Probiotics are everywhere. They are being used in food, in drinks, and, of course, in supplements. But why are we so obsessed with these little microorganisms?
Recent studies are suggesting more and more strongly that an imbalance of bacteria in the digestive system can have a huge impact on a person’s overall health and in the development of certain diseases (1). Probiotics can help to promote a healthy bacteria balance in the gut and are being linked to many health benefits, including weight loss, digestive health, and immune function.
Here are just some of the ways probiotics could help to support your overall wellness.
Balancing friendly bacteria in the digestive system
One of the reasons probiotics seem to work so well is the presence of “good” bacteria. When the balance is out of whack, there are health repercussions and so, probiotics step in to establish order in the chaos of gut bacteria.
An imbalance of your gut bacteria means there are too many “bad” bacteria and they outnumber the good. There are many reasons for this type of imbalance, like illness, medications (for example, too many antibiotics), a poor diet, etc. Whatever the cause of the imbalance, it can lead to digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, and obesity, among other things.
Helping to prevent and treat diarrhea
Don’t worry, everybody poops. But what does it mean when you transition from regular bowel movements to frequent bowel movements to full-blown diarrhea? It turns out, this problem could be due to an imbalance in the gut bacteria. Probiotics are widely used and known for their ability to regulate the digestive system, as well as prevent diarrhea or reducing the severity.
Improving some mental health conditions
Recent studies are suggesting that the health of the gut can have a big impact on the health of the mind. Research done in both animal and human subjects is finding that probiotic supplements may be able to improve some mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and memory loss (2).
In one study, 70 chemical workers were observed for 6 weeks. Some were asked to eat 100 grams of probiotic yogurt every day or take a probiotic supplement. Those who did saw an improvement in their general health, depression, anxiety, and stress (3). Similar results were found in a study of 40 patients with depression (3).
Keeping your heart healthy
By lowering the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, probiotics could actually be good for your heart and blood pressure. While this is only possible with certain probiotic strains that produce lactic acid, it’s an encouraging finding for many who live with high cholesterol and blood pressure. It is believed that this happens when lactic acid-producing strains of probiotics break down bile, keeping it from being reabsorbed in the gut. In fact, a review of five probiotic studies found that eating a probiotic yogurt for 2-8 weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4% and LDL cholesterol by 5% (4).
Reducing the severity of some allergies and eczema
Anyone who has experienced allergies or eczema knows how maddening the constant itchiness can be. It’s even more stress-inducing when your child or infant is dealing with eczema. A study found that infants who were fed with a probiotic-supplemented milk had improved eczema symptoms (5). And another found that the children of women who took probiotics during their pregnancy had an 83% lower risk of developing eczema in the first couple years of life. Although this link is still being researched, the findings thus far are exciting (5).
Improving the symptoms of some digestive disorders
For the 1 million-plus people suffering from Crohn’s disease in the United States, probiotics may hold some relief. Some probiotic strains are showing promise in improving the symptoms of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. One study even found that a supplement with the probiotic strain E. coli Nissle was just as effective as prescription drugs in maintaining remission of ulcerative colitis (6). There is still little research showing any effect on Crohn’s disease, but probiotics are known to aid in managing bowel disorder and still provides some hope for those with digestive disorders.
Boosting the immune system
By promoting the production of natural antibodies, probiotics are showing signs of being able to boost the immune system and hold off overgrowth of the bad bacteria. A larger study found that probiotics could help to reduce the likelihood and duration of respiratory infections and another study of 570 children found that those taking Lactobacillus GG probiotics had fewer respiratory infections by about 17% (7).
Aiding in weight loss and belly fat
There are many reasons to believe that probiotics can be a big helper in weight loss and with belly fat. Some probiotics can prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine and instead the fat is excreted during a bowel movement. They can also help you to feel fuller longer, acting as a mild appetite suppressant and allowing you to burn more calories while storing less fat. In one study, women who supplemented with Lactobacillus rhamnosus for 3 months lost 50% more weight than those who didn’t. Even in low doses, Lactobacillus gasseri can lead to a reduction in belly fat (8).
Not all probiotics are created equal and it’s important to research which strains will address the concerns you have. Talk with your doctor about any questions you have before adding probiotics into your diet. Whether it’s weight loss, heart health, or just regulating your bowel movements, there’s a chance a probiotic supplement could be the key to living a more healthy life.
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References & Disclaimers
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author