People everywhere seem to be talking about probiotics and gut health. Your doctor has probably mentioned probiotics, and your local pharmacy most likely sells them. In almost every single wellness blog or magazine, you’re apt to find probiotic praise—and with good reason!
More and more people are turning to holistic health treatment that goes well beyond merely treating symptoms. They don’t want a quick and temporary fix. Instead, they are looking to discover―and cure―the root causes of health problems.
After all, the band-aid approach to healthcare only goes so far. Here at BodyLogicMD, our goal is to ensure that you are able to heal and support your health, including the long-term health of your gut, which is critical to overall well-being and systemic health.
All About Gut Health
First, let’s look at your digestive tract. This system is made up of various organs, including the liver, the gallbladder, the pancreas, and the gastrointestinal tract (which goes from your mouth to your intestines). This system―also called the gut microbiome or gut flora―is where your bacteria live. As you can see, your body is a complex system, and your gut is crucial to your overall health.
Increasingly, scientific evidence points to a link between your gut health and serious issues such as immune-mediated disorders, adrenal fatigue (also known as HPA axis dysfunction), and even mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Consequently, probiotics have become more and more popular.
According to a study in the journal Autoimmune Diseases, the all-powerful gut (or microbiome) can help prevent disease and sickness. This means that what you’re putting into your body has much more to do with your health than you may think. If you take probiotics daily to promote your wellness, you’re generally promoting a healthier you.
Trillions of bacteria live in your gut, if you can believe that! Many are bad . . . but many are beneficial and essential to good health. These good bacteria, which are called probiotics, are protective. They are what your body needs to help balance out the bad.
If the bad bacteria overwhelm the good, they open the way for disease. For example, because they slow down your metabolism, they are thought to be linked to metabolic issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
According to the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, there is good reason to bolster your good bacteria with probiotics. Research has found that probiotics show “therapeutic potential for treating diseases, including several immune response-related diseases.” As a case in point, probiotics may help control the bacteria klebsiella, which has been linked to immune-mediated diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn’s.
How do good and harmful bacteria become unbalanced? According to Dr. Josh Axe, the top causes of gut flora depletion include “overuse of prescription antibiotics, sugar, GMO foods, inflammatory gluten, emotional stress, medications, alcohol (except for red wine), lack of exercise, over-sanitation, smoking, and poor sleep habits.”
Types of Probiotics
There are three main types of probiotic strains; these are what you’ll typically find in probiotic-rich foods, drinks and supplements. Here are the core probiotics benefits:
- Lactobacillus is the most common strain. Found in yogurt and fermented foods, it can help improve digestive health (especially in cases of diarrhea), promote vaginal health, support skin health, and more.
- Bifidobacterium, which is found in some dairy products, can help prevent infections and, according to Healthline, “reduce inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and psoriasis.”
- Saccharomyces boulardii isn’t technically a bacteria. It’s actually a yeast, but it is considered a probiotic. It can help reduce gastrointestinal problems, skin issues and metabolic issues, along with yeast and urinary infections.
Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus plantarum are useful here, as they boost the body’s defense against harmful bacteria, while L. rhamnosus GG (LGG) and S. boulardii have been shown to be the most beneficial in thwarting antibiotic-related issues.
Antibiotics kill off your good bacteria, which can wreak havoc in your gut. To protect your good bacteria population, you’ll want to supplement with probiotics six hours after ingesting your antibiotics.
Dr. Geoffrey Preidis of Baylor College of Medicine and Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital says, “The problem is that antibiotics have a lot of collateral damage―they don’t just target that one pathogenic bacterium that they are prescribed to eliminate.” In fact, they can help restore the balance and even eliminate antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). In a 2012 study, it was discovered that probiotics decreased AAD by half.
A word to the wise: According to the National Institutes of Health, “Probiotics are not all alike. For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus would have the same effect or that any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing.”
Additionally, you’ll want to know what synbiotics and prebiotics are. Put simply, prebiotics refer to products that help probiotics grow (a.k.a., food for probiotics). Synbiotics are products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.
Side Effects of Probiotics
Because we’ve only recently begun deciphering the complexities of bacteria, the risks of probiotics are still being evaluated. However, most experts do agree that a healthy individual is typically not harmed by taking probiotics. In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that side effects are rare and mild.
However, the Center does warn people with compromised immune systems to speak with their doctors before using probiotics, as some infections have been reported. Probiotics may also cause tummy aches and bloating (especially if you’re drinking lots of kombucha or apple cider vinegar), so be sure to take the proper dosage and type.
Additionally, some probiotics contain a substance called amines, which are known to cause headaches and trigger allergy-type symptoms.
When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?
You might think it’s okay to pop a probiotic supplement and head out the door—but not so fast! They’re not exactly like any other dietary supplement.
Because probiotic supplements contain sensitive bacteria, it is optimal to take them with meals. Not only does this help minimize damage to the bacteria from stomach acids, but it also gives the organisms better chances of survival.
However, depending on what type of condition is being treated, the best time to take probiotics (and the best type to take) may differ.
You should know that, according to GutSpace, some probiotic strains work more long-term and others more short-term. When you take a “live” probiotic, you’re investing in more long-term gut relief. This is a good option when there’s no acute problem and you simply want to keep your gut healthy in general. That’s because live probiotics actually colonize your digestive tract, multiplying the good bacteria and helping balance your gut flora over time.
On the other hand, lyophilized (freeze-dried) probiotics provide quicker, more short-term relief from digestive issues. This might be taken in the case of bathroom issues or post-antibiotic trouble. You might also want to take a probiotic supplement with a digestive enzyme. Enzymes actually are produced by healthy bacteria, helping to aid digestion.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as tempeh, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt and other dairy products, and kimchi. You can also use the supplement Pure Probiotic, which helps protect your intestine and support your immune health.
Talk to your doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner about introducing probiotics, prebiotics or synbiotics to your system, especially if you have a hard time managing bathroom regularity issues (like constipation or hard stool) or have been using antibiotics during or after an illness.
In addition to taking probiotics, it’s important to care for your overall health and wellness. Caring for your gut includes eating clean foods, exercising regularly, and managing your stress levels. Of course, the best and most natural way to create good bacteria in the body is through eating a diversity of healthy foods and making healthy lifestyle choices. However, it isn’t a perfect world. At times, the hectic pace of daily life can interfere with consuming a consistently healthy diet or getting the exercise we need―and that’s when taking a professional-grade probiotic can help!