Over the last couple of decades, society seems to have developed a moderate phobia of germs. Hand soaps are marketed as being able to kill 99.9% of bacteria; airports have antibacterial gels available for you to use and all foods are sold at least with a best before date. With hospital superbugs on the rise, it is hardly surprising that we are being educated about the importance of hand hygiene. Plus, with the popularity of litigation against food suppliers after food poisoning, it is no wonder that people are far more concerned about food hygiene.
However, not all bacteria is bad for you. As humans, our bodies are teeming with bacteria, both good and bad, which enable us to function. There is a risk that we can be so paranoid about reducing the bad bacteria that we also flush out the good, losing all the benefits they bring. This is a huge concern with the recent rise of antibiotic resistance, which is accelerating at a rate science may one day not be able to keep up with.
Therefore, it is important that we educate ourselves about the role of bacteria in our lives, and how the good varieties can benefit us, protecting us from bad bacteria. So, we are going to discuss how probiotics are good for you, and the many ways that you can benefit from them.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria and yeasts. They are thought to be good bacteria, which help you to stay healthy, as opposed to bad bacteria which cause illness. It is thought that they replace and balance out the good bacteria in your gut against the bad, reducing symptoms of many different ailments, particularly those which are related to your digestion.
Keeping Your Body In Balance
A healthy body is a balanced body. Your body continually strives for something called homeostasis, which is the process by which your body’s systems adapt to maintain the optimal conditions for survival. It includes your temperature, heart rate and glucose levels. The same is true of the bacteria that are in your gut. It is thought that probiotics work by this principle.
Occasionally, the numbers of good bacteria can deplete. This may be due to a particularly tough bad bacteria flourishing and causing an infection, or a course of antibiotics killing the good bacteria as a side effect, among other causes. This can leave you more susceptible to recurrent infections from the same bad bacteria, or from other bad bacteria that are suddenly able to thrive. This is where probiotics come in.
If you are taking probiotics before the initial infection or during the course of antibiotics, you are providing a regular supply of the good bacteria and therefore you are potentially reducing the rate at which the numbers of good bacteria drop. This may therefore reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms you experience. If you begin taking probiotics after you have had an infection or course of antibiotics, you can replenish the good bacteria that you have lost. This can, therefore, reduce the risk of subsequent infections.
Benefits Of Probiotics
There are hundreds of different probiotics you can try. Most of them are designed to benefit the gut, but many are also designed specifically for men or women. For example, some may promote vaginal or prostate health as well as digestive health. Due to the nature of probiotics each containing different strains, each will benefit you in a slightly different way, but here are some of the benefits you can get from taking probiotics:
Reduce, Prevent And Treat Diarrhoea
There are many studies that have found probiotics to be useful in both preventing, reducing and treating different types of diarrhea. A review in 2010 found that when used alongside rehydration therapy, probiotics could shorten the duration and reduce the frequency of episodes of acute infectious diarrhea. This was found to be the case in both underdeveloped and developed countries, and the studies reviewed found no additional adverse effects of being treated with probiotics. This was a great step forward in the used of probiotics for treating diarrhea, which is often treated with antibiotics, especially with the extreme concerns about the development of antibiotic resistance at the moment.
The ability of probiotics to also prevent diarrhea is also extremely beneficial in the prevention of drug-induced diarrhea. Specifically, studies have found it to be very effective in reducing antibiotic-associated diarrhea, which can therefore also aid the recovery process by reducing dehydration. Probiotics have also been found to reduce the risk of travelers’ diarrhea by 8%. Interestingly, this last review found there was not a significant variation in the protective effect given by different strains of probiotics, either used alone or in combination.
Ease Symptoms Of Digestive Conditions
Given that there is so much success in reducing and treating acute diarrhea, it is perhaps unsurprising that probiotics may be used to reduce symptoms of bowel disease. Research has found that the use of probiotics can reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which affects over 1 million people in the US. Certain types of probiotics have been found to be successful in reducing symptoms of mild ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A study also found that the use of probiotics in premature babies reduced the risk of a fatal condition called necrotizing enterocolitis by as much as 50%!
Help You To Lose Weight
There are a few different ways that probiotics are able to help you to lose weight, particularly, according to one study, if you are a woman! They can help to suppress your appetite by helping you to feel full for longer. They are also associated with some hormones which can help you to burn more calories when you exercise and cut down on the fat that you store. They can also reduce the absorption of fat from your diet. This may sound too good to be true, but multiple studies have found correlations between the use of probiotics and weight loss.
Of course, the weight loss is not purely down to taking probiotics. You will also need to maintain a balanced diet and exercise regularly, but taking probiotics can give you an edge which enhances the results you see.
Boosting Your Overall Health
Probiotics are generally taken by ingesting them (they are present in many foods, but the most efficient way to ingest them is by taking a probiotic supplement). They, therefore, have the greatest effect on the digestive system. What you may not know though, is that because your digestive health is linked very closely with many other systems in your body, improving your gut health can mean that you also improve your health in many other aspects of your body. Here are some examples of how else you can improve your health through probiotics:
- Heart health – probiotics are thought to be able to actually eat cholesterol, as well as produce acids which inhibit the production of cholesterol. Reduced cholesterol in turn also reduces your risk of heart diseases such as heart attack, blood clots, and stroke.
- Reproductive health – some probiotics are formulated to enhance reproductive health, for example, to balance out the healthy bacteria in the vagina, which prevents the occurrence of vaginal thrush. Some are also thought to reduce infectious complications in pregnancy.
- Skin health – some probiotics can cause a reduction in the occurrence and severity of eczema symptoms. Studies have found that babies of women who take probiotics while they are pregnant are less likely to develop eczema in their first few years of life.
- Urinary health – urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common, particularly in women. UTIs are also extremely likely to recur. Studies have found that giving certain probiotics after treatment for cystitis can significantly reduce the recurrence of UTIs.
- Mental health – probiotics are not thought to be a reliable treatment for mental health issues. However, when used alongside appropriate treatments, they may reduce symptoms of other conditions which may have induced or exacerbated poorer mental health.
So now you know that overall, probiotics are thought to be good for you, and you can see how many different ways they have benefit you. If you are new to taking probiotics, give your body a chance to get used to them. Everyone’s gut is different, so you may not find the one that works for you straight away. If you are keen to try them, have a look at our discussions of the top probiotics on the market right now. You can see what we thought of the best probiotics for women and the best probiotics for men.