What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?

Probiotics are the new trend taking the world by storm these days. They are live bacteria that are said to be good for your digestive health. Your body contains both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics are known to be the ‘good’ bacteria that help maintain the health of your gut. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, fermented foods, and in certain supplements as well. Doctors these days often suggest that you consume probiotics in order to get relief from digestive problems. But, are there any other health benefits of consuming probiotics apart from promoting better digestive health? Let us take a look at the health benefits of probiotics.

What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?

What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?

There are many different types of probiotics available on the market. This means that not all probiotics are the same since different types of bacteria are known to have different effects on the body. For instance, one particular strain of bacteria may help protect the body against cavity-causing microorganisms that are found in the mouth, while another can help restore the natural balance of your gut bacteria.

Studies have shown extremely positive results and today doctors actively promote the consumption of these bacteria. Some of the benefits of probiotics that have been seen during clinical trials and other research studies for the prevention or in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • H. pylori – the bacteria that causes ulcers
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vaginal infections
  • Eczema (only in children)
  • Pouchitis – a side effect of colon-removal surgery
  • Stops the recurrence of some types of cancer, particularly bladder cancer

Let us now take a look at certain specific benefits of these probiotics.

Probiotics Balance the Gut Bacteria

This is perhaps one of the most well-known facts about probiotics. Probiotics include good and helpful bacteria that are alive and provide various health benefits when you consume them. The reason probiotics are so beneficial for the body is thought to be because they re-establish the natural balance of the bacteria present in your gut.
When we consume too much junk food or processed foods, it eventually causes an imbalance between the good bacteria and the bad bacteria in our gut. Apart from a poor diet, this imbalance of gut bacteria can also occur due to certain medications, like antibiotics, or even due to an illness.

What happens when the gut bacteria become imbalanced? When this happens, it can cause several issues in the body such as obesity, mental health problems, different types of allergies including food allergies, and of course, a wide variety of digestive issues.

When probiotics are taken, they help in restoring the natural balance of the bacteria present in your gut, balancing out both the good and bad bacteria to their natural levels.

Probiotics are generally found in fermented foods such as yogurts, and it can even be taken as supplements. Studies have shown that probiotics are considered to be safe for consumption for most people.

Probiotics Increase the Levels of Vitamins

Studies have shown that a daily consumption of the bacteria L. acidophilus (commonly found in probiotics), has a significant improvement in the levels of vitamin B12 and also folate levels in children. Another study showed that the consumption of the bacteria L. reuteri boosts the levels of vitamin D3 in the bloodstream by nearly 26%. L. reuteri also produces cobalamin, or vitamin B12, in the body. The bacteria L. plantarum, on the other hand, helps the body produce folate and riboflavin, commonly referred to as vitamin B2.

L. reuteri can be found in sourdough, while S. plantarum is often isolated from raw cow milk.

Another commonly used bacteria found in probiotics, L. cerevisiae, is known to be another great dietary source of folate.

Several studies have consistently shown that the daily consumption of probiotics increases the levels of several types of vitamins and minerals in the body and are considered to be extremely beneficial for the body.

Benefits of Probiotics in Increasing the Levels of Minerals

There are many strains of probiotics that help increase the levels of minerals in the body. For example, L. helveticus is known to boost the levels of blood calcium in the elderly and even in postmenopausal women.

S. cerevisiae is known to increase the absorption rate of zinc, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Similarly, L. fermentum strain of bacteria is known to boost the bioavailability of phosphorus, zinc, and calcium in certain types of fermented goat milk. Even fermented milk that contain the strain of bacteria L. plantarum increases calcium retention.

Probiotics and Diarrhea

Probiotics are known to be beneficial in the prevention and the treatment of diarrhea. Diarrhea is often a common side effect of consuming antibiotics. As a person takes antibiotics, it affects and often causes an imbalance in the gut bacteria, disrupting the levels of good and bad bacteria.

Many studies have shown that using probiotics helps reduce the risk of getting diarrhea from antibiotics. For example, one study showed that the consumption of probiotics helps lower the incidences of antibiotic-related diarrhea by over 40%.

This is not to say that probiotics only help in antibiotic-associated diarrhea. They can also be beneficial in other types of diarrhea that are not caused by antibiotics. A review of over 35 studies showed that some types of probiotics also lower the risk of traveler’s diarrhea, decrease the duration of infectious diarrhea and also reduces the diarrhea risk from any other causes in both adults and children.

The only factor to keep in mind is that the effectiveness of preventing and treating diarrhea depends on the type of and dose of the probiotic you are taking.

It has been seen that the strains of Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and even the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, are most effective at lowering the risk of diarrhea.

Probiotics and Mental Health

The reason probiotics are said to be beneficial in mental health conditions is because your gut health has a direct link to your mental health and your mood. In fact, several studies have shown that if your gut bacteria is balanced, then it can improve many types of mental health disorders. Even probiotic supplements can help in mental health conditions.

A total of 15 studies done on humans found that if you supplement your diet with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria strains for just two months, it can have a profound improvement on your depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, and even improves your memory.

Benefits of probiotics have also been observed in a study consisting of 40 patients of depression.

Many studies have effectively shown that if you take probiotics or even probiotic supplements for just either weeks, it decreases the levels of depression and also lowers the levels of C-reactive protein in the body. C-reactive protein is a major marker of inflammation in the body. Probiotics are also known to reduce levels of hormones such as insulin.

Probiotics and Benefits for Vaginal Health

Probiotics have been shown to have several benefits in the maintenance of urogenital health. Similar to the intestinal tract, the vagina also needs to maintain a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria. When any Lactobacilli strains are present within the vagina, it makes the ecosystem too acidic for any other harmful bacteria or virus to survive there.

However, similar to your gut, many factors such as birth control pills, antibiotics, spermicides, etc., can through off the balance of the vaginal ecosystem.

Consuming probiotics helps restore the balance of bacteria present in the vaginal tract. This balance is necessary to prevent some commonly occurring urogenital problems in women, such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and others.

While the treatment of urinary tract infections with probiotics is still under study, it has been seen that consumption of probiotics has an overall positive impact on the vaginal health in women.

Probiotics and your Heart

Some types of probiotics are known to help boost your heart health. This is made possible due to the fact that probiotics lower the level of LDL or bad cholesterol and also control your blood pressure.

A study was done by the Department of Microbiology, University College Cork in Ireland that observed many lactic acid-producing bacteria strains. The study found that these strains of bacteria can successfully lower cholesterol levels by breaking down the bile in the gut itself. Made primarily of cholesterol, bile is produced naturally by the human body to aid in the process of digestion.

Around five different studies have also found that consuming probiotic yogurt for 3 to 6 weeks lowers the level of total cholesterol by nearly 4%. It also lowers the levels of LDL cholesterol by 5%.

Another study, though, did not find any changes in the levels of LDL cholesterol or total cholesterol after having probiotics. However, it did find a slight increase in the levels of good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol, in the body.

However, keep in mind that to experience any substantial benefit in the levels of cholesterol, you must consume probiotics for at least 8 weeks, and the intake has to be around 10 million CFUs (colony forming units) every day.

Probiotics May Benefit in Eczema and Allergies

Studies have found that consumption of certain probiotics helps decrease the severity of certain allergies and eczema in children. It was observed during a study that there was an improvement in eczema symptoms in infants and children who were given milk that was supplemented with probiotics. Yet another study showed that women who took probiotics while being pregnant, their children had a significantly lower risk of getting eczema during the first years of their life.

Nevertheless, while some studies have shown the benefit of probiotics in eczema and allergies, further research is still required for firmly establishing how probiotics help in eczema and allergies.

Conclusion

Probiotics definitely have many known benefits not just for digestive health, but for maintaining overall health as well. Probiotics are found in many foods, particularly yogurt, and are also available in the form of supplements. Milk and yogurts tend to contain live probiotic cultures, while capsules, tablets, and powders contain the probiotic bacteria in a dried form.

It is important to remember that certain probiotics can actually be destroyed by the acid present in our stomach before they manage to reach the gut. In this case, you will not benefit from the probiotics at all. This is why it is important to consume probiotics in adequate amounts so that you can gain maximum benefit from them.

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