Benefits of Probiotics: How Your Gut Bacteria Can Influence Your Health
When asked about the location of their immune system, many people don’t know. A surprisingly large number of people don’t associate their immune systems with any specific part of their body.
Rather than being confined to a particular organ, about 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract in the form of receptor cells. Because of this prime location, what happens in your gut can powerfully influence your immune function.
When your gut is healthy, you have a large, thriving population of beneficial or friendly bacteria, or probiotics, supporting your immune system receptor cells. They help form a protective barrier within your colon and intestines. Ideally, you want about 85 percent of your gut bacteria to be of this beneficial type.
Optimizing and supporting the beneficial bacteria in your gut is one of the most powerful things you can do for your health and well being, including your immune health. As long as you can help your body maintain this optimal balance – 85 percent beneficial to about 15 percent “other” microbes – you support the health-promoting benefits of probiotics.
The Health Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics, or beneficial gut microbes, influence many functions in your body. In addition to your immune health, researchers have found they affect your body weight, energy and nutrition, and your brain, both psychologically and neurologically. Your microflora impacts the expression of your genes, too, which can have a powerful effect on your health.*
Some of the most important benefits of probiotics include:
- Healthy immune function*
Did you know that your intestinal lining, or mucosal barrier, is about the size of a tennis court? Over 300 square meters in size, that’s a lot of territory for beneficial bacteria to patrol and support health!
Your good bacteria play a vital role in the development and maintenance of this mucosal immune system in your gut. They compete with the less-friendly microbes for both food and attachment sites on the receptor cells. As long as you have a healthy balance of microbes, they’re usually able to prevail.
At home in your gut, your beneficial microbes partner up with your immune cells to help maintain your health in many different ways. Supplementing with probiotics may even help protect against the additional stressors on your immune health involved with strenuous athletic training.
Probiotics also support your normal healthy response to allergens. Beneficial bacteria train your immune system to distinguish between non-harmful antigens and undesirable antigens, and to respond in a normal, appropriate way.
- Weight management*
One potential benefit of probiotics that has received much attention lately is the ability of certain strains to help with weight management in people with obese tendencies.
A study on infants found that those who had high numbers of beneficial bifidobacteria appeared to have an increased level of protection from excess weight gain. Bifidobacteria flourishes in the guts of breast-fed babies, which may be one reason why breast-fed babies have a lower risk of becoming obese.
Additionally, researchers are learning that obese people’s gut microbes differ from those of lean people. Lean individuals tend to have higher amounts of various healthy bacteria. In a study with mice, when certain microbes were transplanted into normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat.
Increasingly, research confirms that probiotics play a key role in weight management. One human study showed how obese individuals reduced their abdominal fat by consuming a probiotic-rich fermented beverage for a 12-week period.
If you’re struggling to manage your weight, I suggest you take full advantage of the potential benefits of probiotics!
- Digesting and absorbing carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and waste removal*
Your body needs beneficial gut bacteria to absorb certain undigested starches, fiber, and sugars in foods. When you have a good balance of bacteria, you can efficiently convert these carbohydrates into valuable sources of nutrients and energy.
Another important benefit of probiotics is for your body’s production of vitamin K and B vitamins. Probiotics also promote mineral absorption from the foods you eat. Equally valuable is their ability to help metabolize and break down body wastes.
- Psychological and emotional health support*
Many people are also surprised to learn that their guts are essentially their second brains. Proof of this can be found in the fact that your gut produces more of the mood-influencing neurotransmitter serotonin than your brain does.
Studies show probiotics can benefit the communications within your gut-brain axis. You have two nervous systems, one in your brain and spinal cord, and another in your gastrointestinal tract. Made from the same type of tissue, they are connected to each other via your vagus nerve, which is the primary route for information sharing between your gut and your brain.
Because of this profound interrelationship, whenever you’re dealing with any type of learning disability or neurological or psychiatric concern, I suggest you look closely at your gut health. Sometimes supporting your emotional and psychological health can be as simple as healing and sealing your gut lining.
Your diet is indeed linked to your mental health!
- Skin health support*
Considering there are about 100 trillion microorganisms living on and in your body, it’s difficult to separate the ones living within and on the surface. Research suggests the two may be closely related, as your body is a living ecosystem.
There’s no doubt in my mind that probiotics benefit your skin health, and especially the skin health of children. Skin issues, particularly those commonly seen in infants, are thought to be due to a delay in the development of immune function.
This, in my opinion, confirms the importance for women who plan to become pregnant, along with pregnant mothers and infants, to receive a supplemental probiotic supplement.
For moms-to-be who supplement with probiotics during pregnancy, there’s an added bonus. A study suggests that taking a probiotic supplement during the first trimester of pregnancy through the end of exclusive breastfeeding may help you lose weight after your baby’s arrival. This is in addition to the multitude of probiotic benefits for your newborn as well!
Need More Evidence of the Health Benefits of Probiotics?
Clearly, probiotics benefit your health from head to toe in many ways. They are so essential for a multitude of bodily functions that research suggests taking a probiotic supplement may be even more important than taking a daily multivitamin. Keep in mind that many of the nutrients you find in a multivitamin supplement, especially B vitamins, are made by beneficial bacteria in your gut.
The most ideal way to get the probiotics you need each day is to eat fermented vegetables that you prepare at home or to consume other traditionally fermented foods rich in probiotic bacteria. Some of the best sources include lassi, an Indian yogurt drink, kefir and yogurt made from raw milk, or natto or fermented soy.
Make sure your choices are unpasteurized as the high heat process destroys many if not all of the naturally occurring probiotics.
If you can’t find these unpasteurized probiotic foods, or if you don’t care for fermented vegetables, be sure to take the best backup I know of – a high-quality probiotic supplement.
My complete line of Complete Probiotics supplements contain as many as 100 billion CFU of a unique blend of 10 different beneficial bacteria strains. I even have a specially formulated Complete Probiotics for Kids in fruit-flavored, no-mess powder packets!
Start Enjoying Your Probiotic Benefits, but Beware of These
Beneficial Bacteria Slayers
No matter how well you eat, or how diligent you are about supplementing with a high-quality probiotic supplement, you must be equally aware of the factors that can put your microflora at risk.
- You’re taking antibiotics
If you must take an antibiotic, don’t stop taking your probiotic! Take your probiotic supplement either a few hours before or after your antibiotic, and continue after your antibiotic treatment course for optimal protection.
It’s a well-established fact that antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria, both good and bad. If you take a probiotic at the same time, you can help restore your beneficial microbes faster.
- You’re using heartburn pills
A recent study shows that if you are taking the widely available over-the-counter or prescription proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for heartburn, you may be putting your gut flora at risk.
- You eat factory farmed meats and dairy
Be aware that factory farmed meats and dairy also contain antibiotics, although in much smaller doses. About 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used to fatten and prevent disease in non-organically raised food animals and dairy.
Unless you are buying organic grass-fed meats and dairy, you are likely consuming minute doses of antibiotics with every meal!
In addition to the antibiotics you receive, with factory farmed meats and diary, you’re also likely to consume traces of pesticides and herbicides, which can also negatively impact your gut flora. Livestock and dairy are typically fed genetically engineered grains.
- You’re drinking chlorinated or fluoridated water
The chlorine and fluoride that remain in drinking water that is chlorinated or fluoridated harm your beneficial gut bacteria.
- You’re eating processed and sugary foods and beverages
Sugar and processed foods encourage the growth of undesirable bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract and upset the balance of good-to-bad microbes.
In one study, after 10 days on a fast food diet, a subject’s gut microbes were “devastated.” Plus he lost about 40 percent of the diversity of his bacteria species.
Obviously, the less sugar and processed foods you eat, the better. The more you eat, the more probiotics your body needs!
Again, if you can’t get probiotics from foods, then make sure to take a high-quality probiotic supplement that can supply you with all the essential bacteria strains that you need for optimal health, like my Complete Probiotics. Go on and add it to your daily regimen – your body will thank you for it!