Your body is home to trillions of microorganisms known collectively as the microbiome-that outnumber your body’s cells by about 10 to 1. If you thought taking care of your cells was a big job, by sheer numbers alone, caring for the microbes is an even larger task! One excellent tool at your disposal is probiotics or good bacteria.
The occupants of the microbiome are of two basic varieties: good guys and bad guys. Although both are necessary residents, good health depends on the balance being in favor of the beneficial microorganisms. To help ensure that favorable balance, you need to consume probiotics in the form of foods (e.g., yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee), supplements, or both. Foods have a variety of strains that occur through fermentation and can vary in amounts. Supplements that are high quality are developed to include specific strains (or a combination of strains) and have a guaranteed quantity of units called CFU's. By choosing a quality and research-based supplement you can ensure you are getting the probiotics you need.
Generally, probiotics can replenish and maintain your supply of good bacteria and provide a wealth of health benefits, such as those listed here.
1. Promote a vibrant microbiome
Your microbiome is being attacked from all angles every day. Food additives, antibiotic use, contaminated air and water, emotional and physical stress, prescription drugs, aging-all of these and more have a negative impact on a healthy microbial balance, allowing more bad guys to run rampant. Repopulating your gut with healthy bacteria on a regular basis helps ensure optimal health.
2. Maintain maximum immune function
Since about 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, that’s where you want to focus many of your efforts. When you provide your gut with the right tools in the form of a variety of different good bacteria species, you help support a balanced immune system that keeps on fighting for you.
3. Enhance your mood
Did you know that nearly all (about 90%) of the mood neurotransmitter called "serotonin" is produced in your gut? Cells called enterochromaffin cells, as well as certain neurons and immune cells, make this happiness chemical. Although serotonin is typically thought of as inhabiting the brain (and it does), the fact that so much of it is in the gut is revealing. That gut feeling you may have every so often is more than just a saying. Keeping your intestinal microflora in a balanced state will benefit your mood.
4. Improve absorption of nutrients
Even if your diet is chock full of highly nutritious foods, maximizing the nutrients from those choices won’t happen if your microbiome is out of kilter. Proper absorption of nutrients requires the right mixture of digestive bacteria, enzymes, and other chemicals to break down the food and move in into your bloodstream. If this process is flawed, you can experience nutritional deficiencies and even serious malabsorption conditions. The use of probiotics on a regular basis helps you absorb essential nutrients and prevent serious health issues.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Some researchers say that keeping your microflora in balance can help boost your metabolism and may assist with dropping extra pounds. In fact, a meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins researchers noted that the use of probiotics was associated with significant weight loss, fat loss, and body mass index among adults. Probiotics can also help with weight loss by improving mood and calming food cravings.
6. Reduce fatigue
If you restore balance to your intestinal flora, you can expect to experience a boost in energy. The reason for this revitalization is that when you resolve poor digestion (which is caused by an unhealthy gut), you also restore your energy. Use of probiotic supplements can support your digestive process, which in turn allows you better absorption of nutrients and thus a resurgence in energy. Research has shown that probiotics can be effective in fighting fatigue in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome as well.
7. Balance blood glucose
The bacteria that live in your gut keep up a constant stream of communication with other cells throughout the body. Part of that conversation involves the maintenance of a healthy glucose (sugar) level. When you have a sufficient amount of beneficial bacteria in your system, they can work to ensure your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range.
8. Support healthy skin
Your skin reflects your inner health. Therefore, if you have an imbalance in your gut microflora, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and immune system problems, they will become apparent in your skin via inflammation, dullness, and other signs of aging. The use of probiotics can improve nutrient absorption, reduce temporary inflammation, and contribute to better-looking skin.
Choosing probiotic supplements
Look for a reputable manufacturer who makes supplements that contain multiple species of beneficial bacteria. The unit of measure for probiotics is colony-forming units (CFUs). Typically you want to take a supplement that contains at least 10 billion CFUs daily for maintenance and more if you are trying to manage a health problem. Discuss recommended doses with a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Take probiotic supplements 30 minutes before a meal. If you are taking tablets or capsules, do not break them. Instead, take them whole. Liquid probiotics can be taken alone or stirred into a smoothie or other cold beverage. Do not mix liquid probiotics into hot liquids as this will kill the beneficial bacteria.