Probiotics: Basics, Benefits and Do I Really Need Them?

Soniya
The best place to get probiotics is in your food. (Image by Sara Cervera / Pexels)
The best place to get probiotics is in your food. (Image by Sara Cervera / Pexels)

You're not alone. Probiotics are a hot supplement these days and you can find them in just about any health or grocery store these days. There's a lot of confusion online, though. Some sites tell you yes and some say no to taking probiotics - even by health professionals who should know better.

But don't panic! Before you start popping bottles of probiotics - let's take a look at all that you need to know about probiotics, which will help you make smart decisions on whether or not you should take them.

Even if you already eat plenty of fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, it never hurts to add a probiotic supplement to your daily routine.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are 'good' bacteria that keeps your gut healthy. (Image by Alicia Harper / Pexels)
Probiotics are 'good' bacteria that keeps your gut healthy. (Image by Alicia Harper / Pexels)

Probiotics are living bacteria that are similar to the microorganisms found in your intestines.

That’s why you’ve probably heard them referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria.

As a dietary supplement, they can be purchased in the form of pills, powders, syrups, teas, and tinctures. Most supplements contain not just massive volumes of these bacteria (in the billions), but also a variety of bacterial strains.

Having more good bacteria in your gut—notably the good kind that can help prevent disease—is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

Your body may benefit in a variety of ways when you have a healthy balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria, from sustaining proper digestion to supporting a strong immune system. When "bad" germs take over, plenty of health problems can emerge.

Types of Probiotics

The two major types of probiotic bacteria - lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.(Image by Adrian Lange / Pexels)
The two major types of probiotic bacteria - lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.(Image by Adrian Lange / Pexels)

There are hundreds of different types of probiotics, each with their own benefits. The two major types of probiotics are - lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You may also hear them referred to by the specific name of a strain, such as lactobacillus acidophilus or lactobacillus gasseri.

There are several strains in each category. Some scientists believe that different strains have different effects, however this has not been proven.

Regardless, probiotics of all kinds are thought to benefit your gut flora, often known as the microbiome. This is a bacterial colony in your gastrointestinal tract.

What Are the Benefits of Taking a Probiotic?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (similar to the ones found in your digestive system) that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. They help maintain your digestive system healthy.

Here are some situations where including them in your diet might be helpful:

• They are gut-friendly

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can have positive effects on your health. These microorganisms can restore the natural balance of gut bacteria, which is often thrown off by illness, antibiotics, diet, etc.

When there aren’t enough good bacteria and too many bad bacteria, digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity, etc., may result.

• Helps prevent diarrhea

Your gut's good and bad bacteria are affected by your diet. When consumed with antibiotics, it helps prevent diarrhea.

Probiotics can vary in effectiveness and dosage, depending on which strains are used.

• Improves Mental Health

Research indicates that people with mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and stress, have changes in their gut microbiome – the community of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Probiotic supplements are thought to be beneficial in improving certain symptoms of mental health disorders by introducing good bacteria into your system.

• Helps boost your immune system

It's believed that probiotics help keep your gut microbiota (the trillions of microbes that live in your digestive tract) balanced, which may support a healthy immune system.

They may even promote the production of natural antibodies in the body to fight against any illness.

Do I really need to take probiotics everyday?

It’s important to realize that everybody's gut microbiome is unique, so there's no one-size-fits-all probiotic plan. But if the goal is to have a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract and overall immune system, you want to make sure you're constantly taking good-quality probiotics.

Along with taking probiotic supplements, it's important to eat a diverse diet rich in fiber and beneficial bacteria. As long as these nutrients are making their way into the gut, missing a few days of a supplement won't be as big of a deal

Which is better - foods or supplements?

Probiotics can be consume in the form of pill or through natural sources. (Image by Pixabay / Pexels)
Probiotics can be consume in the form of pill or through natural sources. (Image by Pixabay / Pexels)

Probiotics exist in many foods, so it's easy to get a good dose from your diet. But when you take supplements, you'll get a more consistent amount.

The best sources of probiotic foods are fermented dairy products such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese.


The bottom line

Probiotics may not be a cure-all, but they certainly won't hurt. If you're trying to improve your digestive health and want to get more probiotics into your system, fermented foods and or supplements can be a good place to start. Just don't overdo it, since you do have some risk of side effects.

However, keep in mind that it's always important to consult your doctor before starting any new pill.

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