Probiotics have been at the forefront of research and are trending amongst health and wellness buffs everywhere. Touted as a kind of digestive panacea, you may be wondering if probiotics are anything more than another catchy buzzword or passing fad. 

Probiotics, however, are useful for not only our gut health but our entire body’s functioning. Whether it is improving mental conditions or regulating hormones, probiotics are involved in countless areas of our health. 

What are they?

Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” are the same as the harmless bacteria that are already found naturally inside your body. They live in harmony with us in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. An imbalance of good and bad bacteria due to an unhealthy diet or lifestyle can wreak havoc on the way your body works.

Probiotics are found primarily in the lower intestine but can also flourish inside your mouth and on your skin. They make up a complex microbiome that includes other microbes like fungi and yeast. 

The microbiome is also known as the “forgotten organ.” This moniker is fitting because in science and general healthcare the microbiome had been largely ignored for a long time. Eventually, scientists and medical professionals realized it participates in many functions in the body just as any essential organ would.

What do probiotics do?

Probiotics help you digest your food, transform food into different vitamins and break down fatty acids. They solve digestive disorders, improve intestinal health, lower cholesterol, enhance immunity, support weight loss, maximize brain health, and correct many of the different hormonal imbalances that people are facing today.

When you need them

One of the top signs you need to consider probiotics is if you have recently taken prescription medication. 

Antibiotics in particular wipe out the microbiome entirely and the overconsumption of antibiotics can be a detriment to overall health. While antibiotics are pivotal in the fight against dangerous pathogens, they kill bacteria indiscriminately and their use warrants the restoration of friendly bacteria. Antivirals, anti-inflammatories, and drugs like metformin also slow down the growth of the microbiome. If you have used any of these medicines, consider finding ways to replenish your gut flora.

Good for the body, good for the mind

Another sign that probiotics may be in order is a mental health diagnosis. Studies have shown some disorders may be linked to a lack of probiotics. 

The gut-brain axis is the cross-communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, connecting emotional and intellectual centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. 

The gut-brain axis determines how your brain is functioning based on how your gut is functioning. Gut bacteria generate neurochemicals that the brain relies on to regulate basic bodily functions and mental processes such as learning, memory and emotion. 

For example, gut bacteria produce about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin. Serotonin controls and stabilizes your mood and brain activity. A diet low in probiotics may lead to serotonin deficiency- a proven cause of conditions like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder.

Chronic diarrhea and other gut issues are common indicators that the intestinal ecosystem is no longer thriving. The most-studied species related to gastrointestinal health include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces. Taking daily probiotics has proven to reverse some digestive disorders. 

There is some evidence that probiotics are effective for, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, acute infectious diarrhea, Clostridium difficile- associated diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis, functional gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis.

Possible connection between probiotics and good skin

Probiotics may help alleviate allergies and combat skin conditions like acne or eczema. Some dermatologists suggest that healthy skin equals a healthy gut. When you calm inflammation in the gut, it will be directly reflected in your skin. 

How to consume more probiotics

How can you incorporate more probiotics into your diet? The good news is that probiotics have existed for millennia in the form of fermented foods. Try adding staples like kimchi (fermented cabbage), sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, pickles, sourdough bread, or cottage cheese to the menu. Kombucha is a type of beverage that has become a health craze among many, including celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow. It is a type of fermented tea that is brimming with healthy gut bugs. You can also promote the growth of a diverse and healthy microbiota by eating a diet rich in “prebiotics” (which fuel probiotics) such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber.

Should these options seem unpalatable, there are a plethora of probiotic blends available in supplement form. When choosing an encapsulated probiotic, you should evaluate the reputation of the manufacturer. While supplementing with probiotics is generally safe, there is a small risk for an adverse event in the immunocompromised. Therefore, you should look for the highest quality probiotic on the market with studies backing its efficacy.

 Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplement. Whichever approach you choose to nourish your microbiota, your stomach and body may thank you later.

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About Katherine Vasquez

Katherine Vazquez is a freelance writer, professional artist, and educator. She has a background in medical research and psychology. Her research interests include social cognition and episodic memory function. Based on Long Island, she enjoys boating and fishing.

View all posts by Katherine Vasquez