By: Stacy Peterson, MS, CNS, CHHC, CSCS
Put simply, probiotics are friendly germs that help to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and aid in digestion, in addition to a wide variety of therapeutic effects. Consuming these beneficial bacteria regularly from foods, such as medicinal yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut, or through proper supplementation is strongly suggested as these bugs don’t stay in the gut permanently.
Simple things, like aging, a high-sugar diet, disease, drugs, lack of exercise or excessive exercise, and stress can cause the gut bacteria to be unbalanced, which can lead to unwanted health concerns.
How do you know if you might need supplementation from a probiotic verses consuming probiotic rich foods regularly? Usually those who have established disease-producing microbes are in need of probiotic supplements. Also, be sure to keep in mind that not all probiotics are created equal as different strains have been shown to provide distinctive health benefits in the body. Consult a healthcare professional or functional nutritionist to see what route is best for you.
In the meantime, here are 5 health and performance promoting benefits of probiotics, helping to get and keep your gut, health, and performance on track.
1. Improved Energy
Probiotics help to improve the absorption of B vitamins, proteins, fats, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. When we experience fatigue in the body, high levels of immune cells are directed against the toxins given off by unhealthy gut bacteria.
Having digestive symptoms, like abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, diarrhea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, gas, and acid reflux can mean that you have a “leaky gut,” in addition to an imbalance of microbial flora.
2. Increased Immunity
And for those active parents, please note that kids who consume a probiotic-rich diet have fewer and shorter fevers, runny noses and coughs, in addition to less school sick days and needing fewer antibiotics. Probiotics provide an added benefit for mom and dad who want to minimize their chances of getting sick, have limited days off work, and want to help keep their exercise routine on track.
3. Anti-inflammatory Activity
Probiotics decrease your body’s own production of inflammation-producing compounds, lowering inflammation in the gut, and throughout the body.
Leaky gut (i.e. intestinal permeability), results in loose tight junctions within the gut lining of the small intestines. These tight junctions are supposed to be tight, forming a barrier between the inside and outside of the digestive tract. Many factors can be attributed to leaky gut, such as autoimmune diseases, dysbiosis, and inflammation within the intestines. When leaky gut occurs, inflammation cause havoc on the body leading to further inflammation and a heightened immune response, throwing the body further off balance.
4. Improves Overall Well-being and Mood
Since we have a bidirectional communication system between the brain and gut called the brain-gut axis, consuming a daily probiotic has been show to significantly improve depression, anxiety, and anger. In addition, probiotics lower levels of cortisol, something that many of us can greatly benefit from! This also takes into account adults that are considered healthy individuals. Chronic stress can negatively change the microflora diversity in an individual’s gut, but by consuming quality, health promoting bacteria the mental health and well-being has been shown to be improved.
5. Combats Obesity and Diabetes
Research has shown important links between the health of our gut and excess body fat. Consuming probiotics improves metabolic conditions, including obesity and diabetes. Thus, it is strongly recommended that you consume probiotics that have been shown to be health promoting to help keep your weight in appropriate ranges for you.
In a nutshell…
It is important to choose the right strain for the health concern you are wanting to improve. For instance, someone who is constipated with a long gut transit time would need a proven probiotic that speeds up their gastrointestinal transit time. Or someone who has ulcerative colitis needs a proven probiotic that limits the inflammation and addresses the specific concerns in the colon.
Unfortunately, there is no one strain that demonstrates all of the therapeutic aspects for total health. Specific strains can be necessary and beneficial throughout a healing process, however for the general individual who does not experience any of these above signs and symptoms, it is important to get a variety of bugs from probiotic rich foods, all that have been shown to be critical to our health.
Thus, finding the right strains for your specific needs is critical to ensuring optimal health.
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Hello, my name is Stacy Phillips, licensed Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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