Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (microorganisms) that are beneficial for overall health, but are especially beneficial to the digestive system. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they can help keep your digestive system functioning properly and healthily. Probiotics help with food digestion, destroy “bad” bacteria, and produce vitamins. Many of the bacteria in probiotic products are the same as or similar to the bacteria that naturally live in our bodies.
In recent years scientists have started drawing a connection between well-established intestinal flora and mental health. The theory of a gut-brain interface is perhaps one of the biggest arguments for probiotic supplementation. The connection between intestinal health and brain health (to include mental conditions) is not yet considered rock-solid, but there is an increasing amount of positive evidence every year in the form of clinical studies.
Benefits of Probiotics
In modern diets high in preservatives, it is easier for the regulating bacteria of the body’s intestines to suffer. As stated above, probiotics are most well known for supporting overall intestinal health, but their benefits extend well beyond this.
There are two types of allergic rhinitis, seasonal and perennial. Both seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis can cause itching, sneezing, and other similar symptoms due to inflammation in the nose and eyes. Seasonal allergic rhinitis can cause more exaggerated symptoms due to seasonal airborne allergens such as dust, dander and pollen, while perennial allergens are present year-round and tend to be less severe. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis increases yearly, and currently about 30% of the adult population is affected. A large number of studies have shown that taking probiotics can help relieve allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion, itching, sneezing, and eye and throat symptoms. Some studies have also shown improvements in overall quality of life with probiotic supplementation.
Atopic dermatitis, also called atopic eczema, is a chronic or recurrent inflammatory skin disease. Atopic dermatitis usually begins within the first few years of life and can serve as the initial indication that a child may later develop asthma and/or allergic rhinitis. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include red, itchy, and scaly skin. This condition is common in children, but can occur at any age. It is estimated that about 10.7% of children and 10.2% of adults in the US have atopic dermatitis. Multiple research studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements can help decrease symptoms of atopic dermatitis in both children and adults. Probiotics can also lower markers of inflammation.
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is predominantly found in wheat, barley, and rye. When the small intestine gets damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body. About 1% of the US population has celiac disease.
Clinical research has shown that taking a probiotic supplement can help improve the health of people with celiac disease. People taking probiotics experienced significantly fewer symptoms of celiac disease such as indigestion, constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea compared to those taking a placebo.
Other traits that probiotics may be beneficial towards include: hypercholesterolemia, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, hyperlipidemia, depression, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sinusitis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and metabolic syndrome/obesity.
Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, all show significant signs of improvement in double-blind studies on the effects of probiotic supplementation. Improved gut health is directly related to the body’s ability to properly process and digest foods, and subsequently improve the body’s nutrition and wellbeing.
Though is may seem surprising, numerous clinical studies conducted over the last several years demonstrate a strong correlation between probiotic supplementation and improvement of symptoms associated with depression and anxiety
Where Can I get Probiotics?
Products that include probiotics are foods, dietary supplements, and other products such as skin creams. When possible, the best probiotics for your body come from natural food sources, such as dairy products and fermented foods.
Common Food Sources
- Naturally-fermented pickles
Do I Need A Probiotic Supplement?
Most healthy individuals with a good variety in their diets do not need probiotics. However, if you are prescribed a particularly strong antibiotic or are on long-term antibiotic treatments, a probiotic supplement is highly encouraged to avoid side effects such as diarrhea or thrush.
What dose of probiotics Do I Need?
A daily serving or two of yogurt, kefir, or other common food sources should be sufficient for most healthy individuals. For those that want or need a probiotic supplement, a dosage in the range of 1-10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) is recommended. A higher range of 5-20 billion CFUs is recommended for the prevention or treatment of antibiotic-related diarrhea.
What are the side effects of probiotics?
Potential side effects include mild digestive symptoms or discomfort, such as gas. These symptoms usually go away with regular use.
Are There Any Medications or Supplements I Shouldn’t Take With probiotics?
Because probiotics support natural intestinal health, interactions with probiotic supplements are rare. However, yogurt (or other foods which contain natural probiotic flora) could, theoretically, cause an infection in patients taking immunosuppressant drugs.
Drugs or medication which suppress the immune system includes, but are not limited to, the following: cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), tacrolimus (Prograf), azathioprine (Imuran), and cancer chemotherapeutic agents like cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and cisplatin (Platinol-AQ).
Should you be supplementing with Probiotic?
Probiotic supplements are strongly recommended for those taking antibiotics, especially long-term or very powerful antibiotic treatments. Individuals with allergies, intestinal conditions, skin problems, depression/anxiety, or any of the other conditions listed above may find that a probiotic supplement helps quite a bit.
Interested in learning whether probiotics are