6 Reasons probiotics are good for you – plus best probiotic sources
05/21/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
6 Reasons probiotics are good for you – plus best probiotic sources

Bacteria have a reputation for causing diseases. As such, the idea of eating bacteria for your health may seem hard to swallow, both figuratively and literally.

But a growing body of research suggests that you can actually improve your overall health, and even avoid some illnesses, by eating foods and taking supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. These beneficial microorganisms, better known as probiotics, are consumed by millions of people around the world.

In fact, some people, like the Japanese and the Northern Europeans, eat lots of probiotics because their diets normally contain foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt, miso and sauerkraut.

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Top benefits of probiotics

Probiotics play a key role in several bodily functions, such as digestion and nutrient absorption. They prime your immune system and help produce chemical messengers called neurotransmitters as well.

When you take probiotic supplements or eat fermented foods, you add more probiotics to your gut. Take a closer look at how probiotics can positively affect your health:

1. Supports gut health

Probiotics are best known for their positive impact on gut health. For one, they keep bad bacteria in check. Some studies have also shown that probiotics are great for treating minor digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea. But they also help treat symptoms of more serious gut problems, such as ulcerative colitis. Additionally, probiotics help your body digest food.

2. Helps with weight management

Probiotics can help you lose weight through a number of mechanisms. For example, certain probiotics can prevent the absorption of dietary fat in your intestine. This fat is then excreted through feces rather than stored.

Probiotics may also help you feel fuller for longer periods and burn more calories. This is partly caused by increasing levels of certain hormones.

In some studies, researchers found that obese individuals had different gut microbiomes from lean individuals, suggesting a link between weight and the state of one’s gut microbiome.

3. Supports skin health

Probiotics can also do wonders for your skin. In particular, they can also positively affect the microbiome that’s sitting on your skin as opposed to the one in your gut. Probiotics help ward off harmful skin pathogens. As such, some studies suggest that probiotics can help manage skin conditions, such as acne and eczema, and promote wound healing as well.

4. Improves emotional health

Some studies have shown that probiotics appear to reduce the body’s stress response. They’ve also been shown to positively affect cognitive function by producing mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine.

In one study, researchers showed women pictures of angry faces. Those who ate yogurt twice every day for four weeks before seeing the pictures were calmer compared to women who didn’t eat yogurt.

5. Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure levels

Probiotics can also be beneficial for your heart. According to a 2014 study in the journal Hypertension, probiotics can improve both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

A review of over 30 randomized clinical trials, on the other hand, showed that taking probiotic supplements can significantly and positively affect total cholesterol levels.

6. Helps improve women’s health problems

Probiotics also have unique benefits when it comes to women’s health. Some studies have shown that taking an oral probiotic or eating more fermented foods can help treat problems like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. These problems can occur when bad bacteria inside the vagina outnumber good bacteria.

Pregnant women at high risk of having a child with allergies are also advised to take probiotic supplements. It’s believed that probiotics can reduce the child’s chances of developing eczema. In some cases, women with gestational diabetes appeared to benefit significantly from taking probiotic supplements as well.

Additionally, some studies suggest that men might also benefit from taking probiotic supplements, especially if they are trying to conceive. In such cases, a blend of probiotics and prebiotics (fibers that act as food for probiotics) may be better because they can improve sperm quality and boost testosterone levels.

What to look for when picking a probiotic

Probiotics are live, microscopic organisms. They usually consist of bacteria but they can also be other organisms like yeasts. The most common probiotics come from two groups of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

There are lots of species within either group. Each has strains that may impact your body in different ways. For instance, some strains may be better equipped for improving digestive issues like bloating, whereas other strains may be best suited for supporting healthy heart function.

So if you’re considering taking a probiotic, seek out supplements with specific strains that best meet your needs. You get to make the most of the supplements this way.

Here’s what some of the more common probiotic strains are best suited for:

  • For general health – LactobacillusBifidobacterium, Saccharomyces boulardii
  • For diarrhea – L. rhamnosus GGL. acidophilusL. bulgaricus
  • For weight management – L. gasseriL. rhamnosusB. lactis
  • For mood support – B. longumB. breveB. infantisL. helveticusL. rhamnosus
  • For heart health – L. acidophilusL. plantarumB. lactis
  • For bloating – L. acidophilusB. lactis

If you’re considering taking supplements, take note of the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) on the label. A typical probiotic supplement should contain anywhere between one to 50 billion CFUs per dose. But more doesn’t always mean better. At the very least, supplements should have good stability and good shelf life.

Opt for supplements with strains that have been extensively studied and always check the expiration date. Some probiotic supplements need to be stored in a cool, dry place, while others need to be refrigerated. Follow the storage directions to keep your supplements as potent as possible.

Best sources of probiotics

Aside from taking probiotic supplements, the best way to get probiotics is to add more fermented foods to your diet. Here are some of the most common fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics:

  • Yogurt – Yogurt is perhaps the most popular probiotic among fermented foods. It’s typically made from milk that was fermented by lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. It is said to improve bone health, lower blood pressure and treat diarrhea.
  • Kefir – Kefir is a fermented milk drink made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk. Kefir “grains” aren’t actual cereal grains but rather cultures of lactic acid bacteria and yeast. Kefir is a good yogurt alternative for people with dairy intolerance.
  • Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage rich in Lactobacillus bacteria. It is also filled with many essential vitamins and minerals, such as sodium, iron, manganese and vitamins C and K.
  • Tempeh – Tempeh is a fermented soy product made with a yeast starter. It’s often used as a vegan substitute for bacon because of its meaty and tender bite.
  • Kimchi – Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish popular in Korea. Cabbage is often used to make kimchi, but it can also be made with other vegetables, such as radish and scallions.
  • Miso – Miso is a traditional Japanese paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a fungus. It can also be made by mixing soybeans with other grains, such as barley, rice and rye. Miso is used to create miso soup, which is a common companion to sushi and other rice dishes in Japanese cuisine.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a fermented drink made with green or black tea. It gets fizzy during its second fermentation process. As such, it makes a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks like soda.
  • Pickles – Pickles are another classic fermented vegetable option. They are typically made by fermenting cucumbers in brine. The lactic acid bacteria naturally present in cucumbers also help ferment them.
  • Buttermilk – Traditional buttermilk is the leftover liquid from making butter. It naturally contains probiotics. It’s mainly consumed in India, Nepal and Pakistan.
  • Natto – Natto is a fermented soybean dish that’s a staple in Japanese cuisine. It’s usually served for breakfast alongside rice and miso soup.

Probiotics are live, beneficial microorganisms associated with various health benefits, such as better gut health, lower blood pressure levels and weight loss. Probiotics can be found in many fermented foods but they are also available as supplements. To enjoy their benefits, add fermented foods to your diet or take supplements.

Sources:

MindBodyGreen.com

AHAJournals.org

Healthline.com

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