If I am going to take on the topic of gut health this month, I have to discuss probiotics. They are all the rage right now when it comes to health and wellness, but let’s take a closer look. What are probiotics? What are their health benefits? And what is the best probiotic for you?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are essentially bacteria – tiny living microorganisms that are beneficial to our body. Given that the vast majority of the time when we go to the doctor we are being prescribed an antibiotic, it is hard to believe that many people are actually investing bacteria to help with their health!?! But when you think about it the body naturally houses both good and bad bacteria, and it is the balance of good and bad bacteria that keep your body working properly, especially your gut! “An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel.” These microorganisms keep out pathogens, aid in digestion and boost immunity.
What are the health benefits of probiotics?
- Gut health and aiding in digestive issues – Clearly the evidence supports that balancing the natural flora of your intestinal tract is essential to healthy digestion and a happy GI system. Given that the standard American diet is highly imbalanced, probiotics are key in helping to restore the natural state of balance in your gut. Supplementing this diet with a probiotic capsule, powder, or ensuring that probiotics are included in the natural diet will help restore a working and happy gut. Probiotics have been proven to reduce the incidence of diarrhea, and help in patients with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowl syndrome.
- Vaginal health – Similar to the GI system, the urogenital system is a final balanced ecosystem. It is easily disrupted by antibiotics or even birth control pills. Women have long been consuming yogurt and cranberry juice to aid the restoring the balance to the flora in the vagina to minimize the incidence of yeast infections and even urinary tract infections. Both can be incredibly unpleasant and painful at times, so simply consuming yogurt or a probiotic supplement is an easy fix.
- Weight loss – Who knew? There is strong link between probiotics and blood sugar control, so this benefit may not be that far off. A meta-analysis of 25 studies demonstrated that consuming more than 1 type of probiotic resulted in a weight loss of about 1.3lbs over 8 weeks. Not a huge impact, but I will take it!
- Clearer skin – Linked back to their benefit of reducing inflammation, consuming probiotics or foods rich in probiotics have resulted in improvements in rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. So quit the chocolate and greasy foods which can definitely fire up inflammation and down some kefir or yogurt! Fermented foods are loaded with probiotics, which may have been linked to the rise in interest in foods like kimchi and kombucha!
- Improving immunity – Are you always calling out sick at work? Is your body not able to fight everything off? Your immune system may be failing you. It needs a little boost with the help of some probiotics. “Since probiotics are a better type of bacteria, they can help prevent infection from the most dangerous kinds,” says Kristina Secinaro, a research dietitian in the Center for Clinical Investigation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.
- Allergy relief – This time of year is the worst for allergy sufferers. Instead of popping yet another Zyrtec, try focusing on your natural flora. “A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that allergy sufferers who took a supplement of a probiotic called B. lactis once a day for 8 weeks were far less sniffly two months down the road than those who didn’t. The people on probiotics also had lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers, the researchers say.”
- Mood stabilizer – While the research isn’t well understood on this topic, a balanced gut flora has been linked to better mood in a few studies. Not surprising given the vast majority of the body’s serotonin receptors are found in the gut. Going back to the ‘second brain’ that is the GI system, perhaps popping a probiotic may be better for you than an antidepressant!
What is the best probiotic for you?
Unlike our pharmaceuticals in the United States, probiotic supplements are not regulated by the US FDA. So when it comes to choosing the best probiotic supplement for you, there is much to consider. The lack of regulation means that supplements can be highly variable in potency, colony-forming units, the total number of strains, and the strain purity. And of course, cost – these supplements can be expensive, but can be life changing when consumed correctly. Consumer’s Health Report completed a full report on the Top 5 Probiotics of 2017, ranking them based these criteria. They chose the following as their Top 5…
I don’t know about you, but after all this research, I am going to be treating my gut a little better. It clearly is our lifeline. I already eat pretty clean, but I an do more to support the natural flora in my gut. Who’s popping a probiotic with me?
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