Healthy Gut, Healthy Body: What You Need to Know About Probiotics
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on March 5, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Diet
We often consider bacteria to be a bad thing and aim to get rid of them at all costs. However, the reality is that we have millions of bacteria outside and inside our bodies that actually help us. The most prevalent groups of bacteria live in our gut—hundreds of different types of microorganisms create a microbiome that influence not only digestion, but many other parts of our bodies.
Probiotics, a group of “good” bacteria, are necessary to achieve optimal overall health. This is why they can be found in tons of products on the market today, from supplements to foods. Understanding probiotics and their health benefits can help put you on the path to a healthier you.
What exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms (usually bacteria, but also yeasts) that help maintain balance in the gut microbiome. They exist in the large intestine, or colon, where they multiply and flourish, preventing the reproduction of bad bacteria. They also protect the lining of the gut wall so harmful bacteria cannot get into your bloodstream.
The most common probiotics fall into two categories of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within these categories, there are many different strains of bacteria, each providing their own health benefits.
We are born with probiotics inside our bodies, but their populations can increase and decrease based on our health, stress levels, medications and more. Probiotics can also be found in many natural foods, especially those that are fermented. For example, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are good sources of probiotics. Probiotic supplements are another way to introduce probiotics to your body. Supplements may contain a variety of strains in live cultures, so they can begin populating the gut when they reach the intestine.
Compounds called prebiotics also play a role in the gut microbiome and influence the prevalence of probiotics. Prebiotics are packed with dietary fiber that feed the probiotics and help them thrive in the gut. They are essentially superfoods for the probiotics, helping them stay strong and multiply.
Why your body needs probiotics
The ecosystem of microbiota present in your large intestine is extremely complex and intertwined with many aspects of your health. In fact, around 70 percent of your immune system stems from your gut.
Probiotics are necessary to maintain balance in your gut. Without the presence of probiotics, bad bacteria, as well as viruses, yeasts and other microorganisms can grow in excess and take over. Many of these microorganisms feed on simple sugars, releasing by-products that can cause health problems like digestive issues, as well as diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety and much more. Without a healthy supply of probiotics in the gut, bad bacteria will become the majority.
Many people are surprised to know that gut health has been closely linked to a wide variety of health problems. For example, many good bacteria produce important vitamins through the digestion of food. They also play a major role in the functionality of your immune system. If probiotics aren’t present, your immune system may suffer and be unable to properly fight against diseases. Ultimately, a healthy gut creates in a healthy body.
Probiotics help with digestive issues
One of the main benefits of probiotics is that they can assist in the relief of digestive problems, which are largely caused by an absence of probiotics or an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Good bacteria are instrumental in influencing the way the colon operates to digest food.
People who suffer from digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic diarrhea and ulcerative colitis may benefit from taking probiotics.
Antibiotics harm probiotic health
Probiotics are also extremely important for people who recently took antibiotic medicine. Antibiotics do not discriminate when they eradicate bacteria—they wipe out both the good and the bad.
When this happens, your gut can become severely imbalanced and will need to be restored. By taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic foods, you can restore healthy levels of good bacteria to help your gut—and the rest of your body—function properly.
Gastrointestinal health might be the secret to your happiness
Maintaining balance of your gut flora can sometimes be the key to resolving or reducing the effects of chronic health conditions, such as fatigue, depression and weight gain. Bad bacteria can interrupt the way your body is supposed to function and can cause so many problems for your health, from your brain to your skin to your organs.
When you focus on healing your gut through a change in diet and introduction of probiotics, you can restore balance to that microbiome and, by extension, your entire body.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan