Take a look at the exploding market for all things antibacterial, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the human race is waging biological warfare against bacteria. However, people and microbes have lived symbiotically since the beginning of time, and many types of bacteria actually help your body function better.
What are Probiotics? Probiotics are, simply, beneficial bacteria. These microbes positively benefit your digestive system and help improve your gut health.
Two common varieties, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, help suppress the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut to keep it functioning properly. For this reason, doctors often prescribe probiotics health supplements and fermented foods (especially dairy products) as a natural solution for treating digestive discomfort. But, with many options available online and in-store, there’s no reason not to start exploring the benefits and find a probiotic that’s right for you.
What Do They Do to Your Body? A well-functioning digestive system is a key to good health. Every meal you eat impacts the mix of microbes in your gut, and studies are increasingly showing that an imbalance of helpful and harmful bacteria is linked to disease -- too much bad bacteria can lead to health problems like irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, food allergies, and more.
By improving your ratio of beneficial microbes daily through probiotics, you may reduce your risk of developing these symptoms. These bacteria work to improve mineral absorption, aid hormone production and prevent gut dysbiosis while minimizing your risk of developing leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
But the benefits go deeper than just your digestive system. Studies show increasing your level of probiotics may lower your cortisol level, which leads to more positive mental health and less risk of anxiety, depression, and stress. Preliminary research is also showing that regular doses of probiotics might lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
How Can You Get Enough? Boost your probiotic levels naturally through food or from a natural supplement.
Probiotic supplements come in capsule, tablet, and powder form, and there are a variety of brands, bacterial strains, and purported benefits to sort through. To make the right decision, keep the following advice in mind.
• Check the CFU (Colony Forming Units). This number will be on the front of the box and usually ranges from 3-50 billion CFUs. The larger the number, the more potent the product • What strains are present? Everyone’s body reacts differently to bacteria strains, which is why investing in a supplement with a wide variety of bacteria is likely to make a bigger impact on your health. • What’s the shelf life? Probiotic supplements contain live bacterial colonies, meaning that they lose potency over time. Look for products that were recently manufactured and store them in a cool, dry place in your home to extend the lifespan.
Food Probiotic cultures are common in fermented dairy products, as well as pickled vegetables and soy products in limited amounts. To keep them in your diet, make sure to regularly eat unpasteurized yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, soft cheeses, pickles and other fermented foods. Today, some products like granola bars, cereal, and soy milk are also probiotic fortified.
Remember, everyone responds differently to certain strains, so make sure to experiment with what works for you.