Probiotics are the “good” bugs your digestive system needs to thrive. Are you getting enough to counterbalance all your bad bacteria?
Read on to discover the how probiotics work, why you should include these “good bacteria” in your diet, and the best sources of probiotics that can keep your microbiome healthy.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that live in our gut. They play a role in keeping our entire system balanced and happy while also keeping bad bacteria under control. As a whole, this system of bacteria we house is called a “microbiome”.
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Traditionally, humans had a balanced microbiome and plenty of good bacteria due to being exposed to soil and eating plenty of fermented foods. Now, however, our environment has become so clean due to the use of chemicals that we don’t come into contact with as many probiotics as we used to.
Not getting enough probiotics can have several negative health consequences, with the first and foremost being digestive issues. However, by increasing the amount of probiotics in your body, you’ll also notice a whole host of benefits. Research exploded on this topic, causing science as a whole to question whether a squeaky-clean society is really the most beneficial for human health.
Probiotics have remarkable benefits, from boosting weight loss to improving your mental health.
Benefits of Probiotics
The benefits of probiotics are remarkable. They benefit nearly every system of your body, working in a holistic way to balance and improve many areas – from your gut health to your mood.
1. Boosts Gut Health
Restoring the good bacteria levels in your gut can reduce bloating, ease constipation, and even help with a number of more serious digestive disorders.
Research shows that certain strains of probiotics can improve mild ulcerative colitis symptoms as well as irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. (1, 2) One study even found that supplementing with the probiotic E. coli Nissle was as effective as prescription drugs in maintaining remission in people with ulcerative colitis. (3) This could be due to reduced inflammation and irritation from having less bad bacteria in the gut.
In addition, probiotics can also help fix and even prevent diarrhea. (4)
2. Aids in Weight Loss
Interestingly, probiotics may be your next best friend when it comes to losing weight.
It turns out that some strands of probiotics help prevent the absorption of fat in your intestines, encouraging it to be eliminated instead of stored. (5) Research also shows that probiotics help increase satiety, burn more calories, and stop weight gain due to an increase in beneficial hormones like butyrate. (6, 7)
One study even showed that women who took the Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic strain for three months lost 50 percent more weight than women who didn’t take a probiotic. (8)
3. Improves Mental Health
Who knew that something as simple as bacteria could have such a profound effect on your mental health and mood?
Research discovered that your gut and brain are directly linked, and as such have found that supplementing with certain probiotics improves mental conditions like anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and memory. (9) One study showed that in as little as eight weeks, participants supplementing with probiotics experienced decreased depression levels, with a bonus of decreased inflammation levels. (10)
4. Reduces Cholesterol
Probiotics also have the ability to reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind), which is good news for your heart health. They do this by breaking down fat and bile in the gut so that it’s unable to be absorbed into your bloodstream as cholesterol. (11)
Several studies show that consuming probiotic yogurt for two to eight weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4 percent and LDL cholesterol by 5 percent. (12)
5. Clears Skin Conditions
Many people report improvement in their skin tone and texture after introducing more probiotic foods into their diets. Research confirms that probiotics can indeed have an effect on skin conditions, with one study showing it improves eczema. (13) Other studies indicate probiotics are beneficial in managing acne and dermatitis. (14)
6. Heightens Immunity
Your immune system naturally produces killer T cells and antibodies as a frontline defense against any foreign “invader” like an infectious disease or bacteria. Probiotics lend a hand in this process, promoting the production of T cells and antibodies. (15, 16)
One study shows that children taking certain strains of probiotics reduced the severity and length of their respiratory infections by 17 percent. (17)
Best Sources of Probiotics and How to Take Them
There are several ways to add more probiotics into your diet. We recommend getting in a little of each daily for best results.
1. Fermented Foods
Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt ferment at room temperature in a controlled, clean environment in order to grow good bacteria. Once these bacteria flourish, fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchi) can be stored for months in your refrigerator — just make sure to keep it in a sealed jar with its pickling liquid.
Some of the best Paleo-friendly probiotic foods are:
Try adding one type of fermented food to your daily diet. Enjoy some coconut yogurt for breakfast, a couple spoonfuls of sauerkraut atop a sausage, or some kimchi in a salad for a hearty dose of probiotics.
You can also take probiotics in pill, capsule, or even powder form. This is recommended to get an extra dose of good bacteria, especially if you’ve been having gut or other issues.
Typically, you want to stick with probiotics that are refrigerated because most are sensitive to light and heat. This will ensure they are still alive when you’re taking them.
Be sure to look for a supplement that contains a variety of strains – at least five or more – and that the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) is 1 billion or higher.
3. Getting Outdoors
Our soils contain abundant amounts of beneficial microbes and probiotics. Before the advent of shoes, concrete, and cleaning products, contact with the dirt and the earth was a daily part of life. This ensured interaction with probiotics on your skin, some of which would also be inhaled and indirectly consumed just from being on your hands.
You can mimic this daily or weekly by walking barefoot on the grass, gardening, or playing with your pet in the yard. In fact, just playing with your pet boosts your probiotic exposure, as research shows having a pet in your home raises the level of beneficial microbe species indoors. (18)
Remember Your Prebiotics
Prebiotics are another important thing to consider when we talk about probiotics.
In essence, prebiotics are a type of fiber that act as food for the probiotics in your gut. For this reason, you should also include several of these alongside your probiotic consumption to nourish and encourage the growth of your good bacteria.
Prebiotic foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
Ready to add some good microbes to your life? Check out the recipe round-up below for some of our most delicious probiotic dishes:
- Easy Gut-Healing Kimchi Recipe
- Coconut Yogurt Bites
- Easy, Healthy Sauerkraut Recipe
- Kombucha Recipe
- Lacto-Fermented Ginger Carrots
- Mango Lassi with Cinnamon
- Tigernut Coconut Bread
- Roasted Asparagus Soup with Tahini Drizzle
- Apple Pumpkin Soup with Turmeric
- Avocado Garlic Sauce
(Read This Next: Prebiotics – 6 Benefits of This ‘Gut Fertilizer’ and Natural Sources)