What Are Probiotics And How To Use Them For the Best Health Benefits


“Probiotics” is a word that most of us are probably familiar with. It’s something that people often recommended to others who are looking to improve their health, especially in terms of their diet. Although probiotics are well-known to bring several health benefits, it’s still important for us to know more about them if we want to incorporate them in our road to a healthier body.

Read on to learn more about what probiotics are and how you can maximize their health benefits.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are “friendly” gut bacteria that are essential for normal, healthy functioning. Research shows that they have an important role in maintaining the health of the gut, the immune system, nervous system, and overall wellbeing.[1]

The word “probiotics” is derived from the Latin pro (for) and Greek bios (life). These live microorganisms can be bacterial, viral, or yeast, and can generally only be seen under a microscope.

You can learn more about probiotics here: Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference and Why Are They Important?

How Can Probiotics Help?

Probiotics have been shown to have a wide range of benefits for our health.

1. Probiotics Help With Digestion

Probiotics use a special process called fermentation to break down the food you eat. When food passes through the small intestine and into the colon, probiotics work with digestive enzymes to break down the food matter and absorb its nutrients. Without this help, digestion can be slowed or impaired, causing food to pass through your body without the benefits you need.

2. Probiotics Help Reduce Gastrointestinal Issues

Probiotics can help to reduce the risk of gas, bloating, and diarrhea, especially when traveling or taking antibiotics. Several studies suggest that probiotics are associated with a reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. One study showing that taking probiotics reduced the incidence of diarrhea by up to 42%.[2][3]

Taking probiotics can also prevent or treat infectious diarrhea not caused by antibiotics. A major review involving 35 different studies shows that certain strains of probiotics helped to reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea with a day.[4] This makes probiotics a good choice for those traveling or working in environments where bacteria are present, such as schools or hospitals.

3. Probiotics Provide Valuable Nutrients

Fermentation in the large intestine produces valuable enzymes and nutrients that your body needs for healthy functioning.[5] These enzymes help to break down protein and fat, while the nutrients include B vitamins, vitamin K, and short-chain fatty acids. All of these byproducts can help with energy production, tissue repair and maintenance, cognitive function, and hundreds of other processes. Probiotics support the fermentation process, promoting the breakdown of nutrients and proper digestion.

4. Probiotics Support Immune Function

More than 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut. The cells lining your gut interact with both your innate and adaptive immune systems, which means your gut is the first line of defense between your internal body systems and external pathogens. Any harmful microbes that enter your body from food, the air, or surfaces you are exposed to must first get through several defense systems before reaching the bloodstream.[6]

Your gut bacteria are constantly secreting huge quantities of antibodies into the gut. This helps your body manage any harmful bacteria you might encounter in everyday life. Infections, diseases, and even autoimmune conditions are most often the result of your gut bacteria being unable to do their job properly.

5. Maintain Gut Integrity

Your gut lining is naturally permeable, which allows nutrients to pass from the food you eat into your bloodstream. At the same time, the bacteria lining the wall of your gut act as a barrier to prevent harmful substances such as antigens, toxins, and other invaders from entering the bloodstream. They also support the uptake of nutrients, electrolytes, water, and other beneficial substances from the intestines. This is vital for healthy digestion and the normal functioning of the body. It also helps to prevent the development of food allergies, which can result from increased intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut).

When to Take Probiotics

Research shows that probiotics are best taken just before or during a meal. This allows them to survive their journey through the gut.[7]

Survivability has all to do with the pH balance of your stomach. The lower the pH, the more acidity. The higher the pH, the more alkalinity. Stomach pH is very low—around 2 to 3. This is too harsh an environment for most bacteria to survive. However, after a meal, the pH of your stomach contents temporarily rises to a more alkaline value of around 7. The reduced acidity means there is less chance of the probiotics being destroyed.

Taking probiotics within 30 minutes of a meal or during a meal has been shown to help beneficial bacteria survive in much higher numbers than when taken 30 minutes after a meal.

Read more about when to take probiotics here: When to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits?

Side Effects of Probiotics

Because most of your body’s microflora lives in your gut, this is the area most prone to side effects from probiotics. Typical symptoms may include gas, bloating, cramps, or a feeling of fullness. You may also experience a change in bowel movements. This may because the healthy bacteria are expanding in the gut, colonizing the small intestine and colon.

Extra gas may also be caused by bacteria-induced changes to your gut motility or transit time. These alterations can sometimes cause abnormal intestinal spasms or prevent your stomach muscles from fully emptying the stomach of food you’ve eaten.

These symptoms usually subside after a week or two of taking the probiotic. If you really can’t cope, try reducing your daily dose to half that recommended on the label. You can then gradually increase your dose over the following weeks. This allows your gut to adjust to the new influx of bacteria slowly.

How to Choose a Good Probiotic

A good probiotic should be designed in a way that allows the bacteria to survive the harsh acidic environment of your stomach. This means that the bacteria have a better chance of arriving at your intestines, ready to establish themselves and do their work.

Look for a probiotic supplement that uses some form of time-release technology, such as BIO-tract or delayed-release capsules that protects the probiotic bacteria and prevents them from being broken down in your stomach.[8]

CFU stands for “colony-forming unit.” This is the amount of live and active bacteria contained in each dose. There are hundreds of different strains of bacteria, and all of them have unique properties. Some of the best bacterial strains to look for in a probiotic are L. Plantarum (for protecting the membrane that surrounds your gut), L. paracasei (for its antibacterial properties that can ward off pathogens like E. coli and Candida albicans), and L. acidophilus (to regulate acidity in your gut and boost your immune system).

Generally speaking, the higher the CFU count, the more effective the probiotic. However, this depends on the way the probiotics are delivered.

Many supplement manufacturers include fillers and unnecessary ingredients to lengthen shelf life or make the contents easier to pour into capsules. Be sure to read the ingredients label carefully as some of these “extras” can be harmful to gut health.

What Is a Good Probiotic?

Several factors go into making a good probiotic. Try to look past marketing claims about CFU counts of 50 billion, 100 billion, even 200 billion! Many supplements with high CFU counts often deliver only a few of those bacteria past your stomach acid.

Time-release tablets that use patented technologies like BIO-tract can deliver 15 times more bacteria to the gut than an equivalent probiotic in a vegetable capsule. For example, Balance ONE Probiotic contains 15 billion CFUs of bacteria. The time-release technology means it delivers the same amount of bacteria to your gut as a 225 billion CFU probiotic in a vegetable capsule.

A good probiotic should also contain at least 5 strains and preferably 10. All of those strains have different benefits and characteristics. Look for a good selection of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains. The more you take, the more benefits for you!

Here’s my pick of the top 3 probiotics.

1. Balance ONE Probiotic

This probiotic supplement contains 12 strains of probiotics with 15 billion CFUs per tablet. These include the most-researched strains, such as Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and more.

The Balance ONE Probiotic is also free from unnecessary fillers and allergens, including nuts, dairy, gluten. It’s non-GMO and vegan. It only contains strains that are already present in the human gut without any Soil-Based Organisms (SBOs) or active yeasts.

The most important feature of the Balance ONE probiotic is its patented delivery system known as BIO-tract. This special patented process involves compressing the probiotic bacteria into tablets. This means that Balance ONE probiotics can survive passage through the acidic conditions of the stomach without being destroyed. Studies have shown that this delivery method gets 15 times as many bacteria past stomach acid compared to regular vegetable capsules.[9]

You can find it here.

2. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Extra Care Probiotic

This is a good probiotic that contains a wide variety of strains and a powerful dose. It contains a guaranteed 30 billion live probiotic cultures, including 12 probiotic strains, which makes it a good all-rounder.

Renew Life Ultimate uses delayed-release vegetable capsules, which, while not as effective as the BIO-tract system, are still an effective way to deliver bacteria to the gut. It has multiple strains for effective support and is free from gluten, dairy, and soy.

You can find it here.

3. Vitamin Bounty – Pro 25 Probiotic and Prebiotic

With 25 billion organisms per dose, Vitamin Bounty is a great maintenance probiotic. It includes 13 probiotic strains to help support overall digestive health, and it’s made with a delayed-release capsule that protects the live bacteria from stomach acidity. This helps in the delivery of the bacteria to the intestines and improves efficacy. The Fermented Greens also provide prebiotic benefits.

You can find it here.

Final Thoughts

We now know that probiotics provide us with several significant health benefits while possibly giving us some minor side effects. So, the next step is to determine what food or supplements we should look for. You can start with the recommended ones in this article. Probiotics are very beneficial for our bodies, and choosing the right brand for us can further improve the benefits we get from them.

Featured photo credit: Daily Nouri via unsplash.com

Reference

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