The Gut-Balancing Power of Probiotics

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Let’s talk about what’s going on in your gut—specifically with your tiny gut bugs called probiotics.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that help keep you healthy. As “good bacteria,” probiotics help bring balance to your gut microbiome by preventing “bad bacteria” from multiplying and causing inflammation. When there is balance in your gut, your gastrointestinal system functions better. And consuming probiotic-rich foods is the most effective way to introduce these live microorganisms into your digestive tract.

History of Probiotics

The concept of probiotics and consuming fermented foods to aid digestion and improve gut health has been around for more than a century. Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff is credited with pioneering studies of probiotics in the early 1900s. Researching villagers in the Balkan states and Russia who’d lived beyond 100 years, he discovered that the key to their improved health and longevity was the fermented yogurt drink they drank each day.

Metchnikoff’s discovery prompted further studies on the fermented drink, which revealed the presence of beneficial bacteria strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilusBifidobacterium infantis, and Saccharomyces boulardii. More scientists researched the benefits of probiotics, and discovered more beneficial bacterial strains.

In 1930 Japanese scientist Minoru Shirota took the strain originally classified as Lactobacillus casei and strengthened and cultured it. The result was the live Lactobacillus casei Shirota bacteria, which is still used today—in Yakult-brand products.

Today, hundreds of probiotic brands and variants exist, including drinks, food products and supplements. Fermented tea, called kombucha, and the fermented dairy drink, kefir, are examples of other drinks that we know are high in probiotics.

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How Probiotics Improve Your Gut

The community of microorganisms living in your gut is called the gut microbiome and gut microbiota. For your digestive system to function as it should, the complex ecosystem of the stomach, which includes good and bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, should be in balance. Good bacteria are necessary to help the body create vitamins, digest food, and prevent harmful bacteria from entering your blood. Good bacteria also help your gut break down and absorb medications.

Probiotics have been shown to balance the gut by replenishing the good bacteria that prevent harmful bacteria from thriving. The use of antibiotics, for example, kills natural bacteria in the gut. By consuming probiotics and improving gut health, you can combat common digestive issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

Because probiotics bring balance to the gut microbiome, they support healthy immune function, control inflammation and promote digestive health. For these reasons, you may consider probiotic supplementation if you suffer from digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

Probiotics: More Than Gut Health

A healthy gut brings benefits beyond digestive health, too. Researchers have observed a link between a balanced gut and systems throughout your body. Some of those include the following:

Skin

Have you ever noticed you are more likely to breakout after eating chocolate or dairy? What you eat and digest effects your skin. The health of your gut can impact your skin. Research shows a connection between several skin conditions, such as acne, and an imbalanced gut. One reason for this is that poor gut health leads to inflammation, which can cause all sorts of skin conditions. Skin also benefits from topical probiotics. You can find a delicate balance of microorganisms on your skin, and persistent skin conditions often result from an unhealthy balance. Probiotics applied to your skin can help restore your proper balance and alleviate symptoms from skin conditions.

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Urinary Tract

Many people suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs) in the lives, and for some UTIs are difficult to manage with antibiotics. Others may be concerned about the effect antibiotics will have on their bodies. Whatever the reason for consideration, probiotics are an excellent alternative. Studies have found that the urinary tract is lined with probiotics, one common strain being Lactobacillus. Furthermore, taking oral probiotics to treat UTIs has been successful. Using “good bacteria” to fight the “bad” and restore balance can eliminate a UTI.

Vaginal Health

Did you know there is a vaginal microbiome, as well? Just like your gut, your vagina depends on the healthy balance of bacteria and fungus. Too much “bad bacteria” and you are likely to get an infection. Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common vaginal infections and can be a problem that just keeps coming back despite treatment. Promising initial research shows that probiotics can help fight off this infection. Some research has looked at topical probiotics, but more often oral probiotics helped eliminate the infection. It turns out that your gut microbiome and vaginal microbiome are linked. So, taking probiotics and improving your gut health can also lead to better vaginal health.

Oral health

There is growing research that probiotics can be beneficial for your oral health. The bacteria in your mouth can lead to anything from bad breath to gum disease, as well as other health consequences. Scientists are studying the effects of probiotics and a range of oral health concerns and finding a lot of positive outcomes. Many are still working to identify the exact types of probiotics that are beneficial for oral health.

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Probiotic products are generally considered safe to consume because the live bacteria they contain already exist naturally in the body. However, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as increased gas or an allergic reaction.

Adapted from an article by Gastro MD

References:

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3859987/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9010680/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10385652/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8955881/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9893107/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897872/

https://alternativemedicine.com/conditions/oral-health/oral-health-and-overall-health-7-health-problems-caused-by-bad-oral-health/

https://alternativemedicine.com/blog/can-probiotics-improve-fertility/

Author
Priscilla Lundquist

InnoVision Health Media reports on health content that is supported by our editorial advisory board and content published in our group of peer reviewed medical journals.

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