Based on the most recent data, probiotics rank as one of the most popular supplements in the United States, according to the National Health Interview Survey. Yet, sadly, Western medicine continues to downplay its significant health value. Why?
Could the growing popularity of probiotics and the improved health of millions of people pose a threat to Big Pharma profits? Or, is it just a pervasive lack of nutritional knowledge within the medical community? That debate is for another day. Today, we’ll focus on the benefits. (keep reading to learn more)
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a shocking 70 million Americans now suffer from digestive disease, at a price tag of over $100 billion per year. Yet, the billions of beneficial bacteria that already live in the human digestive tract may hold the key to easing this epidemic naturally – while providing a wealth of other health benefits too.
Warning: Why you need probiotics – especially living in the modern world
Probiotics – beneficial bacteria that live in communities in the digestive system – exist in two primary forms: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. (of course, there are many other varieties) Before the advent of widespread refrigeration and food processing, people were able to obtain plenty of immune system-enhancing probiotics – and maintain healthy gut flora – by eating pickled, cured and fermented foods.
Now, modern methods of refrigeration – as well as the rampant overuse of antibioticsand antibacterial products – have caused many people to experience imbalances between desirable and undesirable bacteria in the digestive tract – leading to a host of health problems.
Of course, the Standard American Diet – laden as it is with unhealthy fats, refined sugar, sodium and chemicals – is completely incompatible with maintaining a healthy bacterial population. (The acronym SAD is truly apt!)
Having an optimal balance of intestinal bacteria can provide a wealth of health benefits – some of which are highlighted below.
Probiotics can …
Improve immune system health
With 80 percent of the immune system located in the gut, the impact of healthy bacterial balance can’t be overstated. Probiotics, which stimulate secretion of IgA and regulatory T-cells, have been shown to have a strong effect on immune system modulation – and may help ward off autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and allergies.
Provide enhanced absorption of essential nutrients, including vitamin B-12, fatty acids and minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Help to manage and prevent eczema in children
According to published studies, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is well recognized for its beneficial effect on eczema, particularly in young children.
Improve oral health
Probiotics can promote and enhance gum health, helping to ward off gingivitis and periodontal disease. In one study, regular consumption of probiotics reduced inflammation and bleeding associated with gum disease.
Reduce incidence of depression
With gut bacteria producing 95 percent of the body’s stores of serotonin, a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter, it’s not surprising that probiotics appear to have mood-elevating effects. In one study, people taking the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had lower rates of depression than the control group.
Ease constipation and diarrhea, while preventing ulcers
Research has shown that people in less affluent countries have lower rates of Crohn’s disease, colitis, and other digestive disorders. Scientists believe that exposure to different types of gut bacteria actually strengthens the immune system –80 percent of which is located in the digestive tract. In addition to alleviating IBS symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea, probiotics combat the ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria.
Reduce anxiety and stress
Animal studies have shown that probiotics can reduce stress-related anxiety and fear.
Enhance intestinal barrier
Probiotics support the function of the intestinal lining, strengthening its ability to prevent the entry of dangerous pathogens and toxins into the bloodstream.
Reduce risk of cancer
By limiting DNA damage that triggers malignant cell development, probiotics may help ward off cancer. Research shows that probiotics supplements are associated with lower rates of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Probiotics also stimulate the immune system’s cancer-fighting defense system by promoting the function of detoxification enzymes and antioxidants.
Help postmenopausal women increase calcium absorption while promoting bone mineral density
In a review published in The Scientific World Journal, the authors noted that both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria had positive effects on bone mineralization and bone density in postmenopausal women, helping to prevent and treat osteoporosis.
By helping to produce life-sustaining B-vitamins, vitamin K-2 and various enzymes, probiotics can help generate and sustain energy.
Promote weight loss
Extensive research has shown that probiotics combat obesity, causing marked reductions in body weight and body mass index.
Reduce the incidence of colds and influenza
By boosting the immune system, probiotics can make you less susceptible to viruses, including those that cause the common cold and the flu. Specifically, beneficial bacteria have been found to increase phagocytosis, the ability of white blood cells to engulf and kill viruses.
In one study, a strain of probiotics called Lactobacillus reuteri significantly lowered levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.
Reduce risk of diabetes
Probiotics can lessen insulin resistance and reduce blood sugar levels, thereby lowering risk of diabetes. In a study published in Nutrition, patients with type 2 diabetes who supplemented their diets with probiotic yogurt for six weeks experienced significant improvements in blood sugar control.
Restore healthy gut flora with probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are found in live cultured yogurt from grass-fed goats or cows, as well as in in unpasteurized cheeses and buttermilk. You can also obtain probiotics from kombucha tea, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, kimchi, whole grains and bananas. Of course, choosing organic, antibiotic-free foods is a must.
You can also obtain probiotics from supplementation. Probiotics are measured in Colony Forming Units, and most natural health experts advise a formulation containing between 15 billion to 100 billion CFU’s, and at least 10 to 30 different strains.
And, you can support probiotic growth by ramping up your levels of prebiotics – basically, carbohydrates that probiotics feed on. Consuming healthy amounts of fermented dairy products, onions, garlic, bananas and honey can help you provide favorable conditions for probiotic bacteria – which, in turn, translates to health benefits for you.
Editor’s note: Take a moment to discover WHY you need a 100-billion-strong probioticmore than ever before.*
Sources for this article include: