By Ruairi Robertson, PhD
Your body is home to roughly 40 trillion bacteria, most of which reside in your gut and don't cause any health problems.
What Are Probiotics?<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-101" target="_blank">Probiotics</a> are live microorganisms, usually bacteria. When you consume enough of them, they provide a specific health benefit.<span></span></p><p>Probiotics are "life-promoting" organisms — the word "probiotic" is derived from the Latin words "pro," meaning to promote, and "biotic," meaning life.</p><p>Importantly, for a species of bacteria to be termed "probiotic," it must have a lot of scientific evidence behind it showing a specific health benefit.</p><p>Food and drug companies began to call some bacteria "probiotic" even when they had no scientifically proven health benefits. This led the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ban the word "probiotic" on all foods in the European Union.</p><p>However, a lot of new scientific evidence shows that some bacterial species have true benefits for health.</p><p>Research suggests that probiotics may benefit those with certain medical conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), eczema, dermatitis, high cholesterol levels, and liver disease.</p><p>Most probiotics belong to one of two types of bacteria —<em></em><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lactobacillus-acidophilus" target="_blank"><em>Lactobacillus</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-bifidobacteria-are-good" target="_blank"><em>Bifidobacteria</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>There are many different species and strains within these groups, and they may have different effects on the body.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Probiotics are live microorganisms that have proven health benefits.</p>
How Are the Gut and Brain Connected?<p>The intestines and brain are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection" target="_blank">connected</a> physically and chemically. Changes in the gut can affect the brain.</p><p>The vagus nerve, a large nerve in the central nervous system, sends signals between the intestines and brain.</p><p>The brain and intestines also communicate through your gut microbes, which produce molecules that carry information to the brain.</p><p>Estimates suggest that you have roughly 30 trillion human cells and 40 trillion bacteria. This means that, by number of cells, you are more bacteria than you are human.</p><p>The majority of these bacteria reside in your gut. This means they come into direct contact with the cells that line your intestines and everything that enters your body. That includes food, medicines, and microbes.</p><p>Many other microbes live alongside your gut bacteria, including yeasts and fungi. Collectively, these microbes are known as the gut microbiota or <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health" target="_blank">gut microbiome</a>.</p><p>Each of these bacteria can produce different substances that can affect the brain. These include short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters, and amino acids.</p><p>Gut bacteria can also influence the brain and central nervous system by controlling inflammation and hormone production.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Thousands of species of bacteria reside in the human body, primarily in the intestines. In general, these bacteria are good for your health and may even influence brain health.</p>
Altered Gut Microbiota and Disease<p>The term "gut <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/dysbiosis" target="_blank">dysbiosis</a>" refers to when the intestines and gut bacteria are in a diseased state. This may be due to the presence of disease-causing bacteria, which may also lead to chronic inflammation.</p><p>Researchers have identified gut dysbiosis in people with:</p><ul><li>obesity</li><li>heart disease</li><li>type 2 diabetes</li><li>other conditions</li></ul><p>Some studies suggest that certain probiotics can restore the microbiota to a healthy state and reduce symptoms of various health conditions.</p><p>Interestingly, some studies have shown that people with certain <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health" target="_blank">mental health</a> conditions also have an altered microbiota. It's unclear if this causes the conditions, or if it's the result of diet and lifestyle factors.</p><p>Since the gut and brain are connected, and gut bacteria produce substances that can influence the brain, probiotics may benefit the brain and mental health. Probiotics that benefit mental health have been called psychobiotics.</p><p>A number of recent studies have investigated this, but most have been conducted in animals. However, a few have shown interesting results in humans.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>A number of diseases, including mental health conditions, are linked to having more disease-causing bacteria in the intestines. Some probiotics may help restore healthy bacteria and reduce symptoms.</p>
Probiotics May Improve Mental Health<p>Stress and anxiety are increasingly common, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression" target="_blank">depression</a> is one of the main mental health problems worldwide.</p><p>A number of these disorders, especially <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-ways-relieve-stress-anxiety" target="_blank">stress and anxiety</a>, are associated with high blood levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone.<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845823/" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Several studies have looked into how probiotics affect people with clinically diagnosed depression.</p><p>One study showed that taking a mixture of three <em>Lactobacillus</em> and <em>Bifidobacteria</em> strains for 8 weeks significantly reduced symptoms of depression. They also had reduced levels of inflammation.</p><p>A handful of other studies have examined how probiotics affect depressive symptoms in people without clinically diagnosed depression, including:</p><ul><li>symptoms of anxiety</li><li>depressive symptoms</li><li>psychological distress</li><li>academic stress</li></ul><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Certain probiotics may reduce anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms in the general population. Yet, more studies are needed to understand their potential benefits for those with clinically diagnosed mental health conditions.</p>
Probiotics May Relieve IBS<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irritable-bowel-syndrome" target="_blank">Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)</a> is directly related to the function of the colon, but some researchers believe it's a psychological disorder.<span></span></p><p>Anxiety and depression are common in people with IBS. Interestingly, people who have IBS also tend to have an altered microbiota.<a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508511010766" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Many studies have shown that certain probiotics can reduce symptoms of IBS, including pain and bloating.<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18465170" target="_blank"><span></span></a></p><p>In general, research suggests that <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/probiotics-and-digestive-health" target="_blank">probiotics are linked with digestive health</a>.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Many people with IBS experience anxiety and depression. Probiotics appear to help reduce IBS symptoms.</p>
Probiotics May Enhance Mood<p>In people with or without mental health conditions, some probiotics may help <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mood-food" target="_blank">improve mood</a>.</p><p>One study gave people a probiotic mix containing eight different <em>Lactobacillus</em> and <em>Bifidobacteria</em> strains every day for 4 weeks.</p><p>The researchers found that taking the supplements reduced participants' negative thoughts associated with a sad mood.</p><p>Another study reported that consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic called <em>Lactobacillus casei</em> for 3 weeks improved mood in people who had the lowest mood before the treatment.<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17151594" target="_blank"><span></span></a></p><p>Interestingly, this study also found that people scored slightly lower on a memory test after taking the probiotic. More studies are needed to validate these results.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>A few studies have shown that taking certain probiotics for a few weeks may slightly improve mood.</p>
Probiotics May Help After Traumatic Brain Injury<p>When someone has a traumatic brain injury, they may need to stay in an intensive care unit. Here, doctors may help them feed and breathe through tubes.</p><p>This can increase the risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/infections" target="_blank">infection</a>, and infections in people with traumatic brain injuries can lead to further complications.</p><p>A few studies have found that adding certain probiotics into the food delivered through the tube can reduce the number of infections and length of time the person spends in the intensive care unit.</p><p>Probiotics may have these effects due to their benefits for the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-flu/fun-facts" target="_blank">immune system</a>.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Giving probiotics after traumatic brain injury may reduce the rate of infections and length of time the person needs to stay in intensive care.</p>
Other Benefits of Probiotics for the Brain<p>A handful of studies have shown that probiotics may have other interesting benefits for the brain.</p><p>One intriguing study found that taking a mix of <em>Bifidobacteria</em>, <em>Streptococcus</em>, <em>Lactobacillus,</em> and <em>Lactococcus</em> affected the brain regions that control emotion and sensation. In this study, healthy females took the mix twice daily for 4 weeks.</p><p>Other studies have shown that specific probiotics may reduce some symptoms of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis" target="_blank">multiple sclerosis</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/schizophrenia" target="_blank">schizophrenia</a>, but much more research is needed.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Some probiotics may influence brain function and symptoms of multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. However, this research is still very new, so the results aren't clear.</p>
Should You Be Taking a Probiotic for Your Brain?<p>At the moment, there is not enough evidence to show that probiotics definitely benefit the brain. This means that doctors aren't able to consider probiotics a treatment for any brain-related disorders.</p><p>If you're looking to treat such disorders, talk to a doctor.</p><p>That said, there is good evidence that <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-health-benefits-of-probiotics" target="_blank">probiotics have health benefits</a> in other areas, including heart health, digestive disorders, eczema, and dermatitis.</p><p>Scientific evidence has shown a clear connection between the gut and the brain. This is an exciting area of research that's growing rapidly.</p><p>People can usually get a healthy gut microbiota by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. A <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods" target="_blank">number of foods</a> can contain beneficial bacteria, including:</p><ul><li>probiotic yogurt</li><li>unpasteurized sauerkraut</li><li>kefir</li><li>kimchi</li></ul><p>If necessary, taking probiotic supplements can help you increase the beneficial bacterial species in your intestines. In general, taking probiotics is safe and causes few side effects.</p><p>If you're buying a probiotic, choose one that's supported by scientific evidence. <em>Lactobacillus</em> GG (LGG) and VSL#3 have both been widely studied and shown to offer a number of health benefits.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Probiotics have been shown to benefit other aspects of health, but not enough research has been done to definitively demonstrate whether probiotics have positive effects on the brain.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Although the research is promising, it's too soon to recommend any probiotic specifically to boost brain health.</p><p>Still, current evidence gives some food for thought about how probiotics may be used to improve brain health in the future.</p><p>If you want to try using probiotics, you can find them in drug stores and online.</p>
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Historically, it hasn't always been possible to grow fresh vegetables throughout the year.
1. Nutrient Dense<p>Kimchi is packed with nutrients while being low in calories.</p><p>On its own, Chinese cabbage — one of the main ingredients in kimchi — boasts vitamins A and C, at least 10 different minerals, and over 34 amino acids.</p><p>Since kimchi varies widely in ingredients, its exact nutritional profile differs between batches and brands. All the same, a 1-cup (150-gram) serving contains approximately.</p><ul><li><strong>Calories:</strong> 23</li><li><strong>Carbs:</strong> 4 grams</li><li><strong>Protein:</strong> 2 grams</li><li><strong>Fat:</strong> less than 1 gram</li><li><strong>Fiber:</strong> 2 grams</li><li><strong>Sodium:</strong> 747 mg</li><li><strong>Vitamin B6:</strong> 19% of the Daily Value (DV)</li><li><strong>Vitamin C:</strong> 22% of the DV</li><li><strong>Vitamin K:</strong> 55% of the DV</li><li><strong>Folate:</strong> 20% of the DV</li><li><strong>Iron:</strong> 21% of the DV</li><li><strong>Niacin:</strong> 10% of the DV</li><li><strong>Riboflavin:</strong> 24% of the DV</li></ul><p>Many green vegetables are good sources of nutrients like vitamin K and riboflavin. Because kimchi often comprises several green veggies, such as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-cabbage" target="_blank">cabbage</a>, celery, and spinach, it's typically a great source of these nutrients.</p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-vitamin-k" target="_blank">Vitamin K</a> plays an important role in many bodily functions, including bone metabolism and blood clotting, while riboflavin helps regulate energy production, cellular growth, and metabolism.</p><p>What's more, the fermentation process may develop additional nutrients that are more easily absorbed by your body.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p>Kimchi has an excellent nutritional profile. The dish is low in calories but packed with nutrients like iron, folate, and vitamins B6 and K.</p>
2. Contains Probiotics<p>The lacto-fermentation process that kimchi undergoes makes it particularly unique. Fermented foods not only have an extended shelf life but also an enhanced taste and aroma.</p><p>Fermentation occurs when a starch or sugar is converted into an alcohol or acid by organisms like yeast, mold, or bacteria.</p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lacto-fermentation" target="_blank">Lacto-fermentation</a> uses the bacterium <em>Lactobacillus</em> to break sugars down into lactic acid, which gives kimchi its characteristic sourness.</p><p>When taken as a supplement, This bacterium itself may have several benefits, including treating conditions like hayfever and certain types of diarrhea.</p><p>Fermentation also creates an environment that allows other friendly bacteria to thrive and multiply. These include <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods" target="_blank">probiotics</a>, which are live microorganisms that offer health benefits when consumed in large amounts.</p><p>In fact, they're linked to protection from or improvements in several conditions, including:</p><ul><li>certain types of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/cancer">cancer</a></li><li>the common cold</li><li>constipation</li><li>gastrointestinal health<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30197628" target="_blank"></a></li><li>heart health </li><li><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/mental-health" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health</a><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25448230" target="_blank"></a></li><li>skin conditions<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28802302" target="_blank"></a></li></ul><p>Keep in mind that many of these findings are related to high-dose probiotic supplements and not the amounts found in a normal serving of kimchi.</p><p>The probiotics in kimchi are believed to be responsible for many of its benefits. Nonetheless, more research is needed on the specific effects of probiotics from fermented foods.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Fermented foods like kimchi offer probiotics, which may help prevent and treat several conditions.</p>
3. May Strengthen Your Immune System<p>The <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacterium in kimchi may <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/foods-that-boost-the-immune-system" target="_blank">boost your immune health</a>.</p><p>In a study in mice, those injected with <em>Lactobacillus</em> <em>plantarum</em> — a specific strain that's common in kimchi and other fermented foods — had lower levels of TNF alpha, an inflammatory marker, than the control group.</p><p>Because TNF alpha levels are often elevated during infection and disease, a decrease indicates that the immune system is working efficiently.</p><p>A test-tube study that isolated <em>Lactobacillus plantarum</em> from kimchi likewise demonstrated that this bacterium has immune-enhancing effects.</p><p>Though these results are promising, human research is needed.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>A specific strain of <em>Lactobacillus</em> found in kimchi may boost your immune system, though further research is necessary.</p>
4. May Reduce Inflammation<p>Probiotics and active compounds in kimchi and other fermented foods may help fight inflammation.</p><p>For example, a mouse study revealed that HDMPPA, one of the principal compounds in kimchi, improved blood vessel health by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-anti-inflammatory-foods" target="_blank">suppressing inflammation</a>.</p><p>In another mouse study, a kimchi extract of 91 mg per pound of body weight (200 mg per kg) given daily for 2 weeks lowered levels of inflammation-related enzymes.</p><p>Meanwhile, a test-tube study confirmed that HDMPPA displays anti-inflammatory properties by blocking and suppressing the release of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-cause-inflammation" target="_blank">inflammatory compounds</a>.</p><p>However, human studies are lacking.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>HDMPPA, an active compound in kimchi, may play a large role in reducing inflammation.</p>
5. May Slow Aging<p>Chronic inflammation is not only associated with numerous illnesses, but it also accelerates the aging process.</p><p>Yet, kimchi possibly prolongs cell life by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-habits-linked-to-a-long-life" target="_blank">slowing this process</a>.</p><p>In a test-tube study, human cells treated with kimchi demonstrated an increase in viability, which measures overall cell health — and showed an extended lifespan regardless of their age.</p><p>Still, overall research is lacking. Many more studies are needed before kimchi can be recommended as an <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/anti-aging-foods" target="_blank">anti-aging treatment</a>.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>A test-tube study indicates that kimchi may slow the aging process, though more research is necessary.</p>
6. May Prevent Yeast Infections<p>Kimchi's probiotics and healthy bacteria may help <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-diet-tips-against-candida" target="_blank">prevent yeast infections</a>.</p><p>Vaginal yeast infections occur when the <em>Candida</em> fungus, which is normally harmless, multiplies rapidly inside the vagina. Over 1.4 million women in the United States are treated for this condition each year.</p><p>As this fungus may be developing resistance to antibiotics, many researchers are looking for natural treatments.</p><p>Test-tube and animal studies suggest that certain strains of <em>Lactobacillus</em> fight <em>Candida</em>. One test-tube study even found that multiple strains isolated from kimchi displayed antimicrobial activity against this fungus.</p><p>Regardless, further research is necessary.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p>Probiotic-rich foods like kimchi may help prevent yeast infections, though research is in the early stages.</p>
7. May Aid Weight Loss<p>Fresh and fermented kimchi are both low in calories and may boost <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/weight-loss" target="_blank">weight loss.</a><span></span></p><p>A 4-week study in 22 people with excess weight found that eating fresh or fermented kimchi helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-ways-to-burn-fat" target="_blank">body fat</a>. Additionally, the fermented variety decreased blood sugar levels.</p><p>Keep in mind that those who ate fermented kimchi displayed significantly greater improvements in blood pressure and body fat percentage than those who ate the fresh dish.</p><p>It's unclear which properties of kimchi are responsible for its weight loss effects — though its low calorie count, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/22-high-fiber-foods" target="_blank">high fiber content</a>, and probiotics could all play a role.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Though the specific mechanism isn't known, kimchi may help reduce body weight, body fat, and even blood pressure and blood sugar levels.</p>
8. May Support Heart Health<p>Research indicates that kimchi may reduce your risk of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/heart-disease" rel="noopener noreferrer">heart disease</a>.</p><p>This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as recent evidence suggests that inflammation may be an underlying cause of heart disease.</p><p>In an 8-week study in mice fed a high cholesterol diet, fat levels in the blood and liver were lower in those given kimchi extract than in the control group. In addition, the kimchi extract appeared to suppress fat growth.</p><p>This is important because the accumulation of fat in these areas may contribute to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/heart-healthy-foods" target="_blank">heart disease</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, a weeklong study in 100 people found that eating 0.5–7.5 ounces (15–210 grams) of kimchi daily significantly decreased blood sugar, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-foods-that-lower-cholesterol-levels" target="_blank">total cholesterol</a>, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — all of which are risk factors for heart disease.</p><p>All the same, more human research is needed.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Kimchi may lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, suppressing fat growth, and decreasing cholesterol levels.</p>
9. Easy to Make at Home<p>Though preparing fermented foods may seem like a daunting task, making kimchi at home is fairly simple if you adhere to the following steps:</p><ol><li>Gather ingredients of your choice, such as cabbage and other fresh vegetables like carrot, radish, and onion, plus ginger, garlic, sugar, salt, rice flour, chili oil, chili powder or pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot (fermented shrimp).</li><li>Cut and wash the fresh vegetables alongside the ginger and garlic.</li><li>Spread salt in between the layers of cabbage leaves and let it sit for 2–3 hours. Turn the cabbage every 30 minutes to evenly distribute the salt. Use a ratio of 1/2 cup (72 grams) of salt to every 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of cabbage.</li><li>To remove the excess salt, rinse the cabbage with water and drain in a colander or strainer.</li><li>Mix the rice flour, sugar, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-ginger" target="_blank">ginger</a>, garlic, chili oil, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot into a paste, adding water if necessary. You can use more or less of these ingredients depending on how strong you want your kimchi to taste.</li><li>Toss the fresh vegetables, including the cabbage, into the paste until all of the veggies have been fully coated.</li><li>Pack the mixture into a large container or jar for storage, making sure to seal it properly.</li><li>Let the kimchi ferment for at least 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks at 39 F (4 C).</li></ol><p>To make a version that's suitable for vegetarians and vegans, simply leave out the fish sauce and saeujeot.</p><p>If you prefer fresh over fermented kimchi, just stop after step 6.</p><p>If you choose fermentation, you'll know that it's ready to eat once it starts to smell and taste sour — or when small bubbles begin to move through the jar.</p><p>After fermentation, you can refrigerate your kimchi for up to 1 year. It will continue to ferment but at a slower rate due to the cool temperature.</p><p>Bubbling, bulging, a sour taste, and a softening of the cabbage are all perfectly normal for kimchi. However, if you notice a foul odor or any <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-moldy-food-dangerous" target="_blank">signs of mold</a>, such as a white film atop the food, your dish has spoiled and should be thrown out.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Kimchi can be made at home using a few simple steps. Typically, it needs to ferment 3–21 days depending on the surrounding temperature.</p>
Does kimchi have any downsides?<p>In general, the biggest safety concern with kimchi is food poisoning.</p><p>Recently, this dish has been linked to <em>E. coli</em> and norovirus outbreaks.</p><p>Even though fermented foods don't typically carry foodborne pathogens, kimchi's ingredients and the adaptability of pathogens means that it's still vulnerable to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-food-poisoning" target="_blank">foodborne illnesses</a>.</p><p>As such, people with compromised immune systems may want to practice caution with kimchi.</p><p>Although people with high blood pressure may have concerns about this dish's <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-sodium" target="_blank">high sodium content</a>, a study in 114 people with this condition showed no significant relationship between kimchi intake and high blood pressure.</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Kimchi has very few risks. Nonetheless, this dish has been tied to outbreaks of food poisoning, so people with compromised immune systems may want to use extra caution.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Kimchi is a sour Korean dish often made from cabbage and other vegetables. Because it's a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-fermented-foods" target="_blank">fermented food</a>, it boasts numerous probiotics.</p><p>These healthy microorganisms may give kimchi several health benefits. It may help regulate your immune system, promote <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible" target="_blank">weight loss</a>, fight inflammation, and even slow the aging process.</p><p>If you enjoy cooking, you can even make kimchi at home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><a href="https://www.healthline.com/" target="_blank"><em>Healthline</em></a><em>. For detailed source information, please view the original article on </em><em><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-kimchi#The-bottom-line" target="_blank">Healthline</a></em><em>.</em></p>
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What Are Probiotics Used For?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTk5NTExNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzI1ODQxM30.M8rshzfTS3v1gp4czSuHyukP_KV_UR26x6mLiTDKqgs/img.jpg?width=980" id="e3e9b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="32d2cf4aa95565121a6c4b3a8d44f21d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Kimchi is one fermented food that contains some of the live microorganisms in probiotics.
Pixabay<p>Probiotics can keep your gut healthy by preventing the growth of harmful organisms, reinforcing the gut barrier and restoring bacteria after disturbances from illness or medications like antibiotics (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>, <a href="https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm" target="_blank">2</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24912386" target="_blank">3</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424311/" target="_blank">4</a>).</p><p>While they may also support a healthy immune system and oral, skin and mental health, research on these benefits is currently limited (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>).</p><p>Some of the live microorganisms in probiotic supplements also occur in foods that are naturally cultured or <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-fermented-foods" target="_blank">fermented</a>, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods are linked to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27998788" target="_blank">5</a>).</p><p>If you don't regularly eat fermented foods, you may want to consider taking a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-probiotic-supplement" target="_blank">probiotic supplement</a> (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27998788" target="_blank">5</a>).</p><h4>Summary</h4><p><strong></strong>Probiotics are live microorganisms that boost your gut health. Fermented foods contain some strains of these microorganisms, but if you don't eat foods like yogurt, kefir or fermented vegetables, probiotic supplements may be beneficial.</p>
Does Timing Matter?<p>Some probiotic manufacturers recommend taking the supplement on an empty stomach, while others advise taking it with food.<br></p><p>Though it's difficult to measure bacteria viability in humans, some research suggests that <em>Saccharomyces boulardii</em> microorganisms survive in equal numbers with or without a meal (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689" target="_blank">6</a>).</p><p>On the other hand, <em><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lactobacillus-acidophilus" target="_blank">Lactobacillus</a></em> and <em>Bifidobacterium</em> survive best when taken up to 30 minutes before a meal (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689" target="_blank">6</a>).</p><p>However, consistency is probably more important than whether you take your probiotic with or without food.</p><p>A monthlong study found that probiotics caused positive changes in the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health" target="_blank">gut microbiome</a> regardless of whether they were taken with a meal (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5403748/" target="_blank">7</a>).</p>
Meal Composition May Help<p>The microorganisms used in probiotics are tested to ensure that they can survive various conditions in your stomach and intestines (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>).<br></p><p>Nevertheless, taking probiotics with specific foods may optimize their effects.</p><p>In one study, survival rates of the microorganisms in probiotics improved when the supplement was taken alongside oatmeal or low-fat milk, compared with when it was taken with only water or apple juice (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689" target="_blank">6</a>).</p><p>This research suggests that a small amount of fat may improve bacterial survival in your digestive tract (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689" target="_blank">6</a>).</p><p><em>Lactobacillus</em> probiotics might also survive better alongside sugar or carbs, as they rely upon glucose when in an acidic environment (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1151822/" target="_blank">8</a>).</p><h4>Summary</h4><p>Though research indicates that more bacteria survive if you take probiotics before a meal, consistency is probably more important than specific timing when it comes to reaping the greatest benefits for your gut.</p>
Different Types<p>You can take probiotics in various forms, including capsules, lozenges, beads, powders and drops. You can also find probiotics in <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods" target="_blank">several foods and drinks</a>, including some yogurts, fermented milks, chocolates and flavored beverages (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>).<br></p><p>Most probiotic microbes must endure digestive acids and enzymes before colonizing your large intestine (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24912386" target="_blank">3</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424311/" target="_blank">4</a>, <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/" target="_blank">9</a>).</p><p>Probiotics in capsules, tablets, beads and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-yogurt" target="_blank">yogurt</a> tend to survive your stomach acids better than powders, liquids or other foods or beverages, regardless of when they're taken (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909163/" target="_blank">10</a>).</p><p>Furthermore, <em>Lactobacillus</em>, <em>Bifidobacterium</em> and <em>Enterococci</em> are more resistant to stomach acid than other types of bacteria (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909163/" target="_blank">10</a>).</p><p>In fact, most strains of <em>Lactobacillus</em> come from the human intestinal tract, so they're inherently resistant to stomach acid (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1151822/" target="_blank">8</a>).</p>
Consider Quality<p>Research shows that 100 million to 1 billion probiotic microorganisms must reach your intestine for you to experience health benefits (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909163/" target="_blank">10</a>).<br></p><p>Given that probiotic cells can die throughout their shelf life, make sure you purchase a reputable product that guarantees at least 1 billion live cultures — often listed as colony-forming units (CFUs) — on its label (<a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/" target="_blank">9</a>).</p><p>To maintain quality, you should use your probiotic before the expiration date and store it according to the instructions on the label. Some can be kept at room temperature while others must be refrigerated.</p>
Choose the Right One for Your Health Condition<p>If you have a particular health condition, you may want to consider a specific strain of probiotic or consult a medical professional to find one that's best for you.<br></p><p>Experts agree that <em>Lactobacillus</em> and <em>Bifidobacterium</em> strains benefit most people (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24912386" target="_blank">3</a>).</p><p>In particular, <em>Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG </em>and <em>Saccharomyces boulardii </em>may reduce your risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea, while<em> E. coli </em>Nissle 1917 may help treat <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/ulcerative-colitis-take-control-probiotics" target="_blank">ulcerative colitis</a> (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424311/" target="_blank">4</a>, <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/" target="_blank">9</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917610/" target="_blank">11</a>).</p><p>Meanwhile, probiotics that contain <em>Lactobacillus</em>, <em>Bifidobacterium</em> and <em>Saccharomyces boulardii</em> seem to improve symptoms in some people with <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-foods-for-constipation" target="_blank">constipation</a>, irritable bowel syndrome and several types of diarrhea (<a href="https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm" target="_blank">2</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24912386" target="_blank">3</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424311/" target="_blank">4</a>).</p><h4>Summary</h4><p>For a probiotic to work, its live microorganisms must reach your large intestine and colonize it. Look for a supplement that guarantees at least 1 billion live cultures on the label and ask your healthcare provider whether a particular strain is best for you.</p>
Side Effects and Interactions<p>Probiotics usually don't cause major side effects in healthy individuals.<br></p><p>However, you may experience minor symptoms, such as gas and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-ways-to-reduce-bloating" target="_blank">bloating</a>. These often improve with time, but taking your probiotic at night may reduce daytime symptoms.</p><p>If you take a probiotic to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, you may wonder whether the antibiotic will kill the bacteria in your probiotic. However, strains designed to help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea won't be affected (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424311/" target="_blank">4</a>, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689" target="_blank">6</a>).</p><p>Keep in mind that it's safe to take probiotics and antibiotics at the same time (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25922406" target="_blank">1</a>).</p><p>If you take other medications or supplements, it's best to discuss potential interactions with your healthcare provider. That's because probiotics may increase their effectiveness (<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29782640" target="_blank">12</a>).</p><h4>Summary</h4><p>Probiotics may cause minor side effects, such as gas and bloating. Talk to a medical professional if you take other medications, as probiotics may amplify their effects.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Probiotics contain live microorganisms that can enhance your <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-improve-digestion" target="_blank">gut health</a>.<br></p><p>While research indicates that some strains may survive better if taken before a meal, the timing of your probiotic is less important than consistency.</p><p>Thus, you should take probiotics at the same time each day.</p>
Lucy Lambriex / DigitalVision / Getty Images
By Michelle Kretzer
Want to get healthier this year? Almost half of Americans resolve to. But you don't have to drastically slash your calorie intake or take up residence at the gym to improve your health. Since we power our bodies through our digestive system, a healthy gut equals a healthy everything else.
By Dr. Ruairi Robertson
Did you know that there are roughly 40 trillion bacteria living in and on you?
By Dr. Mary Jane Brown
More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease.
Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked to a wide range of health benefits.
This is an overview of the key health benefits linked to probiotics.
1. Probiotics Help Balance the Friendly Bacteria in Your Digestive System
These benefits are thought to result from the ability of probiotics to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria (4).
An imbalance means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. It can happen due to illness, medication such as antibiotics, poor diet and more.
Consequences can include digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity and more (5).
Probiotics are usually found in fermented foods or taken as supplements. What's more, they appear to be safe for most people.
Bottom Line: Probiotics are live microorganisms. When taken in sufficient amounts, they can help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria. As a result, health benefits may follow.
2. Probiotics Can Help Prevent and Treat Diarrhea
Probiotics are widely known for their ability to prevent diarrhea or reduce its severity.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of taking antibiotics. It occurs because antibiotics can negatively affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (6).
In one study, researchers found that taking probiotics reduced antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42 percent (10).
Probiotics can also help with other forms of diarrhea not associated with antibiotics.
A large review of 35 studies found certain strains of probiotics can reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea by an average of 25 hours (11).
Probiotics reduced the risk of travelers' diarrhea by 8 percent. They also lowered the risk of diarrhea from other causes by 57 percent in children and 26 percent in adults (12).
Effectiveness varies, depending on the type and dose of the probiotic taken (13).
Bottom Line: Probiotics can reduce the risk and severity of diarrhea from a number of different causes.
3. Probiotic Supplements Improve Some Mental Health Conditions
Both animal and human studies find that probiotic supplements can improve some mental health disorders (15).
A review of 15 human studies found supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains for 1–2 months can improve anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and memory (15).
One study followed 70 chemical workers for six weeks. Those who consumed 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or took a daily probiotic capsule experienced benefits for general health, depression, anxiety and stress (16).
Benefits were also seen in a study of 40 patients with depression.
Taking probiotic supplements for eight weeks decreased depression levels and reduced levels of hormones such as insulin and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), compared to people who did not take a probiotic (17).
Bottom Line: Research shows taking probiotics may help improve symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress and memory, among others.
4. Certain Probiotic Strains Can Help Keep Your Heart Healthy
Probiotics may help keep your heart healthy by lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol and blood pressure.
Certain lactic acid-producing bacteria may reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile in the gut (18).
Bile, a naturally occurring fluid mostly made of cholesterol, helps digestion.
By breaking down bile, probiotics can prevent it from being reabsorbed in the gut, where it can enter the blood as cholesterol (19).
A review of five studies found that eating a probiotic yogurt for 2–8 weeks reduced total cholesterol by 4 percent and LDL cholesterol by 5 percent (20).
Another study conducted over 6 months found no changes to total or LDL cholesterol. However, they did find a small increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol (21).
Consuming probiotics may also lower blood pressure. A review of 9 studies found that probiotic supplements reduce blood pressure, but only modestly (22).
In order to experience any benefits related to blood pressure, supplementation had to exceed eight weeks and 10 million colony-forming units (CFUs) daily (22).
Bottom Line: Probiotics may help protect the heart by reducing "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and modestly lowering blood pressure.
5. Probiotics May Reduce the Severity of Certain Allergies and Eczema
Certain probiotic strains may reduce the severity of eczema in children and infants.
One study found eczema symptoms improved for infants fed probiotic-supplemented milk, compared to infants fed milk without probiotics (23).
Some probiotics may also reduce inflammatory responses in people with milk or dairy allergies. However, the evidence is weak and further studies are needed (27).
Bottom Line: Probiotics may reduce the risk and severity of certain allergies, such as eczema in infants. However, more research is needed.
6. Probiotics Can Help Reduce Symptoms of Certain Digestive Disorders
Over one million people in the U.S. suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease (28).
Certain types of probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains have improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis (29).
Surprisingly, one study found that supplementing with the probiotic E. coli Nissle was just as effective as drugs in maintaining remission in people with ulcerative colitis (30).
However, probiotics appear to have little effect on symptoms of Crohn's disease (31).
Nevertheless, probiotics may have benefits for other bowel disorders. Early research suggests they may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (32).
Bottom Line: Probiotics may help reduce the symptoms of bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis, IBS and necrotizing enterocolitis.
7. Probiotics May Help Boost Your Immune System
Probiotics may help give your immune system a boost and inhibit the growth of harmful gut bacteria (34).
6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System https://t.co/endyEnIZug @goodhealth @nytimeshealth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1456964112.0
Also, some probiotics have been shown to promote the production of natural antibodies in the body. They may also boost immune cells like the IgA-producing cells, T lymphocytes and natural killer cells (35, 36).
A large review found that taking probiotics reduced the likelihood and duration of respiratory infections. However, the quality of the evidence was low (37).
Another study including more than 570 children found that taking Lactobacillus GG reduced the frequency and severity of respiratory infections by 17 percent (38).
The probiotic Lactobacillus crispatus has also been shown to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women by 50 percent (39).
Bottom Line: Probiotics may help boost your immune system and protect against infections.
8. Probiotics May Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat
For example, some probiotics prevent the re-absorption of dietary fat in the intestine.
They may also help with weight loss directly. In one study, dieting women who took lactobacillus rhamnosus for three months lost 50 percent more weight than women who didn't take a probiotic (45).
However, it's important to be aware that not all probiotics aid in weight loss.
Surprisingly, some studies found certain probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can even lead to weight gain (47).
More studies are needed to clarify the link between probiotics and weight (48).
Bottom Line: Certain probiotics may help you lose weight and belly fat. However, other strains have been linked to weight gain.
The Best Way to Get the Benefits of Probiotics
You can get probiotics from a variety of foods or supplements.
Live probiotic cultures are often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurts and milk drinks. Fermented foods like pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and soy products may also contain some lactic acid bacteria.
You can also take probiotics as tablets, capsules and powders that contain the bacteria in dried form.
However, be aware that some probiotics can be destroyed by stomach acid before they even reach the gut—meaning that you get none of the intended benefits.
If you want to experience any of the health benefits discussed above, it's important that you consume adequate amounts.
Most of the studies showing benefits used dosages of 1 billion to 100 billion live organisms or colony-forming units (CFU) per day.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
By Katie Medlock
The importance of good gut health has been receiving more attention lately and for good reasons. By colonizing our guts with "good" bacteria, we can help improve our digestion, enhance our immune system, reduce our risk for contracting disease and even lose weight. An especially important way of achieving these health benefits is including probiotic-rich foods into our diet.
Perhaps the number one food associated with probiotics is yogurt, but vegans choose to reject dairy from their diets for health, environmental and ethical reasons. Plant-based eaters do not have to fear, however, because there are many foods which naturally contain health-boosting microorganisms.
Here are just a few delicious sources of vegan probiotics:
Anyone who has dined at a Japanese restaurant may be familiar with miso soup, a broth containing the fermented soy bean paste that is full of health bacteria for our gut microbiomes. The process of fermentation lends the paste its probiotic qualities and can be enjoyed in many different ways beyond miso soup, including dips and sauces. Those who avoid soy can also reap the benefits through miso made from brown rice, barley or chickpeas.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Tempeh is a probiotic-rich food that can be enjoyed as a main dish. The Indonesian-based patty is made from fermented, whole soy beans and has a distinct nutty flavor. Some preferred ways of preparing tempeh are in smokey strips (for any bacon lovers out there), as tempeh reuben sandwiches, stir-frys or in a breakfast scramble with tons of veggies. Companies have even started creating a hemp-based tempeh and chickpea-based tempeh can be made at home by adventurous chefs.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
This classic Eastern European ingredient is packed with probiotics and can be easily made at home through a lactic acid fermentation process. If you prefer store-bought, look for a raw version, as pasteurization can kill off healthy bacteria. Combine sauerkraut with seasoned tempeh and sourdough bread for a probiotic powerhouse meal!
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is a spicy Korean dish featuring fermented cabbage. The addition of onions, garlic and spicy hot pepper create a fiery combo that is good for stuffed-up sinuses, as well as gut health. Be sure to look out for fish ingredients in store-bought kimchi, or give it a whirl whipping it up in your own kitchen.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
This fermented tea beverage has become a super-healthy trend lately, leading to it popping up in supermarkets in cities big and small. Kombucha has been brewed for hundreds of years, but now its popularity has sprung a variety of creative flavor combinations to entice both kids and adults. Brewing kombucha at home is a cinch with the right equipment, including a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), tea and sugar. This health-promoting beverage is a great alternative to juice or your morning tea.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Vegan Yogurts and Kefir
Yogurt can be both dairy-free and packed with probiotic properties, and the variety of vegan yogurts at grocery stores has exploded over the years. Many coconut-based, soy-based, hemp-based and almond-based yogurts contain the same healthy bacteria as their cow's milk counterparts, and you can even make your own plant-based yogurt at home! Kefir, typically made from fermented animal milk, has also been veganized and can be whipped up at home.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
You might be surprised to learn that olives, fermented and then cured with brine, have a serious probiotic potential. The curing process allows these healthy cultures to multiply, making these salty bites a gut-healthy garnish for your salads, pizzas and pastas.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
An easy swap to boost your meal's probiotic punch is opting for sourdough bread instead of regular old wheat. This hearty bread is made with a fermentation process, using sourdough starter, and takes longer than other varieties to bake. The tart taste adds zing to any sandwich or morning avocado toast.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Another sandwich topper or salty side dish containing health-promoting bacteria is sour pickles. Made using lacto-fermentation, good bacteria are allowed to flourish in these crunchy cucumber morsels. Like olives, keep an eye on salt intake and, like most other foods on this list, you can make your own pickles easily at home.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
"Dr. Hyman, can you tell me more about probiotics? Can supplementing with them really help reduce belly bloat and IBS symptoms? How do you know which ones are good and which ones are a waste of money?"
Well—to be frank, our poop and all the bugs that live in there are the great new frontier in medicine. Who knew!? The health of the 100 trillion bugs in your gut (which outnumber you 10 to 1) is one of the biggest things that impacts your health. Is it as simple as just taking a few probiotics or eating some yogurt? Not really—we have to learn how to tend the gut flora of our inner gardens by being selective of what we eat and how we live; feeding the good bugs and avoiding gut—busting drugs and habits—like eating too much sugar and starch, or consuming too much alcohol, or not managing our stress (yes, your gut bacteria are eavesdropping on your thoughts).
But What About Probiotics?
This is a huge area of research and really, we are at the infancy of understanding how to create and use probiotics. Probiotics are popping up everywhere! They're in yogurt commercials and sold at your pharmacy and grocery store. Ever since gut health has come to the forefront, probiotics have become a popular topic. So, do they really help?
Well, in order to understand probiotics, we need to understand the gut. I see so many patients in my office every week who are suffering from uncomfortable and disabling symptoms like bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. Often these are signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which has become a very real problem. Did you know that 60 million people (20 percent of Americans) have an irritable bowel? And even if you don't have gut symptoms, so many other diseases are affected by the health of your gut flora—including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergic diseases like asthma and eczema and even depression, ADD and autism!
What causes an irritable bowel? The biggest causes are bad bugs growing in there where they shouldn't, a leaky gut and food sensitivities—all of which drive inflammation and irritation.
Bad bugs grow when we eat a processed diet that's high in sugar and starch; don't eat enough of the right fiber and prebiotics; or take too many gut-busting drugs (like antibiotics, acid blockers for reflux, anti-inflammatories, hormones and more). Think of your gut as an inner garden; just with any garden—when you let the weeds take over, you get into trouble.
Leaky gut happens when your gut lining breaks down. This can be caused by any of number of things, including: stress; too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin or Advil); using steroids to treat symptoms; intestinal infections; consuming a low-fiber, high-sugar diet and too much alcohol; and more. When the gut lining breaks down, your immune system is exposed to foreign particles from food and bacteria and other microbes. This triggers and activates an immune response, irritating your gut and creating havoc, which leads to an irritable bowel, an irritable brain and other system-wide problems (including allergies, arthritis, autoimmunity, mood disorders).
Basically, the microbial ecosystem in the gut has to be healthy for you to be healthy. When your gut bacteria are out of balance, it makes you sick. Among all that gut bacteria, there are good guys, bad guys and very bad guys. When you have too many bad guys, and not enough good guys, this is a problem. That's where probiotics come in.
Along with other gut-healing nutrients, a low-glycemic, whole foods diet filled with healthy proteins, fats and fiber, and probiotics can improve the health of your gut significantly. Why? Because probiotics help to populate your gut with good bacteria.
There are lots on the market to choose from. I recommend taking very high-potency probiotics (look for at least 25 to 50 billion live CFU's from a variety of strains). Start slowly and observe how the probiotics affect your gut. When you first start taking probiotics, you might notice some uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating, but if the symptoms persist for more than a few days, you may need to delay probiotics until their gut is more intact. For example, if you're dealing with what's called Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), you might not be able to tolerate probiotics until your gut is in a better place.
I don't normally recommend actual products but quality varies greatly, so here is a list of my favorite brands. One product I like is VSL#3—a super high potency probiotic. Each dose contains 450 billion live beneficial bacteria which colonize the GI tract with optimal amounts and types of bacteria to protect against inflammation and support immunity and healthy digestive function. You will need to start slowly on this and build up.
I typically prefer pills or powder form because it's the easiest and most effective way to get your daily probiotics in. In cases where someone is dealing with yeast overgrowth or a histamine intolerance and wants to avoid fermented foods, a probiotic supplement might be the best choice.
Another way to get probiotics naturally is to eat fermented foods. If you can tolerate them, probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso or sauerkraut can be very beneficial. Sometimes, you can also eat whole fat, organic or grass-fed yogurt, if you are not allergic to dairy. Try unsweetened sheep's milk or goat's milk yogurt. These foods can help your gut flora get and stay healthy.
The best way to determine if probiotics work for you and which ones to choose is to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner. Everyone is different, and for some people, deeper gut healing might be required before you start taking probiotics. To tend your inner garden, you might need to do some weeding, seeding and feeding—a process that Functional Medicine doctors follow: first you weed to get rid of the bad bugs using herbs or medications; then you seed the gut lining with good bugs; and then you feed the good bugs with prebiotic foods and fibers to keep everything healthy.
How to Re-Balance Your Gut Flora Today
Probiotics can be very beneficial, but they are just part of the puzzle. Here are my steps to re-balancing your gut flora:
1. Eat a whole foods diet. Your diet should be rich in nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans (if you can tolerate them), fruits and vegetables, all of which feed good bugs. Some of you may not tolerate beans and grains if you have bad bacterial overgrowth. For those, I suggest starting with the 10-Day Detox Diet which eliminates gluten and dairy—big triggers for irritable bowel. this plan helps to eliminate the bad stuff and add the good stuff and it works fast.
2. Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers and anti-inflammatories ... they change gut flora for the worse. Often, you can get off them if you follow my dietary suggestions and fix your gut. A patient recently said that when she eliminated gluten and dairy, all her reflux and irritable bowel symptoms just went away.
3. Take probiotics daily, which are not only beneficial for obvious gut dysfunction but also have been shown to help with depression, skin issues, autoimmune conditions and more.
4. Incorporate prebiotics. Prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber that help feed the good bugs in your gut. Prebiotics include foods like onions, garlic, resistant starch, sweet potatoes, dandelion greens and jicama. So eat plenty of these beneficial prebiotics.
5. Consider specialized testing such as organic acid, stool, gluten sensitivity and food allergy testing if the above strategies don't help you get to the bottom of your gut dysfunction. You might have to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to effectively test and treat imbalances in your gut.
By Stacy T. Sims
To put it simply: Bacteria follow the food you eat. The easiest way to manipulate your gut flora is by enriching your diet with a variety of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the actual bacteria that live in your gut. Prebiotics are the substances that the bacteria eat. Food sources are the best way to get both of these, since the diversity of the bacteria in supplements is not as smart as nature; your second choice could be a high-quality, specific-flora supplement.
Fermented foods are not only tasty, they're excellent for gut health.
Once you've established a healthy colony, you have to care for it. Just as you wouldn't plant a garden and not feed or water it, you can't just pour some kefir on top of a bad diet and expect those beneficial microorganisms to grow and flourish. You need to feed them. Fiber from a balanced diet is one way to nourish your gut microbiome.
Every day scientists are discovering more benefits of having teeming, diverse gut colonies. Some probiotic health and performance benefits we know for certain include:
1. Improved Energy
Probiotics and a healthy gut flora facilitate good and healthy digestion, allowing you to optimally absorb all the vitamins and minerals you need to perform and recover.
2. Increased Immunity
Research shows that probiotics is one of the most surprising ways to improve immunity and can help fight bad bacteria and fend off and reduce the duration of upper respiratory infections (such as the common cold) and gastrointestinal woes such as diarrhea. One particularly interesting study found that highly trained distance runners (who are prone to falling ill from overtaxed immune systems) had less than half the number of sick days when they pumped up their diet with probiotics.
3. Heat Tolerance
Though more research is needed, it appears that having a healthy level of probiotics also improves exercise performance in the heat. In one study, runners were tasked to run to exhaustion in a series of tests pre- and postprobiotic supplementation (specifically 45 billion CFU of lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and streptococcus strains). After supplementation, the runners improved their performance by a whopping 14 percent in hot conditions. It is likely that the gut lining is protected from damage, which allows digestion and the cooling system to function optimally.
4. Lower Inflammation
Research shows that probiotics can lower levels of inflammation in the body. This helps prevent numerous diseases and illnesses, including chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as inflammation-based conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Improved Well-Being
Probiotics have been linked to general health benefits of all kinds, including lower cholesterol; lower blood pressure; healthier blood sugar, body weight and body composition; and even better oral health. Healthy probiotic levels may also improve mood and some research finds that they may even help treat depression.
Adapted from Roar.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Rodale Wellness.
You probably didn’t even know what probiotics were a year ago. All of a sudden, you can find “good bacteria” in everything from toothpaste to chocolate. Probiotics have their place, but adding them to foods that lack natural beneficial bacteria may not make the foods any healthier or even worth consuming. When it comes to probiotics, there are certain guidelines that will help you separate hype from help. Here’s what Dr. Patricia Hibberd, a professor of pediatrics and chief of global health at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston advised in a recent Huffington Post article.
Dairy products, including kefir, usually have the most probiotics. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
1. Unlike Drugs, Probiotics Are Not Regulated
While probiotic supplements are generally considered safe, they don’t require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval or pass the same rigorous safety and effectiveness tests as drugs. When buying probiotics, be wary of vague claims, like “promotes digestive health.” Know, too, that there are no standardized levels of microbes or minimum levels required in foods or supplements.
2. Know Your Probiotic-Rich Foods
Dairy products usually have the most probiotics. Look for products containing “live and active cultures.” These include kefir, fermented milk drinks and aged cheeses such as cheddar, Gouda or Parmesan. You can also get probiotics from pickles packed in brine, sauerkraut, tempeh (a soy-based meat substitute) and kimchi (a spicy Korean condiment). Mild side effects may include gas and bloating, at least for the first few days.
3. Read Labels & Expiration Dates
Follow instructions on the package for proper dosage, frequency, storage and expiration dates—live organisms can have a limited shelf life. Some supplements must be refrigerated, or at least kept at room temperature in a cool, dark place.
4. Probiotics Are Not Safe for Everyone
If you have a weakened immune system, are undergoing an organ transplant, or had much of your gastrointestinal tract removed, you should avoid probiotics in foods or supplements. The same holds true if you’re being hospitalized and have central IV lines. If you have abnormal heart valves or need heart valve surgery, probiotics can pose the risk of infection. To help prevent or treat a specific health concern with probiotics, first consult your doctor.