Here at Binto, we looove probiotics! These little wonders are packed with the flora you need to support a range of healthy body functions. Today we’re explaining everything you need to know about what probiotics are and how they work.
First a quick refresher: what are probiotics?
Probiotics are friendly microorganisms that your body needs to maintain a healthy gut. I cannot overemphasize how important gut health is for your overall well-being. Studies have linked gut health to the health of your immune system, oral and skin health, as well as mental health and other bodily functions. Did you know that 90% of the serotonin produced in our bodies is made in our gut, not our brain?
We get probiotics from a variety of foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, pickles, or other fermented foods. You can also take a daily probiotic supplement. Taking a probiotic supports gut health by preventing the growth of harmful organisms and restoring your gut’s bacteria after illness or medications.
What do probiotics help with?
Probiotics are one of the only components of the human diet that truly support the health of your entire body, and this is largely due to the connection between your brain and your gut. The ‘brain-gut microbiota axis” refers to the connection between the complex ecosystem of microbiota in your body and your brain physiology. Though the connection needs more research to be completely understood, researchers have discovered that the brain needs the gut microbiome to function properly. In fact, they found that animals without a gut microbiome failed to have normal brain development in several studies.
Probiotics have a number of health benefits for your body, including:
1. Mental Health
These little wonders, packed with good bacteria, can also help with your mood and stress relief – bet you haven’t heard that one before! Genome Medicine includes a 2016 research study about the potential use of probiotics in stress related psychiatric disorders.
They can also help manage stress. Microbiota and the stress response are linked through the immune system, as well as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes. According to this research study, depressed patients were showing elevated cortisol levels and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). Scientists began to question if introducing certain strains of good bacteria could alter the stress response in the body and relieve symptoms of depression.
One study saw a correlation between reduced anxiety in animals from the ingestion of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and another study found that taking the Bifidobacterium longum weakens stress responses and improved cognition in healthy subjects. Keep this in mind when looking over your ingredient labels!
The American Academy of Dermatology released an article stating that research has demonstrated taking a daily probiotic can help treat acne or rosacea. To that brain-gut axis, the AAD has added skin as well, meaning that the combination of stress and a bad diet can increase levels of bad bacteria in your gut. Toxins can then leak from the gut into the bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout your body. If you are already prone to breakouts, this is the perfect storm for a flare up.
A probiotic, on the other hand, increases the levels of good bacteria which prevents a leaky gut from releasing these toxins into your body. For many people, this can have a noticeable impact on skin health.
3. Digestion & Bloating
According to NIH, one of the major benefits of probiotics is that they work to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria in our bodies. Imbalances can cause digestive issues and contribute to bloating. Taking a probiotic helps support the healthy function of your digestive system. They can even support healthy bowel movements and prevent diarrhea.
4. Heart Health
Probiotics may also help support your heart health by lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure. Bile, a naturally occurring fluid mostly made of cholesterol is an important part of digestion, but if it isn’t broken down properly, it can be reabsorbed into your bloodstream as cholesterol, contributing to heart problems. Studies show that probiotics can help break down excess bile in the gut, preventing this reabsorption.
4. Immune Health
The relationship between the immune system and your gut is incredibly important, as your body has to balance eliminating pathogens and maintaining your body’s tolerance to the bacteria in your gut that keeps you healthy. Your gastrointestinal tract has certain biological defenses to protect it from infection. Research also indicates that the flora in your gut has a significant effect on your immune system and can affect autoimmune-related diseases.
When should I take my probiotic?
To be effective, your probiotic has to make it all the way through digestive system, through your stomach and all the way to your gut. This is not easy! To get there, it needs to be properly coated so it will make it past the acid in your stomach, and any other attempts to digest it too soon.
What is the best way to make sure your probiotic gets where it needs to go? Time it with your meal. Studies show that the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains of bacteria in your probiotic survive best when taken up to 30 minutes after a meal.
Before you eat, the pH of your stomach is too low and too acidic for a probiotic to survive. This means your stomach could kill your probiotic before it even gets to your gut – not ideal. However, after you eat the pH in your stomach rises, making it a more hospitable environment for your probiotic to pass through. Not to mention, taking a probiotic on an empty stomach can cause nausea, stomach pains, and make you gassy.
In terms of actual time of day, the studies have shown that what is more important is consistency. If you start taking your probiotic after breakfast, you should take it at that time every day. You can read more on timing your probiotic here.
How do I know if my probiotic is working?
As every person’s microbiome is different, it is difficult to know exactly how your body will respond to starting a new probiotic supplement. Most people report noticing a positive impact on their health within a week to a few months after beginning a probiotic supplement. If you’re new to probiotics, here are 9 signs that your probiotic is working :
1. Increased energy
Since one of the main roles of beneficial microbes is extracting nutrients from the foods you eat, you may notice that you have increased energy levels now that you’re absorbing more vitamins and minerals from your meals.
2. Regular bowel movements and reduction in gas and bloating
Probiotics help you digest food and absorb the nutrients. Proper digestion leads to perfect poops and decreased discomfort and inflammation in the digestive tract.
3. Fewer sugar/carb cravings
Our intestinal microorganisms are capable of manipulating our behavior and our appetite in order to obtain more of the substrates they thrive on. Bad gut flora feed on sugars as a fuel source to reproduce. Good gut flora’s food source is prebiotic fiber (from fruits and veggies!) so when the gut is in balance, sugar cravings tend to disappear.
4. Weight loss
Beneficial microbes improve nutrient absorption, regulate our hunger hormones, reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar, all of which are crucial to sustainable weight loss!
5. Improved immunity/fewer colds, flus and infections
80% of your immune system is located within your digestive tract. The food gut flora team up with immune cells to boost their overall defense against the pathogens and toxins that we get exposed to on a daily basis.
6. Decreased anxiety
The gut-brain axis is what the gut microbes use to transmit messages to your brain and vice versa. Research shows that increases in beneficial gut flora decrease anxiety symptoms.
7. Better mood
Did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin (our “feel good” neurotransmitter) is made by the microbes in the gut? When the gut is full of healthy organisms, it is better equipped to regulate mood and positive feelings.
8. Fewer seasonal allergies
With the right balance of beneficial gut flora, your immune system is strong and can fight off allergens.
9. Improved skin health and appearance
Healthy gut flora decrease inflammation and facilitate proper elimination of waste. Since your skin is one of your organs of detoxification, a healthy gut means more clear skin!
There is the potential for symptoms, such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramps, rashes and acne, to get a little worse upon starting a probiotic supplement. Many people view this as a sign that the probiotic is not for them and stop taking it. Assuming these adverse side effects are relatively minor and do not last for more than 3 weeks, experts typically recommend “powering through” the transition period as these symptoms are only temporary. It is a sign that the environment in the gut is changing…for the better! In the meantime, decrease the supplement dosage, drink plenty of water and give your body a bit of time to adjust.