Our body contains a lot of bacteria–good and bad– and most of that bacteria is found in our gut. Balancing this bacteria may lead to many benefits such as healthier skin, digestion, immune function, mental health, and reducing the risk of diseases associated with inflammation.
There are many ongoing studies discovering the positive effects that probiotics have on our gut. As a person with an autoimmune disease and dairy intolerance, I have found probiotics to help ward off flare-ups and balance my overall health.
So what are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, “good” bacteria found in foods prepared by bacterial fermentation or supplements. They may help treat or prevent disease by increasing the good bacteria in your gut which in turn allows your body to achieve the most positive result from the foods we eat, holding on to those valuable vitamins and minerals, and avoiding leaky gut.
What is a leaky gut?
The mix and balance of all the microorganisms or bacteria in your gut is “gut flora.” If that flora is unbalanced, you could experience a leaky gut. Leaky gut refers to the lining of your small intestinal walls being thin or damaged. This allows food particles and waste to “leak” through the walls of the intestines and flood the bloodstream with what the body sees as foreign substances. That causes an autoimmune response, often recognized in the body as symptoms of inflammation and allergic reactions like migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, and other autoimmune diagnoses.
Leaky gut does not allow the intestines to produce the enzymes needed to properly digest your food. So, in other words, all those greens you’re eating are never actually delivering vitamins to your body. As a result, your body cannot absorb the essential nutrients leading to a weakened immune system and hormone imbalances.
Repairing your gut
Talking about bacteria in the body can be daunting, even scary. But the truth is, we need that bacteria, at least we need a balance of bacteria. You could be eating an amazingly healthy diet, but if your gut is unhealthy, you won’t reap the full benefits.
Probiotics — or “good” bacteria — are a way to help balance your gut flora and allow the intestinal walls to be strengthened, alleviating leaky gut. This will allow all that energy you’re putting into healthy eating to actually deliver those vitamins and minerals via your digestive system.
Ongoing studies have indicated that having a healthy gut leads to better overall health. Probiotics have been linked to weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, healthier skin, and reduced inflammation in the body. Probiotics have also been shown to help improve depression and anxiety. Blood pressure and cholesterol have been found to improve due to those toxins not leaking into the bloodstream via leaky gut.
Side effects of probiotics
The most important part of taking a probiotic in trying to repair or maintain a healthy gut is consistency. Make your gut a priority as part of a daily routine. Beginning to add probiotics to your diet may cause gas or mild abdominal discomfort in the first few days. However, once you have a routine established, you should see improvement in your digestion, mood, and overall well-being.
It’s extremely important to discuss taking supplements with your doctor before you begin, especially if you have a medical condition such as a compromised immune system.
Foods Containing Probiotics
Probiotics are found in foods you may already eat. Below is a shortlist of the most common foods that may already be in your kitchen.
- Yogurt with active or live cultures
- Kefir (fermented milk)
Many with lactose intolerance are able to tolerate yogurt and kefir.
- Cheeses including probiotics, such as cheddar, mozzarella, and gouda
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi, a Korean dish, is made from fermented cabbage. Look for unpasteurized brands that contain live bacteria.
- Tempeh is from fermented soybeans; it’s used as a meat substitute.
- Miso and Natto, also made from fermented soybeans, is popular in Japanese cooking
- Kombucha is a fermented tea drink. You can find Kombucha just about everywhere now. It has really grown in popularity.
- Pickles fermented in salty water. You may need to make these at home as most that I have found in the store are fermented in vinegar. Vinegar does not have probiotic effects.
Choosing to begin a probiotic supplement should be discussed with your doctor. For those who may not be able to tolerate dairy or the above foods, consider a probiotic supplement. Keep in mind when choosing a probiotic that every country has different guidelines as to what is acceptable for humans to consume. Look for a reputable source to get your probiotic and pay attention to the shelf life and storage instructions. Look for a probiotic that has at least 1 billion live cultures, listed as CFUs (colony-forming units) on the label. Ask your doctor for suggestions and look for top products from sources you can trust like WebMD or HealthLine.
Probiotics and skincare
There are many companies taking advantage of the hype around probiotics. Topical skincare products may be used to balance the bacteria on the skin to help fight acne or restore radiance in your skin’s appearance. Most of these products are delicate and have a shorter shelf life, usually 6 months.
Before you dive into the beauty aisle, consider this. Your body is all connected and nourishing your skin from the inside out is a better option. Your skin is an organ. What you eat, how much you move, and stress factors are all reflected in your skin. Having healthy gut flora helps to deliver valuable vitamins and minerals to all your organs, including your skin.
Feeding our mind and body with positivity and goodness is only part of the journey. Processing all the healthy choices you are fueling your body with can be a challenge. Your gut is waiting for you to take charge to feel great every day!