From glasses of tart kombucha and soft serves of fresh fro-yo to sides of kimchi and pickled vegetables, probiotics are seemingly everywhere. Touted as protectors of the gut, they have taken the wellness world by storm. But what are probiotics? And, are they really the elixirs of health that they claim to be? Read on to find out.
So, What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer several health benefits to the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, probiotics can occur both naturally in your body or are available in the form of dietary supplements. They can also be present in certain foods like yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut.
Kimchi, which is a popular Korean side dish, is a common vegetable probiotic. It is made by fermenting vegetables with ginger, garlic, salt, chili powder, and onions for a period of two days up to a week. Research shows that kimchi can reduce the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even improve immune function when consumed regularly.
The Benefits of Probiotics
And the benefits don’t just end there. Adding probiotics to your diet helps to maintain and improve gut health. The microorganisms present in your gut, commonly known as the “good gut bacteria,” help in digesting food, preventing toxins from wreaking havoc, and can even decrease the chances of diarrhea occurring in people taking antibiotics.
1. Promotes a Healthy Microbiome
Our bodies are host to many microbes — bacteria, viruses, and yeast — that makeup what is conventionally known as our microbiome. Having a healthy gut microbiome helps not just digestion to occur regularly, but can also affect a person’s mood.
While more high-quality research needs to be carried out, initial studies indicate that intestinal issues caused by changes in the gut microbiome can lead to depression and anxiety. Switching to a diet rich in probiotics, whether it be in the form of supplements or by increasing your intake of fermented foods rich in probiotics, can help in realigning the gut microbiome.
2. Probiotics Prevents Diarrhea Caused by Antibiotics
Taking antibiotics when you’re sick can sometimes make you feel worse before you start to feel better. While antibiotics work to eliminate the harmful bacteria, they may also end up killing the good bacteria present in the gut as well.
This imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to diarrhea, which probiotics can help prevent. According to a meta-analysis of ten scientific trials, adding probiotics to the diet while on antibiotics can significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhea during the course of treatment.
3. Probiotics Are Beneficial During Frequent Travel
While there are many benefits to traveling, there are downsides as well. Constipation from a sudden change in routine, or eating contaminated food resulting in traveler’s diarrhea, are just some of the pitfalls that befall travelers when they hit the road.
If you happen to travel frequently, adding probiotics to your travel kit may be a good idea. A probiotic supplement that contains not one, but many strains of good gut bacteria may be essential in preventing an upset stomach when traveling abroad.
4. Probiotics Exhibit Antioxidant Properties
Certain strains of probiotics have also been found to exhibit antioxidant properties. Recent research suggests that consuming foods rich in probiotics or dietary supplements, especially those rich in specific strains of lactobacillus, can help in the prevention of oxidative stress and decrease the overall incidence of cancer.
5. Probiotics Help Reduce Inflammation
Based on the results of recent studies, individuals with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease may benefit from adding probiotics to their diets. Certain probiotic strains have been found to be effective at reducing inflammation.
However, more studies need to be conducted before a conclusive result on the effectiveness of different probiotic strains can be established.
Should You Take Probiotics Daily?
If you want to want to add probiotics to your diet, start with foods that are rich in probiotics like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt.
The National Institutes of Health explains that when it comes to dietary supplements, probiotic dosage is measured as colony forming units (CFU). This indicates the number of live strains present in a single dose of probiotic. For example, a 1 x 109 dose means that there are 1 billion CFU in a single dose.
However, not everyone reacts the same when given probiotics. According to recent probiotic research published in Voice News, your genetic makeup, age, and gut composition all play an essential role in how probiotics affect you. Certain strains of probiotics may have no effect on alleviating your symptoms, or you may be taking too low of a dose of probiotic supplements.
While probiotics are thought to be generally safe for consumption, it’s always best to first discuss taking probiotics with your doctor. Since the effects of probiotics can be highly individual, their use may not be suitable for everyone.
If you want to add probiotics to your diet, but don’t know where to start, a good start is increasing your daily yogurt intake.