These days it’s hard to escape the buzzword “probiotics.” It’s entered almost every facet of the market, from probiotic foods and supplements, to skin care and hair care products. While it certainly makes for a catchy trend, the myriad of health benefits that probiotics, or the good bacteria living in your gut, provide are actually science-backed. In fact, research suggests that probiotics may have a positive effect on the immune system, gut microflora, vitamin synthesis and absorption, bowel health (diarrhea prevention), urinary infections, and digestion, explains Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D., and media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There are many different strains of probiotics, each offering their own range of beneficial biochemical effects. This is why you shouldn’t limit yourself to simply one food or supplement that provides you with probiotics. If you’re looking to up your probiotic intake from food, reach for fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, kombucha, kvass and more, shares Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. Since most of us don’t munch on these types of foods too often, supplementing can come in handy. If you choose to go this route, look for brands that feature fermented foods with soil-based organisms (SBOs), or plant-based probiotics and beneficial yeast that functions as a probiotic, as well as a high CFU count (this refers to the number of live and active microorganisms that are found in each serving of a probiotic product), he advises.
Once you find a probiotic supplement that works for you, here are some of the ways that you can expect it to boost your health.
Aids Your Digestive System
Since probiotics promote the growth of good gut bacteria, you can expect to see a nice boost in your digestive abilities. “Probiotic supplements can increase the size of good intestinal bacteria colonies called microflora, thus supporting overall health and digestion,” explains Dr. Axe. “Also referred to as gut flora, gut microflora, intestinal flora, and intestinal microflora, these bacteria and other organisms that live in the intestines help to digest food.”
Help Prevent Gastrointestinal Issues
As a result of your improved digestive system, you can expect to experience fewer gastrointestinal issues when taking a probiotic supplement. “Specifically, the probiotic strain lactobacillus may help prevent diarrhea caused by infections or antibiotics, relieve symptoms of hay fever and ulcerative colitis, reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduce swelling from rheumatoid arthritis in women,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.
May Lead to Lower Blood Pressure
New research published in the journal Hypertension found that probiotics consumed from food sources as well as dietary supplements may be effective in improving blood pressure. This effect is especially substantial in people with higher blood pressure to start, according to Ward.
Supports a Healthy Immune System
Up to 80 percent of our immune system is housed in our gut, so in order to put up our best defense against illness, it’s essential that we’re fueling our body with good gut bacteria. “White blood cells, or the body’s first line of defense against invaders, can be found under the tonsils near the top of the digestive tract,” explains Dr. Axe. “Likewise, the small intestine contains something called Peyer’s patches that are made up of lymphatic tissues that are also brimming with white blood cells—and let’s not forget about the walls of the large intestine, which are covered with protective immune modulators.” Thus, by eating a diet rich in probiotics, you can expect an overall boost in your body’s immune system!
May Help You Lose Weight
Of course, exercising on your Aaptiv app combined with consuming a healthy diet (as well as moderate portions) is the most effective way to keep your weight in check, one long-term observational study published in the Journal of Functional Foods linked the consumption of yogurt containing strains from the lactobacillus family, specifically lactobacillus fermentum or lactobacillus amylovorus, to reduced body weight over a six-week period. “The authors of that study say that changes in the bacteria in the colon caused by eating yogurt may be responsible for easier weight control, although yogurt-eaters may have other behaviors that favor weight control,” explains Ward.
Helps You Absorb More Nutrients
Probiotics support absorption of minerals, and specifically promote the production of B vitamins and certain enzymes, explains Dr. Axe. “If your body isn’t absorbing the vitamins and minerals you consume in your diet, then that’s a problem,” he says. “Digestive enzymes and food enzymes help break down large food molecules into smaller units that can be absorbed by the blood and into cells, which is how the body gets nourished from the food we eat.”
May Reduce Inflammation
Another 30-day study published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research found that eating yogurt shifted the composition of the gut in a way that had the potential to reduce inflammation, among other benefits, notes Ward. “While the consistent intake of fermented foods has been linked to weight control, and a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it’s difficult to separate the health benefits of the whole fermented food from the live microbes in the product,” she says. “It’s not possible to make recommendations for how much fermented food to eat every day, but you should probably eat some every day to reap the benefits because the microbes used to ferment foods don’t last long in the gut.”