Probiotics are often touted as an important component of our daily health regime—and for good reason. There are hundreds of probiotic brands on the market, and many more websites and blogs dedicated to the benefits of probiotics on the internet. But how much do you really know about probiotics and their benefits?
Scientific studies have provided evidence for many of the benefits of probiotics that you have probably already read about. The important thing to know is which benefits are real and which are not! It’s also important to understand that there are many different strains of probiotics, and each strain performs different roles within the body.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live within your intestines. They play a huge variety of important roles in many bodily processes. They help with digesting food, absorbing nutrients, reducing inflammation, producing hormones, and much more. They’re also important for energy production, immune function, healthy detoxification, and proper digestion.
You can get your probiotic bacteria from supplements or food. Popular probiotic foods include sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt, and kefir, but there are many more.
Let’s look at the six most popular health benefits of probiotics and the evidence for each.
1. Give You Energy
Yes! The billions of microbes residing in your gut play a vital role in breaking down the food you eat and absorbing the nutrients within.
Probiotics break down the food you eat into energy-boosting B vitamins. These B vitamins play important roles in releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, as well as breaking down amino acids and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.
Each B vitamin plays an important role in producing energy.
- Vitamin B1 is involved with the cellular production of energy as part of glucose metabolism. It also helps convert carbohydrates to fat, which can be stored until needed.
- Vitamin B2 is a building block for two coenzymes that help carry hydrogen, which is used to create ATP when carbohydrates and fats are metabolized.
- Vitamin B3 is involved with two coenzymes that play a key role in glycolysis in which energy is created from carbohydrates and sugar.
- Vitamin B5 is also part of the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to create energy.
- Vitamin B6 aids the release of glycogen from the liver and muscles so your body can use it for energy.
The strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium assist with the absorption of minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese, which are crucial for energy production.
Research has also shown that some Lactobacillus strains help to produce vitamin K, which is important for producing prothrombin, a protein that plays a crucial role in blood clotting, bone metabolism, and heart health. Vitamin K also assists with energy production within the mitochondria.
2. Help With Constipation
Yes! Although the exact mechanisms of probiotics are not fully understood, there are several ways in which probiotics are thought to help prevent and alleviate constipation.
First of all, it’s important to know that intestinal bacteria not only affect the motility of the gut but are also involved in the function of the enteric nervous system (ENS). A slow bowel transit time often occurs due to poor gut motility, particularly in the large intestine, which is also linked to abnormalities of the enteric nerves.
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) can also help with constipation. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli assist in the production of SCFAs by fermenting carbohydrates in the gut. These SCFAs can improve the motility of the digestive tract by stimulating neural receptors in the gut wall smooth muscle, stimulating peristalsis. Probiotics have also been suggested to increase levels of serotonin, an excitatory neurotransmitter that also improves peristalsis.
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli also help to increase the breakdown of bile salts in the gut, which are important for fat digestion, peristalsis, and intestinal motility.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that Bifidobacteria were especially effective in increasing the number of weekly bowel movements and helping to soften stools, which makes them easier to pass. Other research suggests that using a supplement containing multiple strains of probiotics is also effective in treating constipation.
3. Help You Lose Weight
Although there is no such thing as a “magic pill” that makes you lose weight, it’s now well-established that gut health plays a major role in healthy weight management.
Scientists now know that the composition of your gut microbiota can influence the way your body breaks down carbohydrates in your food, as well as how it uses and stores energy. Moreover, slim people tend to have different species of bacteria in their gut compared to people who are overweight or obese.
Research has also shown that when obese people lose weight, the diversity of their gut microbiome changes and becomes more like that of slim people. These findings have led scientists to believe that gut bacteria not only affect the way you store fat but also the balance of glucose in your blood and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satisfied. An imbalance of these microbes can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes throughout life.
Two specific strains have been linked to lower body weight: Akkermansia muciniphila and Christensenella minuta. These strains are often present in slimmer people.
It’s believed that these microbes also produce acetate, a short-chain fatty acid that helps regulate body fat stores and appetite. Studies in mice have shown that higher levels of the Akkermansia muciniphila species are associated with lower body weight and that it may also reverse fat mass gain, improve insulin resistance, and reduce adipose tissue inflammation.
4. Help With Gas
Yes! In fact, the composition of your gut flora is crucial to the production of intestinal gas.
An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. That can seriously impact the way that you live your life. Some beneficial bacterial strains such as Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridia are known for their gas-producing properties. Fortunately, probiotics can help.
The microbiota in your colon is required to ferment food that you cannot fully digest and isn’t absorbed by the gut. This is why the amount of fiber you eat and the composition of your gut microbiota have a lot to do with how much gas you produce each day, as well as how often you go to the bathroom.
Specific strains of probiotics such as Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown to reduce the gas produced in the intestines. It’s also been found that taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement can help to keep excessive gas at bay.
5. Help With Bloating
Yes! Bloating occurs when gas builds up in your gut, creating a feeling of fullness. This can be quite uncomfortable, painful, and also somewhat embarrassing.
Often, bloating symptoms can be linked to a specific food you have eaten—particularly onions, dried fruit, or gluten. However, some people may find they bloat up after every meal, which suggests all is not well in their gut.
Probiotics can help to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut by supplying the “friendly” bacteria that counteract the bad. These bacteria modify the composition of gut flora, which may help to reduce the production of intestinal gas.
One particular strain associated with reducing gas and bloating is LGG, which proved to be more effective than placebo in reducing the severity of IBS symptoms. Another study showed that patients treated with L. Plantarum experienced significant reductions in their flatulence compared with a placebo group.
Remember that your diet is probably a cause of your bloating too. For example, it might be worth reducing the carbs in your diet in addition to taking probiotics.
6. Help With Yeast Infections
Yes! Probiotics help to restore the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, which often leads to the development of a yeast infection. These infections occur when yeasts, such as Candida albicans, grow out of control and spread throughout the intestines. However, probiotics may help to “crowd out” these harmful strains and restore the natural balance of your gut flora.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast—but a beneficial one. In fact, it has the power to fight Candida by inhibiting its ability to establish itself in the gut. It’s also been shown that S. boulardii may help to reduce the likelihood of Candida yeasts ending up in the digestive tract. This may be because S. boulardii produces caprylic acid, an antifungal substance with powerful anti-Candida properties.
Don’t discount the possibility that your diet may be leading to those yeast infections. A low-sugar diet like the Candida diet can help to suppress intestinal yeast overgrowth and reduce the number of yeast infections that you experience.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most-researched strains and has also been shown to promote the production of antibodies that fight C. Albicans. Most importantly, L. acidophilus can inhibit Candida albicans from forming a biofilm, which is the protective sticky covering that protects the yeast from other treatments.
The health benefits of probiotics are undeniable, and they can be found in many supplements and foods. Their significant health benefits and accessibility make them an ideal part of your regular diet.
You should try out the best probiotic supplements in the market, and choose one that you think best suits you.
More About Probiotics
- When to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits?
- 10 Best Probiotics For Men For Digestive Health And Immunity
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