Gut health is a balancing act. Stress, toxins, and a bad diet can upset the balance and throw your whole digestive system into complete chaos. Probiotics are the key to keeping the peace and pushing out the harmful organisms that throw everything off.
Probiotics detox, digest fiber, produce B vitamins and help balance the gut. Probiotics from supplements and fermented foods help establish a healthy microbiome with a diverse microbiota — sometimes referred to as microflora. When your body is colonized by health-promoting organisms, your physical, mental, and emotional well-being are supercharged. You can take your health to new heights, giving yourself incredible immune function, mental clarity, and superior digestion. For many, the chain reaction of health benefits keeps the whole body healthy and decreases the possibility of developing a slew of health, digestive, and mood-related difficulties.
Probiotic Quick Facts
What Are They: Living, beneficial bacteria and yeasts
Main Benefit: Gut health
Food Sources: Yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchee
What Are Probiotics?
Simply put, probiotics are living bacteria and yeasts. The fundamental difference separating a probiotic from another form of bacteria that is pathogenic or harmful is that probiotics have a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with your body. Whether they know it or not, any healthy person is already carrying around hundreds of probiotics in their digestive system, on their skin, in their mouth, and other orifices like nostrils. The gastrointestinal tract alone harbors more than 500 different bacterial species.
Top Health Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics have many well-established health benefits, including the ability to balance the gut, improve digestion, and alleviate the uncomfortable side-effects of harsh antibiotics. The top benefits of probiotics include:
- Enhanced immune system response
- Balancing out the adverse effects of antibiotics, including occasional diarrhea
- Calmed colon irritation following surgery
- Healthier looking skin and improved complexion
- Enhanced ability to digest food
- Therapeutic effects for upper respiratory health
- Improved lactose tolerance
- Promotes healthy yeast balance.
- Support for vaginal health
- Increased nutrient absorption from food
- Encourages normal digestive health, including promoting normal bowel movements.
- Promotes oral health and acts as a remedy for bad breath (halitosis)
- Increased ability to synthesize B vitamins
- Heightened ability to absorb calcium
- Supports vitamin K production
Researchers publish new and exciting discoveries about the benefits of probiotics with regularity. Here are some of the most exciting recent findings for how probiotics can support your health.
- Studies show that probiotics improve the bioavailability of many essential nutrients in the body such as zinc, iron, phosphorus, all of the B vitamins, calcium, copper, and magnesium.
- A study on the probiotic strain Bacillus infantis showed significant potential for normalizing bowel function in patients with digestive discomfort.
- Probiotics significantly lower the rate of diarrhea and diaper rash in babies’ consuming infant probiotics.
- Active bacteria cultures, such as acidophilus, aid in reducing intolerance to the lactose found in dairy products.
- Several studies on probiotics indicate that, through the process of regulating intestinal transit time of fecal matter, probiotics can dramatically reduce constipation in the elderly.
- Other reports suggest that some forms of probiotics, promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon, significantly lowering bile conversion in the colon into carcinogenic compounds.
- One study found probiotics inhibited the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.
- Many studies show a link between mental health and probiotics.
- Many powerful neurotransmitters, including serotonin, are produced in a healthy gut with thriving probiotic colonies.
- Some studies demonstrate that probiotics enhance overall immunity through a process of regulating proteins and antibodies in the body.
- Probiotics may promote heart health.
Who Should Take Probiotics?
The truth is nearly everyone could benefit from probiotics. However, people who are exposed to a toxic environment, eat processed foods, or suffer from high-stress levels will likely see the greatest impact on their health. Likewise, antibiotics can severely disrupt existing beneficial bacteria in your digestive system and gut. Anyone taking a strong antibiotic should consider supplementing with probiotics to help re-establish a balanced gut flora. Other common factors that disrupt gut health include frequent fevers, colds, and candida overgrowth.
Signs You May Need Probiotics
When there is a disruption in your gut bacteria by harmful organisms, there are many recognizable signs. Often, people report fatigue, mood swings, acne, and digestive symptoms like bloating and constipation. If you are experiencing any of these side effects, you may benefit from taking probiotics.
History of Probiotics
Probiotics are found in many foods and animals the world over. However, being able to isolate them and understand their ability to influence your health is a much more recent development. The idea of probiotics was first put forth in the 20th century by Nobel laureate, Elie Metchnikoff. Before he started telling people to eat microorganisms, people focused on eliminating them. Even with Metchnikoff’s groundbreaking work, it was not until the 1980s that probiotics entered the public consciousness. Today, more than any other time in history, people are aware of the benefits of probiotics which are why you hear more about them in the news, at the grocery store, and even in your doctor's office.
How Probiotics Work
There are several ways probiotics work to support your health. By outcompeting the bad bacteria for food and resources, they help protect your body against harmful organisms and undesirable bacteria species from establishing stable colonies. Some probiotic strains influence pH levels inside the gut, which helps create a favorable digestive environment. Others help metabolize certain foods that would otherwise go undigested or be poorly digested. By breaking down these foods thoroughly and into more bioavailable forms, your body can better absorb vitamins and nutrients that may otherwise go unused. All of these interrelated factors promote a balanced microbiome which in turn can stimulate immune responses and contribute to maintaining better overall physical and mental health.
Common Probiotic Strains
As the investigation into probiotics continues, researchers are better able to identify different organisms and their potential benefits. Still, the scientific names, with their genus and species, are rarely used beyond an ingredient label or textbook. Instead, the term probiotics is applied equally to all beneficial strains. However, you’ll hear about these two major groupings or genera most frequently: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
Lactobacillus strains are a significant part of a healthy person’s microbiota. Species in this grouping all create lactic acid by metabolizing sugars in the body. This increased acidity creates an unfriendly environment to harmful organisms and helps cleanse and detox the digestive system of toxins and waste. Cultured or fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, beer, and sourdough bread use Lactobacillus species and strains as part of the production process. On supplement and food labels, Lactobacillus forms are often abbreviated with an L., followed by the species name.
Bifidobacterium are found in the mouth, throughout the digestive tract, and make up the largest proportion of the bacterial flora in the colon. Bifidobacterium species and strains play a vital role in breaking down and utilizing carbohydrates. Some foods that contain Bifidobacterium include infant formulas, kimchi, and certain kinds of cheese. Similar to Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium can be abbreviated with a B. on ingredient or nutrition labels.
The Best Probiotic Strains for the Gut
Even within these two genera, not all probiotic species function in the same way or have equivalent effects on the body. Global Healing Center has years researching and identifying some of the best probiotic strains for your gut. Here are the top 23 strains we have found that help to cleanse, rebuild, replenish, and nourish the gut.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Lactococcus lactis
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bacillus coagulans
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Pediococcus acidilactici
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bacillus clausii
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
Many strains of probiotics are naturally present in a healthy, diverse diet rich in fermented foods and drinks, pickled foods, and cultured dairy products. Each of these foods requires bacteria to transform them into probiotic powerhouses. Unfortunately, many of these foods and drinks are absent from a traditional western diet. Adding any of these to your diet will encourage probiotic growth and help diversify your gut flora. Here are some of the best vegan foods with probiotics:
- Coconut Kefir
- Ginger Beer
- Sour Pickles
Choosing the Right Probiotic Supplement
A daily probiotic will help you maintain a healthy gut. Stress, sickness, a poor diet, and your environment can all degrade the health of your intestinal microbiota, but taking a high-quality, daily probiotic can help undo this damage. Before taking a probiotic, there are a number of important factors to consider. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about before buying probiotics.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
Length: 7 minutes
A colony forming unit (CFU) is a measurement used to describe the number of available bacteria in a product. Look for a high CFU count of 50 billion. Sounds like a big number, but remember this is a small percentage compared to existing cultures already living in your body. High CFUs are critical to giving the bacteria the best chance of surviving the journey through the digestive tract. If the product has no CFU information, be cautious. There is no way to tell how many probiotics you are really getting without this value.
Your digestive system is a harsh environment that is designed to fight off foreign intruders. This presents an obstacle to the good bacteria you want in your gut. Good probiotic supplements will take this into consideration and provide specific strains that have an established record of surviving the digestive process. The best surviving strains are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains we discussed earlier.
A well-balanced gut requires species and strain diversity. Some probiotics help digest fats and sugars, while others alleviate digestive concerns. Providing a diverse selection will help create balance and stability.
How your supplements are manufactured matters immensely. Always look for probiotics that are produced in the U.S., that use high-quality sources and ingredients, and abide by strict FDA manufacturing guidelines.
Probiotics are living organisms and are prone to outside stressors. Research is ongoing to identify the best practices to limit stress on the probiotics during the manufacturing process. Certain species and strains are more resistant to stress and have a more stable shelf life. Once they are packaged, it's difficult and expensive to verify potency. You are better off sticking with a brand you trust to ensure a high quality, stable product.
6. Living vs. Dead
Always give preference to products that have live probiotic cultures. Yogurt, for example, is made with live cultures, but they are eventually killed off during the fermentation and pasteurization process. For the best results, only take live, active forms of probiotics.
With all supplements, the expiration date matters, and this is especially true with probiotics. From the second they are bottled those live cultures will slowly start to die off. The closer a product is to its expiration date, the higher incidence of inactive probiotics.
One of the biggest mitigating factors to preserving probiotics is how they are stored. Heat is the enemy. Instead, probiotics do better in cold temperatures. Look for probiotics that are stored and shipped in a way that keeps them cold and out of direct sunlight.
Pay close attention to the bottle. A proper container should help block out light, which can cause deterioration of the probiotics, and should be made of nontoxic materials. Glass bottles are optimal for probiotic storage. Unlike plastic bottles, glass will not leach out toxic chemicals into the probiotics when exposed to heat or light.
10. Other Ingredients
Nearly all probiotic supplements contain some other ingredients and filler agents. Do your research and read the ingredient label carefully to make sure you are not consuming questionable and dangerous fillers. Additionally, more comprehensive probiotic formulas will also contain prebiotics as a filler agent, a substance that acts as food and nourishment for the living probiotic cultures. Be sure to avoid probiotic supplements that have sugar or glucose in the ingredient list. Sugar slows the growth of healthy lactobacilli.
Helping Probiotics Flourish
There are several things you can do to help probiotics become better established and flourish in the gut. Here are some practical do’s and don’ts for cultivating a healthy environment for your probiotics.
- Do eat organic
- Do eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans
- Do consume more probiotic foods
- Do drink clean, distilled water
- Do commit to recovering from life stress
- Don’t overuse antibiotics
- Don’t eat processed foods
- Don’t eat GMOs
- Don’t eat excess sugars
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Don’t expose yourself to environmental, household, and dietary toxins
- Don’t drink water that contains fluoride or chlorine
The Importance of Prebiotics
Prebiotics are different from probiotics. Probiotics are living, and need food and nourishment to survive and multiply. Probiotics consume substances called prebiotics as their food. Many foods that are high in fiber are good sources of prebiotics. Here are some of the best vegan foods with a high prebiotic content.
- Chicory Root
While relatively safe, probiotics may have some mild side effects. The majority of these come from a sort of transition period in individuals who do not yet have a balanced gut. As the probiotics alter the gut environment, some people may experience worsened gas and bloating. Others have reported nausea or bad breath, which may be caused as harmful organisms are expelled from the body. More serious side effects could occur with people that have a compromised immune system.
With so many aspects of your health tied to your gut, you never want to leave anything to chance. Be proactive and consume the right probiotics now to help support your health in the future. A thriving gut environment does not happen overnight. At Global Healing Center, we know that there is not a single solution for every health concern. That is why we have provided several approaches to gut health, including our revolutionary Gut Health Kit and two different targeted probiotic formulas. Latero-Flora™ helps when doing any cleanse or detox regimen and Floratrex™ is the absolute best daily probiotic available. Remember, before using these or any gut health product, do your research, find what best aligns with your personal health goals, and consult with your trusted healthcare provider.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.