Probiotics are at the top of the list when it comes to building up the health of your gut. However, there are many probiotic health benefits that go well beyond your digestive system.
Maintaining (or rebuilding) the right balance of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms in your body is critical to many facets of your overall health, including immune function, clear skin, and mood. Research is also painting a clear picture of how digestive issues open you up to even more problems (think fatigue, brain fog, skin rashes, etc.).
Probiotics have a clear role to play in resetting the balance in your gut and entire body.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at probiotics, how they can help you, and the best way to consume them.
What Are Probiotics?
We’re used to hearing the term ‘probiotics’ by now, but what exactly does this refer to?
In general, probiotics are any beneficial microorganisms that are considered helpful in the human body. Most of them are bacteria, but there are also strains of beneficial yeasts, like Saccharomyces boulardii.
The designation ‘probiotic’ sets these microorganisms apart from disease-causing strains- what we might call ‘germs’. In fact, beneficial bacteria are key to keeping potential pathogens from multiplying. (For example, Candida albicans is part of our normal microflora, but an overgrowth can cause a yeast infection.)
While most of us associate probiotics with better digestion, there are many different types. Some do help to digest food, while others play a role in producing vitamins, destroying pathogens, and so on.
Your first introduction to probiotics actually happened at birth. Mothers pass live bacteria to their babies as the newborn passes through the birth canal. This is significant because babies born by cesarean section have very different microflora- usually less varied and with fewer health-promoting strains.
After birth, humans used to get probiotics all the time from both fermented foods and fresh produce harvested from probiotic-rich soil.
Of course, this has all changed now.
Fermentation is no longer necessary for storing food. The use of pesticides and treating produce post-harvest has also cut down drastically on any probiotics we might get naturally. This means you have to be much more intentional about your probiotic intake.
Top Probiotic Health Benefits
Restorative for Your Microbiome
One of the most well-known benefits of probiotics is the effect they have on the microbiome of your body. Remember, you have beneficial microorganisms throughout your entire body, although the gut is often a center of focus because an imbalance there can really wreak havoc.
It’s important to realize that gut health doesn’t mean an absence of pathogens. It’s about a balance between various bacteria, viruses, yeasts, etc.
Too many of one microorganism, and you get disease. Or if you have too few beneficial microbes, the pathogenic ones will get out of control.
This is where probiotics come in. They work to restore proper function by replenishing helpful bacterial strains. This not only provides your gut and body with bacteria that are beneficial, it also keeps the harmful ones from doing damage.
One especially important aspect of this is following antibiotic use. Antibiotics are indiscriminate about which bacteria they kill, so it’s important to load up on restorative probiotics after taking them.
Improves Certain Digestive Disorders
With the restorative effect they have on your gut microbiome, it’s no surprise that probiotics are proving useful for digestive disorders.
They particularly help with one common digestive issue: diarrhea.
Multiple studies have shown that probiotics reduce your risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea. Researchers have called for more studies looking into which probiotic strains help most with different types of antibiotics, but it’s certainly a good reason to take probiotics alongside an antibiotic treatment as well as afterwards.
Another area where probiotic health benefits are extremely promising is for easing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Early research indicates that they may be able to improve symptoms like abdominal pain. The same is true for another digestive disorder: ulcerative colitis.
There’s even indication that probiotics can help constipation- another common complaint.
Good for Your Mood and Mental Health
Research has uncovered a definite link between gut health and mental health. That’s not to say all mental disorders stem from poor gut health, but it does highlight the importance of what has been called the gut-brain axis.
This provides the background on why probiotics are proving to be helpful for some symptoms of mental disorders, including depression.
One recent study found that supplementing with probiotics for 8 weeks significantly reduced depression symptoms in participants. Interestingly, they also found that blood levels of glutathione (an important antioxidant) increased with probiotic use, which could indicate that antioxidants may play a role in easing depression.
Other research also indicates improvement of symptoms with probiotic supplementation in other disorders like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism spectrum disorder.
Again, there is much more research to be done on probiotics and their connection to the brain, but they certainly deserve to be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment for mental health issues.
Gives Your Immune System a Hand
By inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, there are some significant probiotic health benefits for your immune system.
As you might expect, much of this starts in your gut. For example, studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics fight bacteria that cause gut infections. This includes E. coli and Listeria, among others.
What may surprise you is how much further these effects go.
Some research indicates that probiotic supplementation can help reduce the frequency and severity of respiratory infections, especially in children. Another study found that a specific probiotic strain, Lactobacillus crispatus, reduced the risk of urinary tract infections in women.
Even above all that, probiotics have been shown to promote the production of natural antibodies. They also may boost natural killer cells and other important immune cells, strengthening overall immunity.
Important for Healthy-Looking Skin
Just like there’s a connection between your gut and your brain, there’s also one between your gut and your skin. And not only does the microflora of your gut affect the health of your skin, your skin also has its very own microbiome that gets “fed” by what you apply to it and what you eat.
Probiotics are likely very important for healthy-looking skin as a whole, but there seems to be a special connection to inflammatory issues like eczema and dermatitis.
As an example, one study found that probiotic-rich milk improved eczema in infants. Another found that the children of women who took probiotics during pregnancy had an 83% less chance of developing eczema than the probiotic-less group.
There’s also evidence that prenatal and postnatal probiotic supplementation may help prevent pediatric dermatitis.
This highlights not only how important a balanced microbiome is for skin health, but also how critical probiotics are during the developmental period.
Supportive of Your Heart
A healthy microbiome isn’t just good for your digestion. It’s also good for your heart.
Research has uncovered a link between specific probiotic strains and both better cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Improvements have been “modest” in most studies, but still great enough to make a noticeable difference.
For example, a study that examined the effects of consuming probiotics through yogurt found a 4% decrease in total cholesterol and a 5% decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Not a huge drop but still significant.
Other research has pinpointed Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus as two probiotic strains that seem to have the most impact on cholesterol. You can specifically look for these strains on the labels of quality supplements and in certain probiotic-rich foods if they list the specific strains on their labels.
Regular probiotic consumption also appears to help reduce blood pressure. Again, the results from studies were moderate but noticeable. Notably, results were seen after probiotics were consumed for at least 8 weeks, so it’s really most effective to make probiotics a part of your daily diet.
May Boost Weight Loss & Weight Management
There have been some significant findings lately about probiotic health benefits for weight loss.
Of course, just taking probiotics alone won’t help you lose a lot of weight, but they are making a case as one of the best supplements to accelerate other weight loss efforts.
To start with, certain types of probiotics (mainly Lactobacillus) help prevent the absorption of dietary fat in your intestine. This means that more of the fat is excreted rather than being stored in your body.
There’s also some evidence that probiotics may help you feel fuller for longer and burn more calories. One specific type, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, helped women in one study lose 50% more weight than those who didn’t take a probiotic. Another, Lactobacillus gasseri, helped reduce belly fat by about 8.5%.
Researchers are still trying to narrow down which probiotics are the best for shedding pounds, but they may become a key part in the future of weight loss.
May Relieve (or Help Prevent) Allergies
Probiotics are on the list of top natural allergy remedies, mainly because they support immune function.
Allergies of all types are related to an overreaction of the immune system. What may be a harmless substance (like pollen, a certain food, dust, etc.) is viewed by your immune system as a threat and steps are taken. These steps involve the familiar symptoms of sneezing, coughing, hives, etc. and can be life-threatening.
It appears that having a healthy gut microbiome (which contributes to immune health) is related to fewer allergies.
This seems to be especially important during the first few months to a year of life. Studies have shown that infants who develop an allergy in the first year or two after birth have what could be considered poorer gut bacteria than those who don’t.
This highlights the importance of probiotics at an early age, but doesn’t mean they can’t be effective later on.
In fact, there’s preliminary evidence that probiotics may be able to help lessen established food allergies- possibly even lactose intolerance. Hopefully, research in this area will continue to turn up results.
May Help Protect Infants from Serious Disease
Once again, we come back to how important probiotic health benefits are from the womb onwards. Not only do they seem to set children up for a healthier life, there’s also indication that they have a protective effect at birth.
This comes from research that found taking high quality probiotics during pregnancy significantly lessened the chance of the baby developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) or neonatal sepsis. Both of these are dangerous diseases and often fatal.
What’s more, probiotic consumption was also associated with overall reduced mortality in the same research review. Probiotics were effective in both breastmilk and formula form, which is very promising.
These findings could particularly be significant for developing countries where these infant diseases are unfortunately common. One study from India found that giving pregnant mothers a synbiotic (combination of probiotic and prebiotic) was highly effective at preventing infant death from sepsis.
Consuming Probiotics: Top Probiotic Foods
Consuming a variety of probiotic foods is an ideal way to get at least part of your daily intake.
Remember, in times past, people would get a wide range of probiotics from various fermented foods and even small amounts of soil attached to produce. It’s best to try and mimic this by routinely eating more than just one fermented product.
Here are some of the popular choices:
- Sauerkraut (be sure to look for traditionally fermented types)
- Yogurt (and fyi, an increasing range of plant-based yogurts with probiotics are available; try to choose organic/all-natural!)
- Coconut or water kefir (dairy-free)
- Pickles (be sure to look for traditionally fermented types)
Can a Probiotic Supplement Help?
Many people today have a hard time getting enough probiotics from food alone. And, again, the ideal is to routinely consume a range of different probiotic-rich foods in order to get a range of different probiotics — which makes it even more challenging for many people.
Furthermore, many of the studies on probiotic health benefits used high amounts — more than people may typically be able to get from food alone.
For all these reasons and more, many health experts today recommend you consider a high-quality probiotic supplement.
The key word, though, is “high quality.” Probiotic supplements are swarming the market, and it’s safe to say that some if not many are negligible in their potential benefits at best. One of the key reasons, for example, is lack of “absorbability” — because probiotic supplements are consumed by mouth, it is important that they are able to withstand the highly acidic environment of the gastrointestinal tract (i.e., the “stomach acid”.)
The bottom line is that it’s important to research probiotic supplements, including if they provide spore-based delivery or some other natural mechanism to withstand the harsh environment of the gut and actually largely “make it” into the intestines.
Top Recommendation: Just Thrive Probiotic
If you are in the market for a top quality probiotic supplement, Just Thrive Probiotic is one that I personally use after my own extensive research. Just Thrive is a highly effective choice that overcomes the problems I’ve seen many other probiotics have.
As noted above, for example, one of the big challenges with probiotics is getting them to your intestines where they actually do their work. Most supplements start out with a high probiotic amount, but over 90% of the strains may get killed off in the stomach acid. Yes, this even includes some probiotic supplement options that need to be refrigerated (how are they going to survive your body temperature?).
To overcome this problem, Just Thrive Probiotic uses unique and natural spore-based delivery.
The four clinically-based, super probiotic strains essentially go dormant as they pass through the harsh environment of your stomach. Then, they “wake up” at your small intestine and start forming colonies of beneficial bacteria.
I find the results of this new probiotic technology are incredible and noticeable — unlike some other probiotics that don’t seem to do anything.
Learn more about the Just Thrive Probiotic here if interested.