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6 Ways Probiotics Heal More Than Your Gut

6 Ways Probiotics Heal More Than Your Gut

You’ve probably heard the term “probiotics” somewhere and have a loose definition in mind. You know it’s something for your stomach, right? Yep, but scientists found its benefits don’t stop at your tummy. It can alleviate autism and allergies — and even trim your waistline!

1. Helps You Lose Weight

Researchers found that regularly taking probiotics boosts your fat burning. They found that when you increase certain good strains of bacteria in your gut, your body seems to lose more excess weight.

One possible explanation is that the increase in good gut bacteria lowers your peripheral serotonin production. Wait, isn’t serotonin that wonderful chemical that lowers your appetite? Yes – but only the serotonin made by your brain. Some bad strains of bacteria in your gut are responsible for making serotonin too, but this “peripheral” serotonin has been found to hinder your body’s ability to burn fat!

If you have more good bacteria in your gut, they’ll keep your bad bacteria in check. This means there won’t be as many producing peripheral serotonin.

2. Alleviate Allergies

Believe it or not, scientists found that children with allergies have different proportions of gut bacteria than children without allergies. The key difference is that allergic children have lower levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

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Researchers found that taking probiotics daily lowers your genetic tendency to develop allergies! Eczema patients showed clinical improvement with probiotic supplementation. Lactobacilli are a main component of probiotics, and researchers theorize the increase in these species in your gut is how probiotics alleviate allergies.

This means you can help relieve your allergies if you take probiotic supplements every day. It also means that if you’re always eating junk food and you upset the balance of your gut bacteria, you could end up with allergies or worsen your existing rashes and hives!

3. Helps Prevent Dry and Irritated Eyes When Taking Antibiotics

If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics, she’ll probably warn you about side effects. These side effects can include dry or irritated eyes, which can also result from a mild allergic reaction to the antibiotic.

Researchers found that probiotics help lower general side effects of antibiotics, including dry or irritated eyes. In fact, patients given probiotics while on antibiotics experienced 12 percent fewer side effects than the placebo group.

Sadly, a little eye discomfort is the minimum of adverse possibilities that antibiotics can cause to your eyes. It’s well-documented that antibiotics have caused permanent eye damage, including damage to your corneas. These aren’t rare, strong antibiotics either – your run-of-the-mill ciprofloxacin that your doctor prescribes when you have a bacteria-caused cold and cough can cause retinal detachment. These are serious conditions that can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated.

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If you’re taking antibiotics and experiencing vision-related changes, don’t hesitate to see an ophthalmologist. If you usually see an optometrist (where you get your eyes checked for a new glasses or contacts prescription), he’s not able to diagnose any serious medical conditions caused by antibiotics. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors specializing in eye care and can make the right call if you come in with vision-related symptoms.

4. Makes Antibiotics More Effective

Taking probiotics while on antibiotics not only protects you from side effects, it also boosts the effectiveness of your antibiotics. Studies show that doing so can protect your gut from antibiotic-induced superinfections. Antibiotics can cause an imbalance in your gut bacteria, but probiotics help assure your good bacteria levels stay competitive. They also found that the good bacteria in probiotics help enhance the effectiveness of the antibiotics because they secrete molecules into your mucous linings that attack bad germs.

Researchers also found that because of these actions, probiotics lessen antibiotic-caused diarrhea.

5. Alleviates IBS

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), probiotics can help with that too! IBS is actually a blanket diagnosis, ranging anywhere from constant constipation to severe abdominal pain.

Researchers are starting to find more evidence that a major cause of IBS is an imbalance in your gut bacteria. Too much bad bacteria can cause stomach pain, which is a symptom of IBS. They discovered that IBS patients who supplemented with probiotics daily experienced a decrease in bloating symptoms. They studied how probiotics interact with IBS and found that the good bacteria in probiotics keep bad bacteria from sticking to your intestines and control their growth. They also found that these good bacteria can boost your protection from salmonella.

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Studies also show that probiotics lower inflammation in your body, and researchers have linked inflammation with IBS. Inflammation also increases your risk for cancer, and inflammation in your digestive tract can increase your chances of developing serious conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Take probiotics every day and you’ll lessen your IBS symptoms and protect yourself from IBD and cancer.

6. Alleviates Autism

If you have children who’ve been diagnosed with a form of autism, probiotics can help manage their condition. Researchers found that autistic children suffer from constipation and diarrhea more frequently than normal children. These discomforts can worsen their behavior problems. Since taking probiotics daily can normalize the digestive system and alleviate constipation and diarrhea, they can help lessen any intestinal discomfort your children may be routinely experiencing. This should hopefully help them be more content.

Researchers also found that autistic children have lower amounts of a few key bacterial species in their gut, and in general, less gut bacteria diversity. They found that these lower levels of gut bacteria can worsen or even cause their autism since they discovered that gut microbes make substances that directly affect the nervous system’s processes. In fact, they found that these chemicals can cause hyperactivity, which is a hallmark symptom of autism. They theorize this abnormal gut microbiota may result in abnormal levels of these neural process-influencing chemicals, which throws their neural processes off balance and lead to autism symptoms.

Giving your children probiotic supplements every day can lessen any constipation or diarrhea they’re experiencing, while also making sure balanced levels of hyperactivity-causing chemicals are being made by their gut bacteria.

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Natural Probiotic Foods

Can’t wait to rush to the store to grab a bottle of probiotic supplements? Wait – you don’t need to take a pill to enrich your gut with good bacteria. Plenty of natural, healthy foods are teeming with the same bacteria that scientists found help alleviate autism, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems.

Here are a few:

  • Buttermilk is cow’s milk fermented with lactobacilli. It’s usually in liquid form.
  • Yogurt is cow’s milk fermented with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It has a pudding-like consistency.
  • Kefir is cow’s milk fermented with good bacteria. Kefir’s consistency is between yogurt’s and buttermilk’s.
  • Natto is soybeans fermented with good bacteria. Originating in Japan, it has a sticky nut-like consistency.
  • Tempeh is fermented soybeans originating in Indonesia. It has a cake-like consistency.
  • Miso is soybeans fermented with salt, rice, barley, and fungus. It has a paste-like consistency, and once upon a time, was critical for nutrition in feudal Japan.
  • Kimchi is fermented vegetables originating in Korea. It’s teeming with probiotics!
  • Kombucha is fermented tea originating in Russia. Studies show its probiotic properties can boost your immunity.

Taking probiotics does more than cure your upset stomach. It can help treat autism, calm your allergies, help you lose weight, and boost your immunity. If you don’t like taking pills or capsules, try some yummy natural probiotic foods instead.

Featured photo credit: GreatDaneInc via pixabay.com

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Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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