Guide to Probiotic Supplements & Foods for Digestive & Gut Health

Updated on February 9, 2023

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve come across the word ‘probiotics’ at least a few times. And you’ve most likely heard that you must eat all those weird-looking fermented foods to make your stomach feel good.

While they do help with digestion, there’s so much more to know about probiotics and a great place to start is

These live microorganisms naturally exist in our bodies. And they contribute to our health in a generous number of ways. Probiotics fight harmful bacteria and yeast, provide support for the immune system, and may even help reduce inflammation. Let’s learn more about these quiet little helpers.

How Safe Are Probiotics?

At first glance, the term ‘probiotics’ may feel spooky to some people. After all, we’ve all grown used to hearing ‘antibiotics’ all the time – mostly in negative contexts. But there’s no need to worry. Coming from both Latin and Greek, the word ‘probiotics’ literally translates as ‘for life.’

As such, probiotics are the live microorganisms – bacteria and yeast – that have been shown to improve digestion and overall health. Probiotics achieve this by balancing out the harmful bacteria and yeast in the gut. And by making the immune system more capable of handling various pathogens.

Thanks to their healing properties, probiotics are anything but dangerous. Probiotics are the microorganisms that already live inside our bodies and work to strengthen our health. And one would be hard pressed to consume enough probiotics to experience any possible adverse effects.

In most cases, the adverse effects linked to probiotics are caused by probiotic supplements. For instance, low-quality probiotic supplements may have contaminants or antibiotic resistance genes. But such things are hard to imagine in high-quality supplements and natural fermented foods and drinks.

Rest assured; probiotics are a safe bet for most people.

Are Probiotics the Same as Prebiotics?

The terms ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’ can be all too easy to confuse. Some people even use them interchangeably and believe that ‘prebiotics’ is just another way to refer to ‘probiotics.’ But what’s the difference between them?

In a nutshell, probiotics are the live microorganisms that exist inside the digestive tract. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are the ingredients in food that probiotics depend on for sustenance. Understanding their relationship is key to making full use of probiotics in your diet.

Without prebiotics from dietary fiber, probiotics simply can’t make it. The harmful bacteria and yeast in the gut would take over and tip the scale in their favor. It is for this reason that every well-thought-out diet allows for plenty of both probiotics and prebiotics.

With this in mind, let’s see what diets rich in probiotics have to offer.

Key Benefits of Probiotics

The gastrointestinal tract houses an enormous proportion of the immune system – up to 80% of the immune cells. No wonder why poor gut health leaves the body vulnerable to respiratory infections and other kinds of pathogens.

By ensuring a healthy balance of gut flora, probiotics make the immune system stronger and the immune function more efficient. As a result, probiotics are instrumental in promoting health and fending off diseases of various kind.

In particular, probiotics allow to prevent and alleviate the following types of health problems:

  • Autoimmune conditions Imbalanced gut flora often acts as a precursor to inflammation. And inflammation goes hand in glove with autoimmune conditions, increasing the severity of eczema and rheumatoid arthritis alike.
  • Gastrointestinal issues When harmful microorganisms dominate the gut, the body can’t digest food efficiently. This makes things like upset stomach virtually impossible to avoid. Slowly but surely, though, routine indigestion leads to major issues like gastritis and ulcers.
  • Neurocognitive disorders Just like the brain, the gut makes many neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. And some studies suggest that probiotics help lower anxiety, manage stress, and improve cognition.
  • Weight challenges By supporting the production of hormones that regulate appetite, probiotics can make for one-of-a-kind ally in fat loss.
  • Cardiovascular diseases As some research points out, probiotics may help keep the levels of total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol under control.
  • Dental problems The gut isn’t the only place where the balance between the good and the bad bacteria is important. It must be present in the mouth too. Otherwise, gum disease and tooth decay become inevitable.

The geography of these conditions points us to a crucial fact: probiotics benefit the entire body. Let’s discover how to get enough of them.

Best Ways to Get Enough Probiotics

By and large, fermented foods and drinks are the best and most natural source of probiotics. Such products go through fermenting – the process that helps preserve foods and drinks and makes them more nourishing.

Luckily, many cuisines around the world abound with fermented foods and drinks.

Some of the most popular probiotic foods and drinks are:

  • Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi.
  • Kvass, kombucha.
  • Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, some types of cheese.
  • Miso, tempeh, natto.

In addition to being healthful, some of these foods and drinks are plain delicious. Probiotic supplements make for another way to add probiotics to your nutrition. Most of these supplements deliver such probiotics as:

  • Bifidobacteria, including B. lactis, B. breve, B. longum, and B. animalis.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii.
  • Lactobacilli, involving L. reuteri and L. acidophilus.

Though supplements may seem like an easy way to consume probiotics, they’re no substitute for natural probiotic foods and drinks. Furthermore, probiotic supplements must be chosen carefully and dosed with precision. Take them only under the guidance of a qualified health care professional and, once you do find a brand you like the look of, make sure to see reviews here to see what other people’s experience of using the products have been.

Even the best combination of probiotic sources isn’t guaranteed to work, though.

How Effective Are Probiotics?

Sadly, the potency of probiotics is too simple to undermine.

For one thing, many modern foods are peppered with antibiotics – a certain killer of all beneficial gut flora. Artificial sweeteners, added sugars, and fried or processed foods murder probiotics just as viciously. Fortunately, all you have to do is avoid these harmful food choices and probiotics will be sure to work.

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