Health trends come and go. But there’s one health supplement that will likely stick around forever: probiotics.
Probiotic bacteria are the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Your gastrointestinal tract is like their headquarters, from which they perform all sorts of essential functions in your daily life.
In fact, probiotics help you in many ways that you probably aren’t even aware!
Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 benefits of probiotics:
Supporting Your Immune System
Did you know that around 70–80 percent of your entire immune system is living in your digestive tract? These microorganisms are essential for normal, healthy functioning of your immune cells, right from your birth.
It’s been found that serious conditions such as food allergies, behavioral disorders, mood changes, autoimmune disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue, skin disorders and even cancer are all linked to poor gut bacteria.
Supporting your digestive function is one of the better-known benefits of probiotics. These healthy bacteria not only treat gastrointestinal diseases but prevent them from developing in the first place.
Probiotics can be used to restore normal bacterial microflora and the functioning of the GI tract by a variety of mechanisms. Certain strains of probiotics can help to prevent diarrhea caused by infections and antibiotics, while other species can help improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disorders.
Probiotics can also help to remove bacteria that produce gas in the gut, as well as inhibiting pathogenic bacteria from adhering to the gut walls.
Restore Gut Integrity
If your gut has been damaged by food allergies or inflammation, probiotics can help. They improve the integrity of the gut by reducing inflammation and restoring the health of cells lining the gut wall.
Taking probiotics consistently has also been shown to help protect against inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease (1).
Protect Against Ulcerative Colitis
Because probiotics improve the activity of immune cells and the cells that lining the intestines, they also play a part in warding off the bacteria that cause ulcerative colitis. Beneficial bacteria have been found to block disease-causing pathogens from adhering to the lining of the intestines.
The most effective species is Lactobacillus, which has been shown to promote immune homeostasis in the gut and reduce the translocation of bacteria across the mucous membranes (2).
A substantial amount of evidence now shows that probiotics are an effective way of treating several types of diarrhea, from acute to traveler’s diarrhea (3).
A beneficial yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii (or S. boulardii) has been found to reduce diarrhea caused by recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Crohn’s Disease. It’s believed that this amazing yeast works by inhibiting pathogens from adhering to the gut wall.
boulardii also helps to strengthen enterocyte tight junctions, neutralize certain types of pathogenic bacteria, and enhance the mucosal immune response. Those travelling overseas are often recommended to take S. boulardii supplements before they travel and also during their trip.
Reduce Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance occurs when overuse of antibiotics allows bacteria to “adapt” so that they are no longer inhibited by the drug. Instead of taking antibiotics to treat illness, some health practitioners now recommend taking probiotics.
Probiotics can not only reduce the risk of resistance, but can boost the efficacy of antibiotics. Several studies have shown that probiotics can prevent and treat infectious diseases that would normally be treated with antibiotics.
Good examples are Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which have been demonstrated to be effective against intestinal diseases caused by C.difficile (4).
Protect Against Candida
Probiotics have been found to play a valuable role in preventing and reducing Candida overgrowth in the gut. The immunological effects of probiotics include strengthening existing bacteria in the gut, which allows them to crowd out harmful yeasts.
One study showed that individuals with oral candida (oral thrush) who were treated with probiotic supplementation ended up with significantly reduced levels of the yeast in their mouths (5). A low carbohydrate diet can also help.
Researchers say that probiotics have a variety of effects on Candida albicans. The most important is the way in which they improve the defense mechanism of epithelial cells, promoting the release of cytokines, immunoglobulins, and other antimicrobial substances.
Improve Mental Health and Reduce Stress
The ‘gut-brain’ connection is the term used to describe the vital link between mental health and the health of the gut. The line of communication between the brain and your enteric nervous system means the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain are strongly influenced by peripheral intestinal function.
This can mean that digestive symptoms caused by poor gut bacteria are often caused by – and contribute to – your mental wellbeing. It can also mean that any irritation in the gastro-intestinal tract can lead to signals that influence mood.
IBS sufferers tend to show higher rates of sympathetic nervous system function and lower rates of parasympathetic function, while those with IBS are found to be more prone to stress.
Probiotics can help mental function by reducing inflammation along the gut-brain axis, which may mean that those who suffer from mental illness may benefit from probiotics.
Can Improve Behavioral Disorders
Many autistic individuals also suffer from digestive issues. Some evidence now suggests that treating their gastrointestinal symptoms with probiotics can help alleviate their behavioral problems because of the improvement to their gut health.
One study showed that the Lactobacillus reuteri strain reduced some autism-like behaviors in mice. This may have been due to an abnormally low levels of this microbe in the digestive tract.
Another study also involving mice showed that the strain Bacteroides fragilis helped to improve levels of sociability. Researchers suggested that autism-like issues can be directly linked to poor microbiome in adults as well.
Probiotics are powerful inflammatory mediators. Chronic inflammation can lead to illnesses such as allergies, infections and even autoimmune diseases.
Treatment with probiotics can help to down regulate inflammation in the gut, helping immune cells to defend against the effects caused by unnecessary inflammation.
It’s even been suggested that probiotics can reduce inflammation and improve immune health in HIV-positive individuals who are yet to undergo treatment.
Strains such as Bifidobacterium appear to be the most effective in reducing inflammation (5).
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