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What Are Probiotics?

Known as “good” bacteria, probiotics are microorganisms that can restore balance in the gut and provide a range of additional health benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Probiotics are microorganisms found in our bodies. They help maintain a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
  • You can find probiotics in fermented and probiotic-rich foods. You can also opt for a probiotic supplement to meet your probiotic needs.
  • Taking a synbiotic, a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, can enhance their effects and support overall gut health.

Do you find yourself experiencing heartburn, bloating, and digestive upset after every meal?

Are you having trouble sleeping or experiencing allergies out of nowhere?

All of these symptoms could be pointing to an imbalanced gut.

Our gut contains a variety of good and bad bacteria, and these bacteria can be a window into our overall health. It may sound strange, but the gut microbiome is more important than many people realize.

When there is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, it can affect the entire body, causing gastrointestinal tract issues, a weakened immune system, and even anxiety and depression symptoms.

Luckily, there are ways to restore balance in your gut and feel your best. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can fight off bad bacteria and help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the body.

You can find probiotics in food or take a probiotic supplement that can improve gut flora and provide an overall health boost.

This article offers a comprehensive guide to understanding probiotics. It answers questions such as what are probiotics strains and what does a probiotic do and explains how to find the best probiotic supplement for you.

probiotics good bacterias

What Are Probiotics?

Everyone has “good” and “bad” bacteria within their bodies. Probiotics are considered “good” bacteria. They fight off bad bacteria and work to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. A balanced gut flora is essential for optimal health. (Source)

There are many probiotic strains, but the three most common are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces.

1. Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus is a probiotic strain that helps the body produce the enzyme lactase and lactic acid.

Both substances limit levels of bad bacteria in the body. 

2. Bifidobacterium

Bifidobacterium is a probiotic strain that protects the digestive tract from harmful bacteria and supports the immune system.

3. Saccharomyces

Saccharomyces boulardii is considered a good yeast and probiotic. It is commonly used to treat diarrhea and other GI tract disorder symptoms. (Source)

The benefits probiotics provide are very strain-specific. One strain of Lactobacillus may be better at treating a specific symptom than another. Likewise, different Bifidobacterium strains may have different effects. (Source)

Knowing the different types of probiotics can make taking probiotics more worthwhile.

Functions Of Probiotics

If you are still wondering what are probiotics for, the role of probiotics is to maintain balance in the body. They fight bad bacteria from growing, helping the body restore balance.

Probiotics can be found in the gut, mouth, urinary tract, lungs, and skin. Their balancing act comes with the following health benefits. 

1. They Support Gut Health

An imbalance of bacteria in the gut can cause a range of GI symptoms. In fact, imbalanced gut floras have been linked to gastrointestinal conditions like IBD, short for inflammatory bowel disease, and IBS, short for irritable bowel syndrome. (Source)

As “good” bacteria, probiotics work to restore balance in the gut. As a result, it can alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms and support gut health.

2. They Support Immune Function

Some research suggests that probiotics can support immune function. This is largely in part to probiotics’ ability to fight bad bacteria.

For example, a 2015 study showed that probiotics effectively protected subjects against respiratory conditions and decreased the length of existing ones. (Source)

Other research shows that probiotics, particularly the Lactobacillus crispatus, can significantly lower the risk of urinary tract infections in women. (Source)

However, more research is needed on how probiotics affect immune function.

3. They Improve Mental Health Symptoms

Ample research suggests a strong link between gut health and mental health. Therefore, it is believed that improving gut health can also improve mental health symptoms.

A review of various studies concluded that Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains might effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder when taken over one to two months. (Source)

Another study had patients with depression take probiotic supplements for eight weeks. The participants who received probiotics reported lower depression, inflammation, and insulin levels than the placebo group. (Source)

While these studies are promising, more research is needed to determine the connection between gut and mental health.

Probiotic foods diet

Where Do Probiotics Come From?

Probiotics are naturally occurring and already exist in the body. The average person has 1.5 kilograms of probiotics in their system and does not require additional supplementation. (Source)

However, for people looking to balance their gut flora, there are also natural sources of probiotics.

You can find probiotics in fermented foods or specific probiotic-rich foods. While many foods undergo a fermentation process, the most fermented and probiotic-rich foods include kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. (Source)

For people who do not like fermented foods, supplementation is an option. Probiotic supplements are widely available in capsule, powder, and liquid form.

They often contain a combination of probiotic strains rather than feature one ingredient. This can offer a more diversified and well-rounded benefit.

That being said, you should consider a few things when buying a probiotic supplement. You want a supplement that contains one or both of the most common probiotic strains, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You also want to consider additional ingredients like prebiotics that can enhance the effectiveness of your probiotics.

How To Consume Probiotics From Foods

It is possible to increase your probiotic intake from food. Some foods are rich sources of these beneficial microbes and can improve your overall health.

You may have already been eating a probiotic-rich diet without realizing it.

Some probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha

When it comes to adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet, there are no requirements or limitations.

You can start adding these foods into your diet every day and eat them at any time of day. You can also have multiple servings of fermented foods throughout the day without any adverse consequences.

On the other hand, there is no minimum amount of probiotics that you are meant to consume each day. Many health professionals will tell you that eating probiotic-rich foods is not necessary as probiotics already exist in the body.

Moreover, eating fermented or probiotic-rich foods may not be ideal or convenient for everyone. This is especially true if they are not already a part of your everyday diet.

This is because many fermented foods have a laborious preparation process. In addition, their premade versions can be expensive or difficult to find in local grocery stores, depending on where you live.

In these cases, a probiotic supplement may be the best way to increase your probiotic intake. The next section goes into how to make probiotic supplements a part of your wellness routine.

How To Take Probiotics As Supplements

Probiotics are microorganisms that can fight off bad bacteria and restore bacterial balance in the gut. In supplement form, probiotics may improve gut health, support immune function, and enhance mental health.

Probiotic supplements can vary widely. Here are a few factors to consider when looking for the best probiotic supplement for you.

woman holding white probiotic container and pills in hands

Choosing The Right Probiotic Supplement

Choosing the right probiotic supplement comes down to three factors:

  • the probiotic strains
  • the probiotic dose
  • the company’s credibility

Probiotic Strain

The benefits probiotic offers will depend on their strain. For example, two different strains of Lactobacillus can offer two different health benefits.

Moreover, one strain of Bifidobacterium may treat a symptom better than another similar but separate Bifidobacterium strain.

No two probiotic strains are the same.

This is why it is crucial to read the fine print and ingredient labels on probiotic supplements. You want to make sure you pick a supplement that contains specific probiotic strains that can target your unique needs.

Probiotic Dose

You also want to consider dosage when looking at probiotic supplements.

Probiotics differ from regular supplements because they are measured in colony-forming units (CFU) rather than milligrams or ounces. Colony-forming units tell you how many viable cells are in the formula. (Source)

Most probiotic supplements contain between one to 10 billion colony-forming units in each serving. Some brands contain over 50 billion colony-forming units per serving, but there is no proof that higher doses provide more benefit. (Source)

Company Trustworthiness

Lastly, you want to consider company trustworthiness when looking at probiotic supplements.

The supplement industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, it can be difficult to find a reputable probiotic supplement.

Several probiotic supplements are poorly manufactured and can cause allergic reactions, interact with medications, or contain harmful ingredients.

Moreover, some supplement brands use proprietary blends which allows them to mislead consumers about what is actually in their product. For instance, a company may say its supplement contains Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and good yeast but not specify the strains included.

As a result, you could be paying for an expensive product that does not contain the specific probiotic strains you need. It may also contain harmful ingredients that the company is not required to tell you about.

Since the FDA does not regulate supplements, it is on the consumer to choose their products wisely.

Looking for probiotic supplements that are third-party tested can wean out poorly-made options and ensure you are getting the highest quality product.

Proper Usage Of Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements can be taken every day. You can take probiotics in doses of one to 10 billion CFU or as directed by a healthcare professional.

Probiotics have a shelf life of one to two years. The expiration date should be listed on the bottle.

As probiotics already exist in the body, probiotic supplements are considered safe to use for most people. Mild symptoms, including thirst, bloating, gas, and constipation may occur. (Source)

It may also cause headaches and increase the risk of infection in some individuals. (Source)

It is unclear whether probiotics interact with medications or are safe for people with medical conditions. For these reasons, checking in with a health professional before trying a probiotic supplement is best.

Studying gut microflora

Prebiotics And Their Role In Supporting Probiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics are terms that are often heard together and sometimes used interchangeably.

While both are important for gut health, the two are different and serve different purposes.

Prebiotics are nondigestible plant fibers or live yeasts. They are known for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. In other words, prebiotics are what help probiotics grow.

Functions Of Prebiotics

Probiotics might get all the glory, but prebiotics are equally as important to gut health. They can not be digested, so they travel to the bottom of the digestive tract after consumption. (Source)

From there, prebiotics provides a source of food for probiotics which allows them to grow and fight off bad bacteria. (Source)

Due to this, prebiotics can enhance your gut health and provide the following benefits:

  • Reduce spikes in blood sugar after consuming food
  • Boost metabolism and speed up digestion
  • Help keep the lining of your gut healthy
  • Help the body absorb calcium

You can increase your prebiotic intake by eating prebiotic-rich foods or taking a prebiotic supplement.

Natural Sources Of Prebiotics

It is possible to increase your prebiotic intake from food. Many of the foods that contain prebiotics might already be a part of your diet.

Some prebiotic-rich foods include: (Source)

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Green vegetable
  • Asparagus
  • Oats
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans
  • Cocoa
  • Garlic
  • Legumes such as peas and beans
  • Yogurt
  • Cereal

If you are wondering why you didn’t know that these foods contain prebiotics, it is likely because prebiotics are not often listed on food labels.

The following terms are commonly used instead:

  • Galactooligosaccharide
  • Chicory fiber
  • Fructooligosaccharides
  • Oligofructose
  • Inulin

Prebiotic Supplements

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will typically give you the prebiotics you need. However, people looking to seriously increase their prebiotic intake can opt for a prebiotic supplement.

There are plenty of supplement options out there featuring just prebiotics. However, taking a synbiotic, a supplement that contains both prebiotics and probiotics, can be a convenient way to balance your gut flora and support your gut health.

Woman hands making a heart shape on her stomach

Synbiotics: The Combination Of Probiotics And Prebiotics

Synbiotics are supplements that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.

Because prebiotics helps probiotics grow, synbiotics are believed to help probiotics survive and thrive in the intestines. (Source)

This would allow probiotics to function optimally, balancing gut health, supporting immune function, and enhancing mood as a result.

Benefits Of Synbiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics offer their own health benefits. When combined, these ingredients may be effective at treating some of the following conditions: (Source)

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Travelers’ diarrhea (diarrhea caused from contaminated food or water)
  • Obesity
  • Hyperglycemia

These benefits are in part due to probiotics’ and prebiotics’ ability to fight bad bacteria, decrease inflammation, and reduce glycemic levels. More research is needed to confirm these potential benefits. (Source)

Synbiotic Products And How To Incorporate Them

Synbiotic supplements can be found online or in your local health store.

Because prebiotics and probiotics play such a critical role in your gut health, taking a synbiotic can balance your gut flora and improve your overall health.

This is why adding prebiotics, probiotics, or a synbiotic to your supplement regimen is so important.

However, taking a synbiotic alongside a poor diet can only benefit your health so much. If you struggle to get your daily nutrients, a greens powder supplement containing probiotics and prebiotics may be what you need to support your gut health.

Green powders are a rich source of superfoods, probiotics, prebiotics, and adaptogens that you may be missing from your everyday diet. They are a great way to meet your synbiotic needs while also increasing your overall vitamin and mineral intake.

The leafy greens, fruits, and grains in greens powders can support healthy gut flora and help you feel your best.

Greens Powder Scoop

Conclusion

In recent years, probiotics have gained popularity for their ability to heal the gut and improve overall health. They are a safe way to increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut and build up your immune system.

While it is best to get your probiotics and prebiotics through whole foods, a supplement can be a great way to meet your needs. This is especially true if you do not like probiotic-rich foods.

Supplementation is also the easiest way to add probiotics and prebiotics to your diet. They are widely available in capsule and powder form and offer a range of probiotic strains to choose from.

Adding a combination of probiotics and prebiotics to your diet is best for optimal gut health. You can do so by taking a synbiotic or using a greens powder that contains both ingredients.

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