5 Ways Probiotics Can Help You Feel Your Best
Probiotics are the friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract that help us digest food and guard against infection, and they have wide-reaching benefits for health and wellness. Here are 5 ways probiotics can help you feel your best.
1. Digestion and gastrointestinal health
Taking antibiotics can be hard on the stomach, sometimes causing diarrhea. As Dr. Andrew Weil explains, some antibiotics kill friendly intestinal bacteria along with the bacteria that’s causing your infection. Probiotics help replenish the stores, which is why the Mayo Clinic recommends taking probiotics to prevent diarrhea when you’re on antibiotics. Weil also suggests taking them proactively if you’re visiting underdeveloped countries, to avoid traveler’s diarrhea.
Probiotics can work the other way as well. A 2008 study of 135 Chinese women found that probiotics improved symptoms of constipation (World Journal of Gastroenterology).
2. Bone health
Addressing gastrointestinal issues and healing inflammation in the gut can have other positive results. In the Journal of Cellular Physiology, researchers from the University of Michigan found that probiotics with anti-inflammatory properties increased bone density in mice. Interestingly, the results were seen only in the male mice, not the female.
Osteoporosis (decreased bone density leading to increased risk of fracture) is a serious disease affecting both men and women. Osteoporosis Canada shares that at least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime, but that men are more likely than women to die as a result of hip fracture.
Probiotics have been used to treat anxiety and depression. A 2011 study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America used mice to examine probiotics’ effects on the brain, and noted that one bacteria in particular (L. rhamnosus) reduced the stress-induced corticosterone hormone as well as anxiety- and depression-related behavior.
4. Colds and flu
In a review published in the the Korean Journal of Family Medicine, a group of researchers analyzed data published up to June 2011 about the effect of probiotics on the common cold. They concluded that probiotics had a marginal effect on preventing colds, and a modest effect in reducing the duration of a cold.
A 2008 study of elite athletes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed subjects who took the probiotic reported less than half the number of days of respiratory symptoms as those who took a placebo.
The Pediatrics journal published a study that found children who took a probiotic supplement daily for 6 months had fewer incidents of fever, coughing, and runny nose, and when they did experience those symptoms, they healed quicker. There was also decreased antibiotic use and fewer absences from daycare. The researchers studied 326 children (aged 3-5) during the winter season.
5. Weight loss
In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Université Laval found that women who took probiotics lost, on average, twice as much weight as women who took a placebo (both groups participated in a 12-week diet program followed by a 12-week maintenance program). The men in the study didn’t experience the same results. The researchers felt the same effect could help prevent glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It’s worth noting that this study was sponsored by Nestlé, who make many yogurt products.
A study of people with “obese tendencies,” published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that subjects who consumed fermented milk containing an active probiotic had significant decreases in body weight and other measurements.
If you want to experience some of these benefits and feel better in your life, speak to your health care practitioner about supplementing with probiotics. In the meantime, you can boost your probiotic levels on your next trip to the grocery store.
While commonly associated with yogurt and other dairy products, probiotics can be found in a variety of foods, including Japanese miso, tempeh (fermented soy), sauerkraut, Kim Chee and pickles. Be sure to check the sodium levels and choose products that are truly fermented, rather than pickled in vinegar.
As Mark Sisson explains in his recipe for homemade pickles, “Using vinegar instead of brine (salt + water) prevents natural fermentation from occurring. Without natural fermentation, the live bacteria cultures that turn pickles into a healthy probiotic food are absent.” (You can also try his homemade sauerkraut.)
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