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Last Updated on May 14, 2021

6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)

6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)
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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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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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.[4]

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.[5] 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.

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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.[6] Other research suggests that using a supplement containing multiple strains of probiotics is also effective in treating constipation.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

4. Help With Gas

Yes! In fact, the composition of your gut flora is crucial to the production of intestinal gas.

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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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.

Bottom Line

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.

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More About Probiotics

Featured photo credit: Daily Nouri via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BalanceOne: 16 SCIENCE-BASED HEALTH BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS
[2] The Candida Diet: 12 Probiotic Foods For Improved Gut Health
[3] Frontiers: Metabolism of Dietary and Microbial Vitamin B Family in the Regulation of Host Immunity
[4] NCBI: Vitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation – an overview
[5] NCBI: The Effect of Probiotics on the Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids by Human Intestinal Microbiome
[6] NCBI: Intestinal microbiota and chronic constipation
[7] HealthLine: Should You Use Probiotics for Constipation?
[8] NCBI: The Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Obesity
[9] NCBI: Function of Akkermansia muciniphila in Obesity: Interactions With Lipid Metabolism, Immune Response and Gut Systems
[10] Millenial Magazine: Is Poor Gut Health Ruining Your Social Life?
[11] NCBI: Clinical trial: Probiotic Bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 Versus Placebo for the Symptoms of Bloating in Patients with Functional Bowel Disorders – a Double-Blind Study
[12] AskMen: How to Get Rid of Bloat in a Hurry, According to Experts
[13] Wiley Online Library: Meta‐analysis: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for abdominal pain‐related functional gastrointestinal disorders in childhood
[14] Eat This, Not That!: The Biggest Danger Sign You’re Eating Too Many Carbs, Say Dietitians
[15] Oxford Academic: Saccharomyces boulardii and Candida albicans experimental colonization of the murine gut
[16] US News: Does the Candida Diet Work – and Is It Safe?

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

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Published on July 16, 2021

What Are Probiotics And How To Use Them For the Best Health Benefits

What Are Probiotics And How To Use Them For the Best Health Benefits
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“Probiotics” is a word that most of us are probably familiar with. It’s something that people often recommended to others who are looking to improve their health, especially in terms of their diet. Although probiotics are well-known to bring several health benefits, it’s still important for us to know more about them if we want to incorporate them in our road to a healthier body.

Read on to learn more about what probiotics are and how you can maximize their health benefits.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are “friendly” gut bacteria that are essential for normal, healthy functioning. Research shows that they have an important role in maintaining the health of the gut, the immune system, nervous system, and overall wellbeing.[1]

The word “probiotics” is derived from the Latin pro (for) and Greek bios (life). These live microorganisms can be bacterial, viral, or yeast, and can generally only be seen under a microscope.

You can learn more about probiotics here: Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference and Why Are They Important?

How Can Probiotics Help?

Probiotics have been shown to have a wide range of benefits for our health.

1. Probiotics Help With Digestion

Probiotics use a special process called fermentation to break down the food you eat. When food passes through the small intestine and into the colon, probiotics work with digestive enzymes to break down the food matter and absorb its nutrients. Without this help, digestion can be slowed or impaired, causing food to pass through your body without the benefits you need.

2. Probiotics Help Reduce Gastrointestinal Issues

Probiotics can help to reduce the risk of gas, bloating, and diarrhea, especially when traveling or taking antibiotics. Several studies suggest that probiotics are associated with a reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. One study showing that taking probiotics reduced the incidence of diarrhea by up to 42%.[2][3]

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Taking probiotics can also prevent or treat infectious diarrhea not caused by antibiotics. A major review involving 35 different studies shows that certain strains of probiotics helped to reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea with a day.[4] This makes probiotics a good choice for those traveling or working in environments where bacteria are present, such as schools or hospitals.

3. Probiotics Provide Valuable Nutrients

Fermentation in the large intestine produces valuable enzymes and nutrients that your body needs for healthy functioning.[5] These enzymes help to break down protein and fat, while the nutrients include B vitamins, vitamin K, and short-chain fatty acids. All of these byproducts can help with energy production, tissue repair and maintenance, cognitive function, and hundreds of other processes. Probiotics support the fermentation process, promoting the breakdown of nutrients and proper digestion.

4. Probiotics Support Immune Function

More than 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut. The cells lining your gut interact with both your innate and adaptive immune systems, which means your gut is the first line of defense between your internal body systems and external pathogens. Any harmful microbes that enter your body from food, the air, or surfaces you are exposed to must first get through several defense systems before reaching the bloodstream.[6]

Your gut bacteria are constantly secreting huge quantities of antibodies into the gut. This helps your body manage any harmful bacteria you might encounter in everyday life. Infections, diseases, and even autoimmune conditions are most often the result of your gut bacteria being unable to do their job properly.

5. Maintain Gut Integrity

Your gut lining is naturally permeable, which allows nutrients to pass from the food you eat into your bloodstream. At the same time, the bacteria lining the wall of your gut act as a barrier to prevent harmful substances such as antigens, toxins, and other invaders from entering the bloodstream. They also support the uptake of nutrients, electrolytes, water, and other beneficial substances from the intestines. This is vital for healthy digestion and the normal functioning of the body. It also helps to prevent the development of food allergies, which can result from increased intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut).

When to Take Probiotics

Research shows that probiotics are best taken just before or during a meal. This allows them to survive their journey through the gut.[7]

Survivability has all to do with the pH balance of your stomach. The lower the pH, the more acidity. The higher the pH, the more alkalinity. Stomach pH is very low—around 2 to 3. This is too harsh an environment for most bacteria to survive. However, after a meal, the pH of your stomach contents temporarily rises to a more alkaline value of around 7. The reduced acidity means there is less chance of the probiotics being destroyed.

Taking probiotics within 30 minutes of a meal or during a meal has been shown to help beneficial bacteria survive in much higher numbers than when taken 30 minutes after a meal.

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Read more about when to take probiotics here: When to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits?

Side Effects of Probiotics

Because most of your body’s microflora lives in your gut, this is the area most prone to side effects from probiotics. Typical symptoms may include gas, bloating, cramps, or a feeling of fullness. You may also experience a change in bowel movements. This may because the healthy bacteria are expanding in the gut, colonizing the small intestine and colon.

Extra gas may also be caused by bacteria-induced changes to your gut motility or transit time. These alterations can sometimes cause abnormal intestinal spasms or prevent your stomach muscles from fully emptying the stomach of food you’ve eaten.

These symptoms usually subside after a week or two of taking the probiotic. If you really can’t cope, try reducing your daily dose to half that recommended on the label. You can then gradually increase your dose over the following weeks. This allows your gut to adjust to the new influx of bacteria slowly.

How to Choose a Good Probiotic

A good probiotic should be designed in a way that allows the bacteria to survive the harsh acidic environment of your stomach. This means that the bacteria have a better chance of arriving at your intestines, ready to establish themselves and do their work.

Look for a probiotic supplement that uses some form of time-release technology, such as BIO-tract or delayed-release capsules that protects the probiotic bacteria and prevents them from being broken down in your stomach.[8]

CFU stands for “colony-forming unit.” This is the amount of live and active bacteria contained in each dose. There are hundreds of different strains of bacteria, and all of them have unique properties. Some of the best bacterial strains to look for in a probiotic are L. Plantarum (for protecting the membrane that surrounds your gut), L. paracasei (for its antibacterial properties that can ward off pathogens like E. coli and Candida albicans), and L. acidophilus (to regulate acidity in your gut and boost your immune system).

Generally speaking, the higher the CFU count, the more effective the probiotic. However, this depends on the way the probiotics are delivered.

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Many supplement manufacturers include fillers and unnecessary ingredients to lengthen shelf life or make the contents easier to pour into capsules. Be sure to read the ingredients label carefully as some of these “extras” can be harmful to gut health.

What Is a Good Probiotic?

Several factors go into making a good probiotic. Try to look past marketing claims about CFU counts of 50 billion, 100 billion, even 200 billion! Many supplements with high CFU counts often deliver only a few of those bacteria past your stomach acid.

Time-release tablets that use patented technologies like BIO-tract can deliver 15 times more bacteria to the gut than an equivalent probiotic in a vegetable capsule. For example, Balance ONE Probiotic contains 15 billion CFUs of bacteria. The time-release technology means it delivers the same amount of bacteria to your gut as a 225 billion CFU probiotic in a vegetable capsule.

A good probiotic should also contain at least 5 strains and preferably 10. All of those strains have different benefits and characteristics. Look for a good selection of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains. The more you take, the more benefits for you!

Here’s my pick of the top 3 probiotics.

1. Balance ONE Probiotic

This probiotic supplement contains 12 strains of probiotics with 15 billion CFUs per tablet. These include the most-researched strains, such as Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and more.

The Balance ONE Probiotic is also free from unnecessary fillers and allergens, including nuts, dairy, gluten. It’s non-GMO and vegan. It only contains strains that are already present in the human gut without any Soil-Based Organisms (SBOs) or active yeasts.

The most important feature of the Balance ONE probiotic is its patented delivery system known as BIO-tract. This special patented process involves compressing the probiotic bacteria into tablets. This means that Balance ONE probiotics can survive passage through the acidic conditions of the stomach without being destroyed. Studies have shown that this delivery method gets 15 times as many bacteria past stomach acid compared to regular vegetable capsules.[9]

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You can find it here.

2. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Extra Care Probiotic

This is a good probiotic that contains a wide variety of strains and a powerful dose. It contains a guaranteed 30 billion live probiotic cultures, including 12 probiotic strains, which makes it a good all-rounder.

Renew Life Ultimate uses delayed-release vegetable capsules, which, while not as effective as the BIO-tract system, are still an effective way to deliver bacteria to the gut. It has multiple strains for effective support and is free from gluten, dairy, and soy.

You can find it here.

3. Vitamin Bounty – Pro 25 Probiotic and Prebiotic

With 25 billion organisms per dose, Vitamin Bounty is a great maintenance probiotic. It includes 13 probiotic strains to help support overall digestive health, and it’s made with a delayed-release capsule that protects the live bacteria from stomach acidity. This helps in the delivery of the bacteria to the intestines and improves efficacy. The Fermented Greens also provide prebiotic benefits.

You can find it here.

Final Thoughts

We now know that probiotics provide us with several significant health benefits while possibly giving us some minor side effects. So, the next step is to determine what food or supplements we should look for. You can start with the recommended ones in this article. Probiotics are very beneficial for our bodies, and choosing the right brand for us can further improve the benefits we get from them.

Featured photo credit: Daily Nouri via unsplash.com

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Reference

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