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Published on May 31, 2018

15 Benefits of Probiotics (And How to Find One That Actually Suits You)

15 Benefits of Probiotics (And How to Find One That Actually Suits You)

We all know probiotics from yogurt commercials and packaging. We’ve heard it’s good for digestion. We might have complained to a friend about bloating and gotten her wide-eyed recommendation, “Oh, you should try taking probiotics!” Beyond that, what do probiotics really do for us? How much should we get? Is yogurt the only way to get them?

Let’s talk about what probiotics actually are, what benefits they might give us, and how to choose the right one for you and your family.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria that live in your digestive tract that are good for your health.

Your digestive tract is home to a large population of various types of bacteria and yeasts, each with their own function. The community of various microbiota is sometimes called your gut flora. This community works well together when all of the strains of bacteria and yeasts are in balance.

If the population of good bacteria gets too low, the bad forms of bacteria and yeasts in your digestive tract can multiply unchecked, just like weeds taking over a yard.

There’s also something called prebiotics, which are types of non-digestible fibers and resistant starches that feed the good bacteria. Prebiotics are food for the probiotics and help them flourish. It happens that most prebiotic foods are ones that are super healthy for you in general – like garlic, asparagus, wheat bran and bananas – so they’re a win-win.

15 benefits of probiotics that you didn’t know

1. Balance digestive flora

The main benefit of probiotics is in keeping the population of good bacterias in balance so that the bad bacterias and yeasts don’t take over.

Your levels of good flora can be decreased because of antibiotics, stress, antibacterial soaps or hand washes, chlorinated drinking water, foods treated with pesticides and herbicides, colonoscopies or colonics (colon hydrotherapy), or having surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

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Those are times when it’s important to take a probiotic supplement to repopulate your digestive tract with the good bacteria that keep you healthy.

2. Help relieve infectious diarrhea

If you find yourself with a sudden onset of diarrhea (any time it’s brought on by a virus, bacteria or parasite), get yourself some probiotics. They’ve been shown to reduce the severity and duration of infectious diarrhea. For anyone who has experienced it, every minute you could reduce this experience by is worth its weight in gold.[1]

3. Prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea

After a course of antibiotics, a common reaction is diarrhea. Studies show that taking probiotics directly after can reduce the chances. This makes sense as the probiotics will help repopulate your digestive tract with the good bacteria that promote healthy digestion before the bad bacteria have a chance to flourish.[2]

4. Alleviate symptoms of ulcerative colitis

Since the benefits of probiotics are primarily in digestive health, there’s been research on how they can impact various types of inflammatory bowel disease. So far, they’ve seen a positive effect on symptoms of ulcerative colitis.[3]

5. Ease bloating and gas in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

There’s also been some research into the benefits of probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome. Again, some of the symptoms (bloating and gas in particular) seem to ease when taking probiotics. This seems promising and hopefully there will be more studies to find out which have the most effects to provide relief.[4]

6. Prevent urinary tract infections

A study on urinary tract infections found that women taking a supplement of Lactobacillus crispatus daily for 5 days, then weekly for 10 weeks, had a lower rate of getting a recurrent UTI in that time.[5]

7. Produce vitamins

The bacteria in your gut have a role in creating certain vitamins like vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.[6]

8. Reduce inflammation

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Inflammation is the root cause of lots of different diseases, allergic reactions and immune response as well as linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

As probiotics are studied for their health benefits, researchers are also looking for the way in which they help us. One of those seems to be in reducing inflammation, by reducing the cause or reaction that triggers inflammation in several ways.[7]

9. Help with lactose tolerance

Lactose intolerance is very common because so many of us stop producing the enzyme lactase that we would need to break down the lactose in milk and dairy products. The probiotics in fermented diary products like yogurt break down lactose before it reaches our colon – and the bacteria used to make yogurt help us digest lactose better.[8]

Probiotics might also reduce the allergic reaction to dairy in adults but studies haven’t shown for sure yet.

10. Enhance the immune function

Getting the right community of microbes in our gut is an important part of early development for infants. It also affects the proper development of their immune system.[9]

For adults, probiotics can boost the function of your immune system by promoting the production of natural antibodies and stimulating activity of certain immune cells like dendritic cells and T-cells.[10]

11. Help regulate the blood pressure

Probiotics are being studied for their effect on heart health and might have some impact in lowering blood pressure. So far they’ve only found a slight effect though.[11]

12. Lower the blood cholesterol

Probiotics seem to have some beneficial effects on blood cholesterol as well, specifically lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.[12]

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13. Promote skin health (get rid of acne, rosacea and eczema)

There’s been some research showing the benefits of probiotics for acne, rosacea and eczema. Study also shows that probiotic supplements (of Lactobacillus GG) by mothers prenatally, and then by infants for 6 months after birth, can reduce the child’s chances of developing eczema.[13]

14. Reduce anxiety and depression

The benefits of probiotics may extend to anxiety and depression by reducing those symptoms of stress.[14] Any mental health issues should of course be treated primarily by a qualified professional, but probiotics may add a risk-free addition to a whole life approach to stress management.

15. Prevent allergy development

Probiotics could be helpful in preventing the development of allergies in children, especially if the mother takes probiotics during pregnancy.[15]

Note:

The research into the benefits of probiotics is fairly new, so there isn’t a lot of conclusive evidence yet. But what has been done is promising so far. Many of the results seem to depend on which strain of probiotic is helpful for specific health issues, so there’s a lot of potential to find new results.

Hopefully the more they find, the more research will be done in future to help us understand all the ways in which probiotics keep us healthy.

How to find the probiotics that are suitable for you

Most people think of yogurt when they think of getting probiotics, and there are some excellent non-dairy yogurts that are made with properly cultured probiotics. You could also try kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and other naturally-fermented foods.

One thing to watch out for is that many yogurts (especially the dairy ones) that are sold commercially need to be pasteurized, which involves heat that will often kill the probiotic bacteria. Look on the package to see whether the yogurt has been pasteurized or not.

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There are also probiotic supplements that are wonderful for getting a more concentrated source of probiotics. You’ll want to take a dose of 1 billion or more per day, and the exact strains aren’t as important as having a variety of strains. There are even gummy versions for kids, or anyone who doesn’t like taking capsules.

Although probiotics are most often associated with dairy products, there are plenty of vegan probiotic supplements and non-dairy products. Probiotics are bacteria which feed and grow on sugars, and there’s no need for any animal products in their life cycle.

Most people don’t need to take probiotic supplements every day indefinitely, think of them as a boost every so often. If you notice that your digestion is off or if you had to take a course of antibiotics, take them for a few weeks until your digestion is normal, and then take a break.

Although most supplements are best taken with food for proper absorption, probiotic supplements are best taken on an empty stomach so that the probiotics can get in your digestive system quickly. The best time is first thing in the morning, before having breakfast.

Probiotics recommendations

Some high quality and effective probiotic supplements to try:

The bottom line

Probiotics have a lot of potential benefits, from improving digestion to heart health to immune function. While some of the benefits listed here may not be fully researched yet, what we do know is that probiotics are generally safe and have no side effects for most people. If they can’t hurt, why not give them a try?

Probiotics should always be thought of as a complementary supplement to your regular health care, and of course never go against professional medical advice. Before taking any supplement, you should always consult with your medical doctor.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

[1]NCBI: Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea.
[2]NCBI: Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
[3]NCBI: The role of probiotic lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and other related diseases: a systematic review of randomized human clinical trials.
[4]NCBI: The efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review.
[5]NCBI: Randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial of a Lactobacillus crispatus probiotic given intravaginally for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infection.
[6]NCBI: Randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial of a Lactobacillus crispatus probiotic given intravaginally for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infection.
[7]NCBI: Gut Microbiota-Derived Short-Chain Fatty Acids, T Cells, and Inflammation
[8]NCBI: Probiotic bacteria down-regulate the milk-induced inflammatory response in milk-hypersensitive subjects but have an immunostimulatory effect in healthy subjects.
[9]NCBI: Importance of microbial colonization of the gut in early life to the development of immunity.
[10]NCBI: Gut Microbiota-Derived Short-Chain Fatty Acids, T Cells, and Inflammation
[11]NCBI: Effect of probiotics on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials.
[12]NCBI: Cholesterol-lowering probiotics as potential biotherapeutics for metabolic diseases.
[13]Science Direct: Probiotics and prebiotics in dermatology
[14]NCBI: The effects of probiotics on mental health and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in petrochemical workers.
[15]NCBI: Probiotics for Prevention of Atopy and Food Hypersensitivity in Early Childhood: A PRISMA-Compliant Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.

More by this author

Heather Nicholds

A vegan, a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and a food lover.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

It’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up in less than six hours. You toss and turn all night. Before you know it, another hour passes by and you start panicking.

If I don’t get to sleep in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!”

One thing is for sure, you’re not alone. Over 70M+ Americans have stated that they don’t get the proper sleep they need at night.[1] So what could possibly be causing this insomnia epidemic?

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey of building my language learning company, I have experimented and researched dozens of best sleep practices. Some have flopped but a few have dramatically improved the quality of my life and work.

In this article, I’ll look into the reason why you’re sleep deprived and how to sleep through the night tonight.

Why you can’t sleep through the night

The first step to improving anything is getting to the bottom of the root problem. Different studies have shown the reasons why most people cannot sleep well at night.[2] Here are the main ones that the average person faces:

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Stress

If you’ve ever stayed up at night worrying about something, know that it’s a major sleep inhibitor. When you’re feeling stress, your mind and body becomes more activated, making it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. Even when you do manage to sleep, it won’t be deep enough to help you feel rested the next day.

Exposure to blue light before sleep time

We’re exposed to harmful blue light on a daily basis through the use of our digital screens. If you’ve never heard of blue light, it’s part of the visible light spectrum that suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormones. Other harmful effects include digital eye strains and macular cellular damage.

While daytime exposure to blue light is not very harmful, night time exposure tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. By keeping your brain alert and suppressing melatonin, your mind is unable to shut down and relax before bedtime.

Eating close to bedtime

Eating too late can actually be an issue for many people, especially those who are older than 40. The reason is, eating before laying down increases the chances of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backflows into the esophagus.

Another reason not to eat too late is sleep quality. Even if you manage to sleep right after eating, it’s likely that you’ll wake up tired. Instead of letting your body rest during sleep, it has to digest the food that was entered before bedtime.

Rule of thumb: eat 3-4 hours before bedtime.

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Medical conditions

In some cases, it could be medical conditions that cause your sleep problems. If you can’t relate yourself to the above reasons or any of these common sleep problem causes, you should visit the doctor.

The vicious sleep cycle

The biggest danger to repeating the bad habits mentioned above is the negative cycle that it can take you through. A bad night’s sleep can affect not only your energy but your willpower and decision making skills.

Here’s an example of a bad sleep pattern:

You get a bad night’s sleep
–> You feel tired and stressful throughout the day.
–> You compensate it with unhealthy habits (for example junk food, skipping exercises, watching Netflix etc.)
–> You can’t sleep well (again) the next night.

    You can imagine what could happen if this cycle repeats over a longer period of time.

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    How to sleep better (throughout the night)

    To help you break the vicious cycle and stop waking up in the middle of the night, I’ll explain to you a list of actionable steps to solve your trouble staying asleep.

    1. Take control over the last 90 minutes of your night

    What you do (or don’t do) before bedtime have significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Many times, it can be the difference between staying up until 4am and sleeping like a baby.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    • Go from light to dark – Darkness stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off unused light around the house, and think about investing into warm light that you can use in the bedroom before bedtime.
    • Avoid screens (or wear blue light blocking glasses) – Keep the bedroom a technology-free zone as the light from electronic devices can disturb your sleep. If you need to work, wear blue light blocking glasses (also known as computer glasses) throughout or before you sleep to prevent sleep disruption.
    • Find an activity that helps you to wind down  This could be anything that calms you down, and reduces thinking (especially unnecessary stress). Fir example, listening to soothing/good feel music, taking a hot bath, reading or meditating.
    • Keep any electronics you have on the other side of the room or outside the room – One of the most harmful things that can disrupt your sleep is the notifications you get from your smartphones. The simplest way to avoid this is to keep it away from you.
    • Create a bedtime routine – A night routine is a couple of things you do prior to going to bed. By doing these things every night, you’ll have a more restful and high-quality sleep. Learn how to pick up a night routine here: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide to Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

    2. Eat the right nutrients (and avoid the wrong ones)

    What you eat (not just when we eat) plays a critical role in your sleep quality. If you’re ever in doubt of what to eat to improve your sleep, take the following into consideration:

    • Kiwi – This green fruit may be the ultimate pre-bed snack. When volunteers ate two kiwis an hour before hitting the hay, they slept almost a full extra hour. Kiwis are full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and folate—all of which may help you snooze.
    • Soy foods – Foods made with soy such as tofu, miso and edamame, are rich in isoflavones. These compounds increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
    • Fiber-rich foods – Eating more fiber could be key for better sleep. Eating fiber was associated with more restorative slow-wave sleep—the more you eat, the better you sleep—per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Fiber prevents blood sugar surges that may lower melatonin. Get a fiber boost from beans, artichokes, bran cereal and quinoa.
    • Salmon – Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boost vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin— a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

    3. Adjust your sleep temperature

    Once you’ve gone through the first 2 recommendations, the last step to experiment with is temperature. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 Farenheit. This may be cooler than what most people are used to, but keep in mind that our body temperature changes once we fall asleep.

    Rule of thumb: sleeping in cooler temperature is better for sleep quality than warmer temperature.

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    Find out how to maintain the optimal temperature to sleep better here: How to Sleep Faster with the Best Temperature

    Sleep better form now on

    Congrats on making it to the end of this guide on sleep. If you’re serious about taking the necessary steps in improving your sleep, remember to take it one step at a time.

    I recommend trying just one of the steps mentioned such as taking a hot bath, blocking out blue light at night, or sleeping in cooler temperature. From there, see how it impacts your sleep quality and you can keep doing what works, and throw away what doesn’t.

    As long as you follow these steps cautiously and diligently, I know you’ll see improved results in your sleep!

    Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

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