The Top Health Benefits of Probiotic Rich Foods
We are not alone. As we walk around each and every day we are carrying trillions of living microorganisms in our bodies. While this might be shocking – if not somewhat disturbing – these microorganisms play a vital role in ensuring that our bodies are functioning properly.
Although many of these organisms naturally exist in our bodies, we also rely on outside sources, like food and supplements, to provide our bodies with the microorganisms we need. This is where probiotics come in.
What are Probiotics and Why do We Need Them?
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms, typically in the form of bacteria or yeast, that provide a multitude of health benefits. While we often associate bacteria with negative health implications, bacteria can also be good for your health and help to ensure that your body is functioning properly.
Probiotics are the “good guys” that take up residence in our guts. These mini health-boosting superheroes work by targeting our microbiome – the community of bacteria in our guts – to make sure that we are properly digesting the food we eat, fighting off “bad” bacteria, and absorbing nutrients.
Probiotics work in the following ways:
- Prevent “bad” bacteria from growing and attaching to the walls of the intestine
- Bolster the immune system by simulating the growth of healthy cells and bacteria in the gut
- Wipe out toxins released by “bad” bacteria
- Enhance the functioning of the immune system
- Guard against infection by directing cells to strengthen mucus in the intestine and provide a barrier against infection
While probiotics undoubtedly confer a number of benefits to our digestive tracts, their advantages go far beyond our guts. As research continues to mount, numerous studies show that probiotics can help with everything from boosting our immune systems, reducing inflammation, and aiding in weight management to easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. All in all, probiotics work around the clock to support our digestive health, immune strength, neurological wellbeing, and emotional wellness.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the numerous benefits that probiotics have to offer.
Restore Good Bacteria
If your digestive health has been compromised due to an imbalance of healthy bacteria in your body, probiotics can offset the imbalance by introducing good bacteria into your digestive tract. An imbalance of bacteria may result from illness, certain medications, or poor diet.
This is why probiotics are often recommended if you have been prescribed with an antibiotic. Antibiotics destroy bacteria, including (unfortunately) the good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics, on the other hand, do the opposite. Probiotics can be used to balance and restore the good bacteria that have been destroyed by antibiotics. This can help reduce antibiotic induced diarrhea and ensure that the balance of bacteria in the gut is restored.
Probiotics have been found to be effective in treating a variety of digestive issues, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria.
Diarrhea – Probiotics are effective in treating a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea. Diarrhea itself is a symptom of irritation or infection in the digestive tract. It can also be the result of food intolerance, illness, allergies, or antibiotic treatment.
Numerous studies have indicated that probiotics can be effective in easing certain types of diarrhea, including traveler’s diarrhea, antibiotic induced diarrhea, pediatric acute diarrhea, and diarrhea resulting from Clostridium difficile (C.diff). Probiotics spread good bacteria and yeast through your intestines. This restores the proper balance of bacteria in your gut so that your digestive system can begin functioning normally.
IBS – Probiotics have also been found to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic disease that causes abdominal discomfort, constipation, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Recent research has indicated that 84% of people who suffer from IBS have an overgrowth of bacteria in their small intestines.
Multiple studies have found that probiotics can potentially improve symptoms of IBS by reducing bacterial overgrowth, diminishing the number of unfriendly bacteria in the gut, and strengthening the intestinal lining. By taking a probiotic supplement, IBS sufferers may find that they experience a decrease in abdominal pain, bloating, and gas, as well as more normal bowel movements.
Constipation – In one study, researchers at King’s College in London found that probiotics helped soften stools, slowed gut transit time by 12.4 hours, and increased the number of weekly bowl movements. Just as bacteria contained in probiotics can aid with the digestion of food, it can also break down stool to help it pass through the intestines.
Crohn's Disease – For individuals who suffer from Crohn’s disease, probiotics may provide some relief from the symptoms of this condition. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the immune system. It leads to inflammation in the bowels and damages the lining of the intestines. Crohn’s disease also causes a decrease in certain types of good bacteria, including Firmicutes and Bacteriodete bacteria.
Some researchers now suggest that probiotics, specifically probiotics containing Bifidobacterium, can help to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut for those who suffer from Crohn’s disease. Probiotics may also reduce inflammation in the intestines and help minimize symptoms of Crohn’s disease, like diarrhea and stomach pain. There have been other studies, however, that question the effectiveness of probiotics in treating symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Thus, while the research is encouraging, further studies are needed to provide a concrete answer as to whether or not probiotics should be used to treat symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Helicobacter pylori – Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type bacteria that can live in the digestive tract and infect the lining of the stomach. Over time, these bacteria can cause stomach ulcers. In fact, approximately 90% of duodenal ulcers and 80% of gastric ulcers are caused by H. pylori bacteria.
Probiotics have often been recommended alongside traditional treatment methods, like antibiotic therapy, as a form of alternative medicine to help rid the body of ulcer-inducing H. pylori bacteria. This is because probiotics help to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract.
A 2012 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that taking probiotics may improve the body’s ability to eliminate H. pylori bacteria. Four stains of probiotics may be particularly helpful, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus gasseri, and Bifidobacterium infantis.
Support the Immune System
With flu season underway, many of us are upping our vitamin C intake, using hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style, and taking various forms of supplements in an effort to strengthen our immune systems and keep sickness at bay. We may, however, be missing one powerful weapon in this fight – probiotics.
How can these gut-bacteria superheroes help the immune system? You may or may not know that 70-80% of immune cells are located in the digestive tract. As such, the health status of your gut is going to play an important role in the overall performance of your immune system. A weak, unhealthy digestive tract equals a greater chance of coming down with a cold, the flu, and other infections.
One reason for this is that the good bacteria contained in probiotics help your body to effectively break down the food you eat and absorb the nutrients contained in the food you consume. All of that vitamin C that you are pounding in order to avoid getting sick will do you no good if your body cannot absorb it.
Another reason that probiotics help bolster your immune system is because they effectively create a little army of good bacteria in your digestive system to guard against harmful enemy bacteria and maintain a balance of bacteria in your gut. Probiotics create a healthy environment where your immune cells can live and thrive.
Prevent Urinary Tract Infections and Treat Vaginal Infections
While probiotics are obviously important when trying to maintain a balanced gut and digestive system, evidence suggests that they may help prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections as well.
Like the gut, the vagina is home to millions of bacteria. These bacteria help maintain desirable pH levels so that good bacteria and yeast can thrive and stay in balance. When pH levels are disrupted, bad bacteria can grow and leave the door wide open for undesirable and painful infections to find their way in. Factors that can upset the bacterial balance in the vagina include antibiotic medications, smoking, sex, vaginal washes, menstruation, vaginal wipes, changes in diet, and stress.
Probiotics can help prevent urinary tract and vaginal infections by introducing good bacteria into the vagina so that it can maintain healthy pH levels and prevent bad bacteria from growing and turning into an unwelcome infection.
There are certain strains of probiotics that have been studied and found to be particularly beneficial in maintaining vaginal health and preventing infection, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacilus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri strains. Studies have found that, when consumed orally, these strains will make their way to the vagina to do their job. As such, probiotics taken as a supplement or derived from food sources that contain these strains may provide some relief for women who suffer from vaginal and urinary tract infections.
Inflammation is closely related to the immune system. Some inflammation in the body can be a good thing, since inflammation signals an immune response to help the body fight off infection. When the immune system either lacks luster or, conversely, goes into overdrive, this can result in unhealthy levels of inflammation. When inflammation become chronic, it can lead to swelling, pain, diseases, some forms of cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
In a study of 20 clinical trials, researchers concluded that probiotics can reduce inflammation. Probiotics work to decrease inflammation in a variety of ways. First, probiotics help to heal and balance the gut, which is where the largest number of immune cells reside. As was discussed above, probiotics can boost and help the body regulate the overall performance of the immune system. By improving the immune system in the gut, probiotics can decrease inflammation in the body.
Second, as we know, probiotics remove and regulate the number of bad bacteria in the gut. The gut itself can be a major source of inflammation, because bad bacteria in the gut can result in an inflammatory response in the body. Thus, by introducing probiotics into the body to destroy unwanted, inflammation-causing bacteria, those who suffer from chronic inflammation may be able to reduce the levels of inflammation in their bodies.
Help Manage Diabetes
For those who suffer from diabetes, or who are pre-diabetic, early studies suggest that probiotics may be helpful in lowering glucose and insulin levels. This could be extremely beneficial to those who, because they are diabetic, are unable to produce or respond to insulin and have higher than normal blood glucose levels.
In a 2015 Loughborough University study, researchers found that probiotics may be effective in preventing insulin resistance and improving glycemic control. Another study, which was presented in 2016 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, indicated that adding probiotic-rich foods may lower A1C levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
As studies continue to build, researchers are becoming more aware of the role that healthy gut bacteria play in maintaining desired levels of insulin sensitivity. Since probiotics boost the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut, it logically follows that probiotics could play a key role in balancing insulin levels and lowering blood sugar. If you suffer from diabetes, it is worth discussing probiotic options with your doctor as a natural way to prevent or manage your symptoms.
Clear Up Your Skin
One topic that has generated quite a bit of buzz in health and nutrition circles is the beneficial impact that probiotics can have on our skin. Poor food choices can lead to inflammation in the gut, which in turn can result in skin inflammation, acne and other skin problems.
By introducing probiotics, dermatologists believe that acne-prone individuals and those who suffer from eczema may find some relief. This is because probiotics can balance the amount of bacteria in your digestive system and prevent bad bacteria from causing an inflammatory response in your skin. Dermatologists also find that some patients who take probiotics experience an increased production of natural moisturizers in the skin, which can improve overall skin health.
Along with using supplements or relying on food for a probiotic boost, some are using probiotic-infused skin-care products, like creams, masks and cleansers. Whether you go with a skin-care product or a supplement, there are certain strains that may provide more of a benefit when it comes to healthy skin, including the Lactobacillus and Bifidabacterium strains. There are many products out there, so it is important that you do your research before you buy in order to decide whether an oral or topical product is best for you.
Aid in Weight Management
Studies have indicated that many people who suffer from obesity have different amounts and species of gut bacteria than normal-weight individuals. In particular, over-weight individuals have more Firmicutes bacteria and fewer Bacteroidetes bacteria than those who are at a healthy weight. Essentially, obese individuals have more “bad” bacteria and fewer “good” bacteria in the gut.
Some researchers believe that probiotics can help manage the levels of good bacteria in the gut and, thus, help individuals manage their weight and reduce body fat. Others point out that gut health plays a crucial role in the performance of the metabolism. Researchers explain that by boosting the gut’s performance through probiotics, individuals may experience better-performing metabolisms and be able to lower their body weight.
A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that women who were following a calorie restricted diet who took probiotic supplements experienced more fat loss than those who restricted their diets and took a placebo for 24 weeks. This research is promising, but it is important to note that the research in this area is still in its early stages. As such, individuals who are overweight should still look to diet and exercise as the first way to reduce body fat and maintain healthy weight.
While at this moment in time there is no guarantee that probiotics will lead to weight loss, probiotics do promote a healthy gut, which could be an important part of the metabolic puzzle.
Improve Mood and Mental Health
Did you know that our digestive tracts are the second largest part of our neurological system? This is why the gut is often referred to as our “second brain.” In fact, of the serotonin created in our bodies, 95% is produced in the gut. This has major implications for the way that our gut’s health interacts and affects our mental health and the way our brain functions.
Emerging research in this area suggests that probiotics have the ability to improve mood and mental health by boosting the overall health of the gut. Studies are increasingly showing that the digestive system and the brain are connected through what is termed the “gut-brain axis.” Like the brain, the gut produces a number of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which are all important factors in mental health and mood.
By introducing probiotics to the digestive tract, some researchers believe that we may be able to enhance the overall health of our gut, which will in turn result in an improvement in mood through the gut-brain axis connection. This can be summed up with the phrase, “healthy gut equals healthy mind.” And the mechanism for getting a healthy gut is through probiotics.
In a 2015 study published in the pier-reviewed journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, researchers concluded that “intake of probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood.” In the study, researchers provided test-subjects with a multispecies probiotic supplement over a four-week period. At the end of the test period, researchers found that the four-week probiotic supplement reduced self-reported cognitive reactivity to sad mood.
In another study, published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers conducted various tests on women who ate probiotic yogurt twice a day over a four-week period against a control group. The researchers found that, when exposed to images of angry and frightened faces, the individuals who had been regularly taking probiotics were calmer than those in the control group.
These tests provide a glimpse into the potential impact that probiotics may have on our mental health and wellbeing. Although research is still ongoing, the case is continuing to build for probiotics as a solution, not just for the gut, but for the brain too.
What is the Best Source of Probiotics?
We have spent a great deal of time in this article discussing the benefits of probiotics, but you may now be wondering, what is the best place to find them? While we all are born with health-boosting bacteria in our guts, experts recommend getting an extra dose of probiotics through food or supplementation to maximize the benefits listed above and ensure a healthy digestive tract.
Probiotics can be found in fermented and cultured foods. Probiotic-rich foods include:
- Fermented Vegetables
While food sources are a great place to start in your search for probiotics, they should not be your end-all. This is because many foods today that would have contained health-enhancing probiotics years ago have lost their probiotic-boosting benefits as a result of refrigeration and sanitation practices.
Thus, because modern agricultural technology has deprived many foods of their probiotic benefits, it is also important to consider a probiotic supplement to ensure that you are getting the right type and amount of probiotics.
Supplements are also beneficial because relying solely on foods to supply you with an adequate uptake of probiotics has its limitations. Probiotics are measured by the amount of colony forming units (CFUs), which is the approximate amount of live probiotic bacteria. When relying on foods, especially modern processed foods, it is difficult to measure the total amount of CFUs being supplied – as the amount contained in any given food product can vary by brand or even by batch.
It is also important to be aware that there are different strains and types of probiotics, and that each type serves a different function. For example, Bifidobacteria breve is a strain of probiotics that is believed to help guard against infection-causing bacteria, while Lactobacillus acidophilus is a strain that aids the digestive process and nutrient absorption. By relying solely on foods to satisfy your probiotic needs, you could leave your body lacking in certain strains of probiotics.
Thus, by taking a daily probiotic, you are not only able to control the amount of CFUs that are delivered where your body needs them most, you are also able to ensure that you are consuming an adequate variety of probiotic strains.
When searching for the best probiotic supplement for you, it is important to find a broad spectrum supplement that contains multiple species of probiotics. AMRAP Nutrition offers a potent probiotic supplement that contains an all-natural blend of 12 potent probiotic strains. Each AMRAP Nutrition Probiotics capsule is formulated to provide five billion CFUs and is time-released to ensure that these live microorganisms are not released until they reach your intestinal tract.