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The Health Benefits of Probiotics

Our bodies contain millions of microorganisms. Most of these tiny creatures are bacteria that keep your body healthy, strong, and safe. So, what do they have to do with probiotics? And why is “probiotic” such a wellness buzzword? In this article, we’ll explain the health benefits of probiotics and their important role in keeping your immune system strong. Read on to learn more about these small but mighty organisms and how they can help you stay healthy. 

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that can be ingested in a specific quantity to supplement the population of “good” bacteria (microbiota) in your intestine. In simpler terms, imagine that inside your body, there’s a group of microscopic workers whose task is to keep you healthy. Taking probiotics is like sending a bus of extra workers to help out as reinforcements. This process fosters an equilibrium between the different organisms that live in your gut. 

Where can I get probiotics?

You can obtain the right amount of living microorganisms through both food and supplements. Some fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut, contain probiotics. There are also probiotic supplements that contain a specific species or combination of different bacterias. To give you a better understanding of probiotics, we’ve prepared an explainer section below.  

The Main Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotic microorganisms active in your body play a variety of roles that benefit your health.

When consumed in moderation, probiotics are a healthy part of a balanced diet. However, excessive consumption might result in negative side effects. There are a number of proven health benefits to probiotics, which are listed below.

Restoring intestinal flora

Following a course of antibiotics, taking probiotics helps restore balance to your gut flora. In the process of working to treat harmful bacterial infections, antibiotics also kill the “good” bacteria in your body. As a result of this imbalance, intestinal infections and other issues that affect your health can arise.

Keep in mind: Taking probiotics can help replenish your gut after taking antibiotics and restore the natural equilibrium in your body. 

Preventing and treating intestinal diseases

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The strongest scientific evidence illustrates the advantages of using probiotics to treat acute diarrhea and reduce its duration. Probiotics may also prevent: 

Keep in mind: Further in-depth, conclusive scientific studies are needed to confirm these claims. 

Preventing other illnesses or medical conditions 

Despite the lack of more concrete evidence, probiotics seem to be beneficial in fighting certain medical conditions, such as: 

  • Candidiasis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Cavities
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Kidney stones
  • Organ, genital, and urinary tract infections
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • High cholesterol

Keep in mind: You can find the entire scientific journal article on probiotic use for these conditions here

Strengthening your immune system

Scientific evidence has documented immune response modulation in people who use probiotics. This benefit is primarily detected in the intestinal mucus, but it can also be seen throughout the entire immune system. 

Probiotics increase the leukocytes’ destructive (phagocytic) activity as well as the number of lymphocytes and immunoglobulin in your immune system. This results in a stronger immune response to fight inflammation and infection. 

Better nutrient absorption

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Studies have shown that intestinal microbiota (the naturally occurring microorganisms in your intestine) promotes nutrient absorption. Probiotics add reinforcements to the intestinal microbiota, allowing for better vitamin and mineral absorption and promoting good digestion.  

Preventing and treating allergies

One of the most notable immunological benefits of probiotics is its possible advantages for allergies. A clear example has been shown in research on children with eczema. Probiotics containing a specific species (bifidobacteria) have been found to have a positive impact, especially on allergies at an early age. Administering pre and postnatal lactobacillales has been linked to reducing the incidence of food allergies and eczema.

Decreased obesity

Researchers have studied the relationship between intestinal microbiota and the incidence of obesity for years. Results found a decreased presence of lactobacilus and bifidobacteria in obese patients compared to those who weren’t obese. 

Studies still haven’t established any concrete insights about the impact of using probiotics for weight loss. Scientists propose further investigation to corroborate the potential advantage for obese patients. 

Better mood

Another benefit associated with consuming probiotics is related to the gut microbiota-brain axis. This has been the subject of extensive research and shown positive results, which suggest that probiotics could act as facilitators in mood-related mental processes. If the gut microbiome is connected to the brain, probiotics could potentially help improve: 

  • Overall mood 
  • Memory  
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Keep in mind: Two studies have found more concrete links. The first is on the effects of probiotics on mental health. The second is a systematic revision of the effect of probiotics on the central nervous system. Consuming bifidobacteria and lactobacillus through yogurt or a probiotic supplement appear to improve both mental health and the central nervous system.

How Do I Consume Probiotics?

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Probiotics are mostly taken orally. You can take them by eating probiotic foods or through probiotic supplements. 

Probiotic foods

These foods contain naturally-occurring live microorganisms that are great for your health. Some of the most popular probiotic foods are: 

Kefir

Kefir contains 30 types of “good” bacteria that are perfect for fighting digestive issues and tumors, strengthening the immune system, and more. This fermented drink is made with a type of grain made of yeast and bacteria, which can be mixed with any type of milk (lamb, sheep, rice, coconut, or soy) or even coconut water.

The Spanish Association of Lactose Intolerant People (Adilac) states that one of kefir’s advantages is that lactose intolerant people can drink it without a problem. It’s also nutrient-rich! 

“A 2015 study showed the benefits of using Kefir as an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antitumor,  immunomodulator, and much more.''

- Adilac (Article

Natural yogurt

Yogurt is one of the most common sources of probiotics. You can even make it at home! Yogurt contains bacteria like lactobacillus as well as streptococcus and bifidobacteria, which also are naturally found in your gut.  

According to the Spanish Heart Foundation, yogurt is high in vitamins A and B, calcium, magnesio, phosphorus, and zinc. They affirm that consuming yogurt can:  

  • Improve lactose intolerance
  • Increase growth of “good” bacteria 
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Prevent and treat diarrhea in children

Yakult

Yakult is another popular fermented dairy product. This drink contains 10 million Lactobacillus casei Shirota bacteria for every 100 ml. 

The high concentration of “good” bacterias makes this a very beneficial product to use. Keep in mind that its added sugar content may be a bit high. The benefits of consuming lactobacillus are:  

  • Stopping “bad” bacteria growth (Salmonella, Helicobacter and Shigella)
  • Decreasing lactose intolerance
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Maintaining intestinal flora equilibrium
  • Preventing intestinal diseases like colitis

Sauerkraut

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Sauerkraut is made by fermenting fresh cabbage leaves. Once the sugars are released from the leaves, they come into contact with bacteria and yeast and produce lactic acid and probiotics. These are also found in kefir and yogurt. 

The bacterial composition of these foods has been studied for years. Research has found a significant presence of lactobacillus and leuconostoc, both of which are classified as probiotics. Some benefits of sauerkraut are: 

  • Maintaining heart health
  • Cancer prevention
  • Strengthening immune system
  • Decreasing stress and anxiety
  • Promoting good digestion 
  • Aiding fat loss

Natural yeast

Also referred to as a sourdough starter, biga, or levain, natural yeast is a combination of bacteria and yeast resulting from fermenting grains (particularly wheat) and the naturally-occurring microbes living in the air. The resulting probiotics provide health benefits and improved nutrient bioavailability. 

Studies have found an increase in protein capacity as well as higher free amino acid content. Some advantages of using sourdough starter to make bread, cookies, or cakes include:  

  • Powerful antioxidants
  • Lower glycemic index
  • High levels of vitamin B 
  • Higher levels of iron, zinc, and magnesium
  • Improved digestion

Pickles

Pickles are made by fermenting cucumbers in water and brine for several days. They’re high in probiotics just like other fermented foods, including olives, kimchi, and pearl onions. Some of its probiotic benefits are: 

  • Reversing the negative impact of antibiotics on intestinal flora
  • Preventing liver damage
  • Preventing colds
  • Improving mood

East Asian foods

Foods made with leafy green vegetables and legumes like soy are great sources of probiotics. Products that can be fermented with barley, rice, and sea salt like natto, tempeh, broad bean paste, and miso are also rich in probiotics. You can find these products at your local Asian grocery store.

Kombucha

This fermented drink is a great source of probiotics. Kombucha is made from black tea, and while it might seem like a trendy new beverage, it’s actually been around for thousands of years

Probiotic supplements

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These supplements are created for a specific condition. Normally, you’d have millions of species of one or more types of these bacteria in your gut. Supplements can help replenish or strengthen them. Below are a few of the healthiest probiotics. 

Lactobacillus fermentum

This bacteria favors healthy intestinal flora growth by modifying and preparing the environment to safely eliminate toxins and waste that are excreted during digestion. 

Lactobacillus reuteri

Present in the intestines, this bacteria may help prevent and treat Helicobacter pylori, infant colic and diarrhea in children.

Lactobacillus acidophilus

This bacteria mainly lives in the vagina and intestines. Studies have shown that it may prevent or treat different types of diarrhea as well as:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Lung infections in children 
  • Some childhood allergies 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Infant colic

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

This naturally-occurring intestinal bacteria appears to be an effective treatment for different types of diarrhea in those who are lactating, children, and adults, as well as: 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections
  • Lactose intolerance

Bifidobacterium animalis

The benefits of this bacteria have been studied extensively. It mainly lives in the gastrointestinal tract and may help with:

  • Treating the side effects of antibiotics
  • Increased immune resistance to respiratory infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Improving intestinal function

Bifidobacterium breve

Mainly present in your intestine, it appears that probiotics improve your immune system to fight different illnesses as well as: 

  • Childhood food allergies and atopic dermatitis
  • Some intestinal infections 
  • Vaginal infections from candida albicans 
  • Different types of diarrhea in children

Bifidobacterium bifidum

These bacteria live mostly in the lower part of your large intestine. The potential benefits can be seen in: 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Immune system strengthening
  • Restoring gut flora
  • Diarrhea
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

How Long Should I Take Probiotics?

It’s generally recommended that you take probiotics daily for at least four weeks in order to assess its beneficial effect. If you don’t notice any improvements after that time, try changing the probiotic. If the new probiotic is effective, the duration of treatment will depend on your doctor’s instructions as well as your condition.

Probiotics in Children

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Studies and scientific evidence has found that probiotics may have beneficial effects on children from an early age. These effects can include preventing an allergy, treating diarrhea, or reducing the side effects of antibiotics. In fact, some studies have indicated a link between people who take probiotics during pregnancy and lactation and a minimized risk of certain illnesses in their children.

“Probiotics aren’t a solution to infant colic, but they are an important part of treatment to achieve the solution.”

- Dr. Jesús Garrido, pediatrician (Video)

Probiotics in Women

Probiotics, especially lactobacillus, play an important role in vaginal microbiota. Lactobacillus acidophilus is most commonly found in the vagina and works to naturally maintain its pH.

Keep in mind: An imbalance in your vaginal bacterial ecosystem can result in infections. There is scientific evidence that links the use of antibiotics with the benefits of probiotics as effective treatment for vaginitis.

Probiotics in Men

Probiotics can benefit men on more than just the intestinal level. For example, there's evidence that probiotics may help treat depression and erectile dysfunction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics, which feed your body’s “good” bacteria. Imagine that you have a plant called “microbiota” and you need to plant it. Before doing so, you need to prepare the soil with compost called a “prebiotic.” This prebiotic will nourish the plant, help it grow, and keep it strong and healthy.

When is the best time to take probiotics?

Your doctor will be able to tell you the best time to take probiotics. Since probiotics are used to prevent or treat certain illnesses, it’s important to follow their instructions. However, some probiotic foods, like yogurt, can be consumed daily. That said, always consult a doctor before taking any type of probiotics.

How do I know if my intestinal flora is healthy?

There are a few symptoms that could be signs of intestinal flora problems:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Constant bloating or gas after eating
  • Feces with a strong odor
  • Bad breath
  • Weakened immune system
  • excessive sugar cravings

There might be other symptoms, which is why it’s important to consult a doctor before taking any medication.

Be Proactive About Your Health With Probiotics!

The microorganisms that live in and outside your body need a balanced environment for your immune system to fight infections and illnesses. It’s been demonstrated that probiotics help protect against and prevent different diseases by restoring your intestinal microbiota.

If you plan to start taking probiotics, make sure it’s under the supervision of a healthcare professional. To help you find a board-certified doctor, SABEResPODER has developed the SEP+ membership, which is designed to give you all the tools needed to take care of your and your family’s health.