The human body contains hundreds of microorganisms, otherwise known as the gut flora. The gut flora is mainly composed of bacteria, and executes major functions like controlling digestion, impacting the immune system, and creating vitamins. Thus, it is imperative that the gut flora is balanced to avoid diseases and complications. Probiotics can help restore the gut’s health to a state of balance, especially after damage from antibiotics. Probiotics are already widely used as supplements and much research has investigated the potential effects of live microorganisms in treating some chronic issues.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that aid in the body’s gut and digestive health. Probiotics help keep your system in a state of bacterial balance. It may seem odd that we want to supplement our bodies with bacteria, as we usually think of bacteria as harmful for the body. However, our body contains both good and bad bacteria, and supplementing with more beneficial bacteria can help our bodies with a wide range of problems. Probiotics also help the body break down food, aiding proper digestion.
The most common probiotics belong to two main groups that help your body with essential functions and fight off “bad” bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both groups have different species and strains that target different issues.
- Lactobacillus is most commonly used to treat diarrhea, especially when the diarrhea is caused as a side effect of antibiotics. Lactobacillus can also be used for overall digestion issues.
- Bifidobacterium is a group of bacteria that naturally reside in the intestines. Bifidobacterium is most commonly used for diarrhea, constipation, and helping Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Probiotics can be naturally found in fermented foods, taken as dietary supplements, and even incorporated into beauty products. The most common probiotic-rich foods that people consume are yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough, kimchi, and kombucha. However, ingesting probiotics in supplement form is beneficial in that it is easy to take and can help when our daily diet is not providing enough nutrients and probiotics for our microbiome.
Our diets can expose us to harmful chemicals like chlorine from water, low levels of antibiotics from meat, or differing medications. This is why it is important to supplement with probiotics in order to combat the adverse effects of those chemicals in our bodies.
What are the potential benefits of taking Probiotics?
Probiotics have been widely studied to help promote a healthy digestive system and overall immune system health. The most common possible uses are diarrhea prevention, weight loss, constipation relief, immunity-boosting, IBS treatment, and vaginal imbalance treatment.
- Diarrhea Prevention
- Many studies have been conducted on the effects of taking probiotic supplements while on an antibiotic course. Taking antibiotics for a long period of time can have a negative effect on the gut, as the antibiotics can kill off a lot of the helpful bacteria in the gut. This can create an atmosphere where harmful bacteria can then flourish. When people take antibiotics for a long period of time, they commonly have diarrhea as a side effect. This diarrhea can even be prolonged past recovery. Since probiotics can help fight gut issues like bloating, diarrhea, and disease like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), many recommend ingesting probiotics to help alleviate antibiotic-associated diarrhea. What’s more, probiotics can also help restore the overall gut microbiome after damage from antibiotics.
- Weight Loss
- Some studies have shown that certain probiotics can help aid weight loss. Probiotics can help reduce systemic inflammation to combat obesity and other diseases. Certain studies examined how Lactobacillus may help aid in losing belly fat. As well, other studies show that probiotics can help prevent weight gain on a high-calorie diet. Probiotics can help reduce belly bloat overall when the bloating is caused by an excess in harmful gut bacteria. There has been research on the promising potential health benefits due to the modification of gut flora activity.
- Constipation Relief
- A study found that probiotics can increase the frequency of bowel movements. Probiotics may help produce Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) that can increase movement in the colon. Probiotics may also reduce the pH of the colon which can aid the digestion movement. Some strains of probiotics are more effective in relieving constipation than others. The Bifidobacterium group showed the most progress and effectiveness of increasing the frequency of digestion and relief, as well as softening stools.
- Boost immunity
- Probiotics can help build up immunity in the body by fighting against pathogens due to improving gut barrier function. This barrier helps prevent bad bacteria from infiltrating the bloodstream. Some strains of the Lactobacillus have been shown to support certain features in the immune system, like the function of innate white blood cells. As well, some research has shown that probiotics may inhibit harmful bacteria growth in the gut. Further, certain probiotics may help produce natural antibodies and help immune cells. Overall, probiotics may help fight against infections while boosting immune health.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- It has been shown that people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have lower levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in their gut. They also have higher levels of harmful bacteria in the gut. This can lead to even more inflammation in the gut, along with other changes in function. Probiotics can help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome by stopping the growth of the harmful bacteria, bettering the barrier functions, and helping fight inflammation, thereby restoring the gut balance.
- Vaginal Infections and Urinary Tract Infections
- Studies have shown the possible effects of probiotics treating vaginal issues like bacterial vaginosis. The imbalance in the vagina can be caused by a surplus of harmful bacteria and a lack of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus. This imbalance can also lead to yeast infections and a potential increase in the chances of getting urinary tract infections. Multiple studies have shown that those who incorporate probiotics in their diet were less likely to experience bacterial vaginosis and/or preventing vaginal imbalance. Even more, when patients treat their Urinary Tract Infections or other infections with antibiotics, their gut flora becomes imbalanced, leaving room for harmful bacteria to thrive, potentially causing infections in the vagina. Thus it is important to supplement with probiotics in order to regain bacterial balance.