, 2015.

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