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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 July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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