Curious about probiotics? You aren’t alone. About 4 million adults in the US take a daily probiotic supplement. This makes it one of the most widely-used health supplements today! But if you aren’t one of those people, you probably have a ton of questions. Things like what exactly are probiotics and prebiotics, what’s a gut microbiome, and why does it all matter? (1)
In this article, we’ll answer your most pressing questions about prebiotics and probiotics. We’ll reveal some important details about why taking them daily may just enhance your health! We’ll also discuss where you can find them, and touch on whether or not we think you should take a probiotic supplement. So, let’s start at the beginning…
What Are Probiotics, Anyway?
The best way to answer this question is to take a look inside your own body. We all have something known as the gut microbiome in our digestive tracts – which includes a vast community of bacteria and fungi. Now this may seem a little strange, but there are actually different types of bacteria, with only some of them being the bad, disease-causing kinds. The other kind is health-enhancing and essential to fight off the bad and bring balance to your gut environment. (2)
To maintain peak health, you need a well-balanced microbiome with plenty of good, healthy bacteria. These bacteria do things like supply your body with nutrients, help digest foods, regulate inflammation and keep disease-causing bacteria in check. In short, you need a healthy gut.
Though we all have good and bad bacteria inside of us, tons of environmental factors negatively affect our healthy bacteria. This can leave us vulnerable to sickness, disease and digestive distress. When you take probiotics, you replenish the good bacteria in your body, which can lead to improved health and vitality.
Different Types of Probiotics
The next thing you need to know about probiotics is that they aren’t “one size fits all”. There are well over 500 different probiotic strains, and they all benefit your body in different ways! The probiotic formula you would take if you’re having a specific set of digestive problems is much different than the one you would take if you’re trying to lose weight.
Of course, many of the probiotic strains overlap (including a variety of benefits in different areas of your body). And you’ll see a lot of the most popular probiotic strains in different formulas, since they have a multitude of uses.
The most important thing is that you look at probiotic supplement labels, so you can see exactly what strains are in the supplement, and determine if it’s best for you. You can also find probiotics in some foods, though they are mostly fermented items. Since the majority of people in the US don’t include large amounts of these foods in their usual diets, it’s a great idea to take a daily probiotic supplement (more on that in a bit).
Probiotic Strains and Uses
Though there are hundreds of different probiotic strains, most of them fall under two umbrella families, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You can find both of these probiotic “species” in some dairy products, including yogurt (although the more processed the yogurt, the less probiotic benefits you’ll receive). (3)
Both species are helpful for a variety of digestive issues, and to help boost immunity. They can also help break down lactose into nutrients the body can use, and ease digestive distress for those who are lactose intolerant.
Underneath each of these probiotic families are individual probiotic strains. These contain the above-mentioned benefits in addition to more specific ones for various health issues. On product labels, you will see the families abbreviated (B. for Bifidobacterium and L. for Lactobacillus), and listed right before the strain name, as shown below…
6 Most Commonly-Used Probiotic Strains
You’ll find many of the following strains in probiotic supplements, as they’re some of the most commonly used for a variety of ailments. After each strain is some of the major categories that they may positively affect in your body…
B. animalis – Immune and digestive health, plus infection fighting
L. reuteri – Dental and digestive health
B. breve – Immune health and infection fighting
L. acidophilus: Digestive and vaginal health
B. lactis – Digestive and immune health, plus tumor-fighting
B. longum – Food breakdown and nutrient absorption, plus antioxidant benefits
Digging Deeper: Why Gut Health Matters
All of the benefits we’re about to discuss depend on one thing: good gut health.You may not realize how intrinsically connected your gut is to the rest of your body; Any imbalance in that area will ultimately create an imbalance somewhere else, and pull you out of good health.
Amazingly, your gut creates 95 percent of the serotonin in your body, affecting brain and mood function. It’s also home for your immune and digestive systems (with 80% of your immune system located in your digestive tract). So it’s easy to why probiotics are so important to keep your entire body healthy. (4)
Top 3 Benefits of Taking Probiotics
- Enhanced Digestive Health
Probiotics are an essential factor in getting your digestive health back on track, which influences proper food breakdown and nutrient absorption. Getting your daily dose of probiotics can also help remedy occasional digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and more. And for long-term ailments, research shows they may even be effective in protecting against some bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis, IBS and Crohn’s.
- Increased Immunity
If you find yourself catching every cold that’s being passed around, your immune system may need a boost, and probiotics can be just the thing to help you strengthen it. Probiotics help reduce inflammation in your body, which is the root cause of imbalance, therefore they help you fight sickness, flu and disease.
- Restoration After Antibiotics
Speaking of promoting better immunity, there’s another way that probiotics may help keep your body well, by replenishing the “good bacteria” in your system after a round of antibiotics. While antibiotic medications do their job by wiping out the bad bacteria in your body, they do so at the expense of the good bacteria, wiping that out as well. When your body is short in healthy bacteria, you may fall out of balance, experiencing digestive distress or being prone to vaginal infections. But when you restore the healthy bacteria, it provides healing to your system, and allows you to function optimally again.
Even More Probiotic Benefits…
But that’s not all. Studies show probiotics may also enhance other areas of your wellness…
- Weight Regulation
Believe it or not, certain probiotic strains may be helpful in supporting your weight loss efforts. As discussed, probiotics reduce inflammation in your body, (and inflammation can naturally lead to weight gain and obesity). In addition, studies show that certain probiotic strains are effective in increasing satiety, promoting fat loss (especially belly fat), and preventing weight gain. If you’re interested in taking a probiotic for weight loss, make sure you find a supplement with the strains L. Gasseri and L. Rhamnosus included. These are two of the best to support a healthy weight. (5)
- Improved Mood
Though it may be hard to fathom, taking probiotics is also extremely beneficial to your mental health, helping you feel less anxious, sad and stressed. This is because neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like serotonin, are naturally found in the gut. In studies, people who took a daily probiotic for 30 days showed more relaxed moods, with less stress than the group that didn’t take one. (6)
- Good Vaginal Health
Your gut isn’t the only place that good and bad bacteria exists in your body. For women, it’s important to also maintain a healthy bacterial balance in the vagina, to avoid infection. Taking probiotics helps women fight off disease-causing bacteria, leaving more healthy bacteria to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and more.
Uncommon Probiotic Benefits
Along with the common benefits, probiotics may also benefit your health in ways you might not predict…
- Promote Heart Health
Having great heart health is undoubtedly one of the most important factors determining total body health; Probiotics support a healthy heart by lowering your risk of heart disease in the following ways: they may help lower your overall cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, or types of blood fats that can contribute to heart disease at high levels. Probiotics may also help significantly reduce blood pressure, another major risk factor for heart disease. (7)
- Promote Good Skin Health
Along with taking probiotics orally, you can also take them topically, which research shows can positively benefit your skin, preventing inflammation and infection. In this way, probiotics have been shown to help manage certain skin issues such as acne or rosacea. By fighting against oxidative stress and free radicals, they also help nourish and protect your skin from the effects of pollution and aging, including fine lines and dark spots. (8)
- Prevent Cavities
Probiotics even influence great dental health! Seriously, what don’t these things do?! There are actually specific probiotic supplements that nourish your oral microbiome, getting different strains of healthy bacteria into your mouth. From there, the probiotics help prevent plaque buildup, reduce gingivitis and fight bad breath. They may even help prevent certain mouth diseases. (9)
Probiotics in Foods
Now that you know what probiotics can do for you, you need to know where to get them, and we’re going to start with the most difficult place, which is naturally in foods. Though this may be easy for some people who eat lots of fermented foods, most people in the US do not include large amounts of these items in their normal diets. This is one of the number one reasons why we suggest a high-quality probiotic supplement (more on that later)… (3)
First, let’s look at some of the best probiotic food sources:
- Fermented buttermilk
- Fermented cheeses (like Gouda, mozzarella and cheddar)
- Yogurt (raw, unprocessed)
This list includes some foods you may have never tried (such as kimchi or kombucha) and some things you probably have (like yogurt and fermented cheeses). However, the more processed the item, the less live, helpful bacteria it will actually contain – another reason it’s hard to get true probiotics from dairy products. Plus, when you rely on foods for healthy bacteria, it’s not likely you will get a large enough quantity of probiotics, or a variety of strains.
Before we move onto discussing the best probiotic supplement, you’ve probably also heard about prebiotics, so let’s address why you need these…
What Are Prebiotics?
You take probiotics to nourish your body, but the healthy bacteria also need nourishment to survive, multiply and do their jobs, and that’s where prebiotics come in…
You’ll find prebiotics in much more of the foods you most likely eat on a normal basis, as it’s actually a fiber, but one that your body doesn’t digest. Instead, it hangs around and becomes “food” for the healthy bacteria in your body. Probiotics cannot survive and thrive without prebiotics! Therefore it’s just as essential that you get prebiotics, to keep the probiotics in your body alive.(10)
Prebiotics Food List:
You can find prebiotics naturally in some of the following foods:
- Wheat Bran
Though prebiotics are more readily assessable, to get your daily dose of probiotics we recommend a high-quality supplement. Note that the best ones will also include prebiotics! Here are some tips for finding the best probiotic supplement for you…
If you don’t regularly eat a lot of different fermented foods, it’s an amazing idea to invest in a high-quality probiotic supplement. We’re going to point out exactly what you should look for, based on probiotic reviews of results…
Daily Probiotic Supplement Checklist
The right strains for you– As discussed in this article, there are different probiotic strains with unique purposes and you want to zero in on the ones that will best help you with your specific goals. Decide what’s most important to you. Is it advanced digestive health, an immune boost, weight loss support, or something else? Then you can choose a formula with efficient strains. Also make sure your probiotic has at least 7 or more strains for the best results.
Included prebiotic– We discussed the importance of a prebiotic and many formulas will include one in the probiotic formula. Along with the list of prebiotics we gave you above, chicory root is also a prebiotic source, so you may see chicory oligofructose on probiotic labels.
Optimal CFU– A probiotic won’t do much for you if it doesn’t have enough live, active bacteria in each serving. Look for a probiotic supplement with at least 10 billion CFU or more.
Timed-release technology– Another essential element in a probiotic formula is something called microencapsulation and delayed release capsules. Your probiotic supplement needs to pass through a pretty rough environment once in your body, including harsh stomach acids. You want to ensure the probiotic makes it through your digestive tract to the small intestine, which is where you want it to break down. With these technologies, the probiotic capsule is protected from stomach acids. And the release of the formula is only triggered by intestinal fluids, ensuring that it will make it to its destination safely.
Probiotics in Meal Replacement Shakes
Along with taking a high-quality daily probiotic supplement, you can also find healthy, live bacteria in some of the best meal replacement shakes! When reviewing the ingredients on shake product labels, look for some of the probiotic strains we discussed in this article. Keep in mind that diet shakes will usually contain a much lower dose of probiotics. This makes it a nice addition to (not replacement for), a daily probiotic supplement – giving you even greater digestive support and health benefits.