Many of us have heard of probiotics but don’t necessarily know what to do with them or how they work.
First – probiotics are good for good health, but why is this important? Your gut isn’t just where food goes, it’s actually the center of all body systems and its health can affect everything including immunity, mood, physical and emotional health.
In fact, the gut microbiome and the brain are in league—talking and sending messages back and forth all the time. This is a process known as the gut-brain axis.
“When our digestive system is doing well, our central nervous system is also happy,” says the nutritional therapist Carol Becker. “Probiotics are live bacteria that can help improve your gut health, and you can find them in fermented foods like plain yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, or take them as dietary supplements.”
In fact, taking probiotics for just three weeks could help restore your microbiome and reduce depression, stress and anxiety, according to a study published in the Clinics and Practice Journal. Participants also showed an overall happier mood, more energy, and less brain fog.
Here we explain more about the gut, how probiotics make it work efficiently, and why this is vital to our overall health and well-being.
What are probiotics?
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in appropriate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. In simpler terms, probiotics are live bacteria that are good for you — especially your digestive system.
As we’ve already heard, they can play a crucial role in how healthy your gut microbiome is – the collection of billions of bacteria with up to 500 different living species in our digestive tract.
“While some bacteria can be harmful to our health, many others are extremely beneficial, and maintaining a harmonious balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is critical to our overall health,” he says Amy Shewarda nutritional therapist specializing in gut and digestive health.
Our gut bacteria develop from birth and not only help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food, but also provide energy and produce vitamins.
“It’s also important for immunological health, the removal of toxins from the body, and our emotional well-being,” adds Sheward. “A variety of things affect our gut microorganisms — sugar and refined carbohydrate diets, alcohol, antibiotics, stress, pollution and toxins can all upset the balance.”
She adds that dysbiosis — when the gut bacteria are out of balance — occurs when there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria. “This causes something called ‘immunological dysregulation,’ which essentially throws your immune system off balance, making you more susceptible to colds and infections, reducing nutrient absorption, and reducing your ability to synthesize some energy-boosting B vitamins, all of which can lead to it.” fatigue,” she says.
“The good news is that there are things we can do to improve the environment for good bacteria to thrive, including changing diet and taking probiotic supplements.”
types of probiotics
Two of the most common and most researched are probiotics bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
bifidobacteria are bacterial probiotics that are commonly used in foods and dietary supplements. They are believed to support immunity by helping to break down lactose into nutrients that the body can absorb and also limit the growth of bad or harmful bacteria in the gut.
Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose or milk sugar, is produced by lactobacilli. Lactic acid is also produced by these bacteria. Lactic acid helps control bad bacteria. It also acts as a source of muscle fuel and supports mineral absorption. Lactobacillus bacteria are naturally found in the mouth, vaginal canal and small intestine.
“You may already be eating foods that contain probiotics in your daily diet,” says Sheward. “Fermented foods, particularly yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, cheese, and tempeh, contain a variety of beneficial microorganisms. Fermented drinks like kombucha — fermented tea — and kefir — fermented milk drink — can also help you get more probiotics into your diet.”
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that help keep the body healthy and working efficiently. These beneficial bacteria can fight off bad bacteria if you have too much of them and help boost your immune system to help you regain your health.
“When ingested, the bacteria in probiotics ‘compete’ with potentially pathogenic microbes in the gastrointestinal tract to try to inhibit their harmful effects,” Functional Medicine Practitioner explains Danny Ly. “They can do this by producing antimicrobials that can kill opportunistic pathogens and by binding to viruses themselves. Because of this, having a large and diverse array of “good germs” or bacteria in the gut has also been shown to dull allergies and sensitivities, support the immune system, reduce inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, and more.”
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics can have many benefits. “They’ve been shown to improve gut health, the immune system, and cognitive function, among other things,” says Sheward. “Constipation, blood pressure, skin health, and other issues have also been linked to them in studies.”
A lot of research has also been done on probiotics and how they might be used to treat and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a common condition that affects the digestive system and has symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
“Changes in the gut microbiome have been associated with IBS symptoms,” says Sheward. “studies found that people with IBS, for example, have lower values of lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium in their stomachs and higher concentrations of pathogens Streptococci, E. coliand Clostridium in their guts.”
Gut expert and nutritionist Hannah Braye adds that while most people know that probiotics are good for the gut, many don’t realize that they’re also a great way to support the immune system. “Over 70% of these are found in the gut lining and are supported by a diverse bacterial community,” she says. “Additionally, good gut bacteria have been shown to affect both the ‘innate’ immune system we are born with and the ‘acquired’ immune system we develop over time.”
Think of your innate immune system as a bit like a paramedic – these clever immune cells are there first when there’s an injury or infection. They try to limit damage but aren’t particularly specialized in their response.
“While your acquired immune system is more like a hospital consultant,” she adds, “it’s highly specialized and tailors its response to the specific threat. It can do this by remembering previous contacts with various viruses, bacteria, and other microbes. These two immune systems work together to protect you from disease-causing bacteria and to keep immune responses regulated and balanced. A probiotic supplement can help shorten the lifespan and severity of an illness.”