ProBiotics 101 – Ultimate Guide (BEGINNERS)

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The human body hosts trillions of bacteria and microbes, which reside mostly in the gut and play an essential role in several crucial metabolic functions. Several studies have shown how vital are these gut bacteria for our health. 

Most people are quite confused when it comes to probiotics, and the primary purpose of this guide is to explain what probiotics are and what they are not.

By the end of this guide, a reader will have all the knowledge required to decide whether they should take probiotics or not after considering the medically verified facts cited in this guide about probiotics. (1)

What Are ProBiotics?

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) have published a definition of probiotics almost two decades ago. FAO/WHO defines Probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when ingested in adequate quantities, lead to health benefit for the host.” (2)

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Most probiotics are bacteria, but some types of yeast are also considered to be probiotics. Probiotics are naturally found in foods such as yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
You also have the option to take probiotic supplements in the form of tablets or pills.

Probiotic is a broad term used to refer to different groups and species of bacteria found in your gut.

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common probiotic groups which contain several species of bacteria, and each species usually has many different bacterial strains.

So, when someone uses the term “probiotics,” they are essentially referring to a group of bacteria.

Different bacterial strains address various health conditions, so choosing the right probiotics is essential if you want to treat an existing health condition with probiotics. Some probiotic supplements known as multi-probiotics combine several species and strains in a single product.

Why Probiotics Are Important for Your Gut

The human gut contains different microorganisms types, with some estimates putting the number at 1,000 microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, and viruses.

Most of these microorganisms are made up of bacteria, and the whole community of microorganisms found in your gut is collectively known as the gut flora or microbiota. 

Gut flora is mostly found in your colon, also known as the large intestine, which is also the last part of the gastrointestinal or digestive tract. Gut flora plays an essential role in your health, according to several studies. It might also play an essential role in some severe pathological disorders such as colon cancer, multiple organ failure, irritable bowel syndrome, and other inflammatory bowel diseases. (3)

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Indeed, such is the importance of gut flora in your body. It’s also referred to as the forgotten organ by some scientists. This is because several of its activities resemble those of an organ. It plays an essential role in nutrient metabolism and manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and several B vitamins. (4), (5)

Gut flora also turns fibers into short-chain fats such as acetate, butyrate, and propionate, which feed your gut wall and are then absorbed into your bloodstream. These short-chain fats are also crucial for protecting you from diseases and strengthen your immune system. (6), (7), (8)

Gut microbiota is quite sensitive to your diet. According to some studies, any imbalance could increase the number of harmful bacteria present in your gut, leading to several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, colorectal cancer Alzheimer’s, and Depression. (9), (10), (11), (12). You can correct this imbalance in your gut flora by taking probiotics and prebiotics, which will ensure that your gut is functioning properly. (13)

What Probiotics Do for Your Digestive Health

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As it’s clear from the above discussion, probiotics play an essential role in our gut and are among the most critical elements for your digestive health.

Probiotics could be beneficial for treating several digestive diseases and have some studies claim they can prevent digestive disorders if taken regularly. (14)

Today, most types of infections are treated with antibiotics, which are detrimental to the gut flora. The prolonged use of antibiotics is known to kill healthy bacteria found in your gut and often leads to diarrhea.

Probiotics may help antibiotic-associated diarrhea and may also help prevent clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. (15), (16)

In addition to diarrhea, probiotic supplements are also known to help with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, bloating, constipation, and other inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Probiotics are also among the few available substances which can help you fight Helicobacter Pylori infections, which are among the main causes of ulcers, and stomach cancer. (17), (18), (19)

If you suffer from any of the above-listed conditions, then it’d make sense to start taking probiotics after consultation with your doctor. I am not a doctor.

Are Probiotics Vegan?

Vegans face a dilemma regarding probiotics as most probiotics available in the market are dairy-based or have been derived from non-vegan sources.

As the number of people avoiding dairy products increases with each year, so is the number of vegan probiotic supplements. 

There are several vegan probiotics available in the market now, which are made of vegan ingredients. You can find several probiotic pills, gummies, and tablets free from dairy, soy, or gluten and contain several probiotic strains of several species.

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When to Take Probiotics

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Most people don’t have any idea about the best time to take probiotics. Even the brands selling probiotic supplements don’t provide detailed guidelines for when a person should take probiotic pills or the best time for consuming probiotics.

Some bacterial strains are quite sensitive to stomach acid, and it’s a well-known fact that stomach acid can quickly kill millions of bacteria present in a probiotic supplement.

So, we can conclude that the worst time to take probiotics is immediately after a meal as your stomach is hyperactive and full of acid, which is released to digest food. This acidic environment will effectively nullify the probiotics which you consume.

On the other hand, most experts agree that the best time to take probiotics is in the morning, immediately after you wake up, as your stomach has not been active for the last few hours. So, there is a very slight chance of bacteria getting killed due to your stomach acid.

Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight?

Research has shown that people who are suffering from obesity have different gut flora than ordinary people. Gut bacteria and obesity have a close correlation, along with a cause and effect relationship between them.

Scientists have shown in a study conducted over 210 people that taking the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri daily can lead to an 8.5% loss of belly fat within 12 weeks. (20), (21), (22)

Another study showed that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis could also help in preventing and treating obesity. 

On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that some different strains of probiotics may lead to weight gain in humans and animals. (23), (24)

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Other Health Benefits

Probiotics are known to help with several health conditions in addition to their traditional role in the digestive system. Here are some other health benefits of probiotics: 

  • Blood Cholesterol: There is some evidence to suggest that probiotics can help you lower your total and bad LDL cholesterol levels. (25)
  • Blood Pressure: Probiotics are also known to cause modest reductions in your blood pressure levels. (26)
  • Immune Function: Probiotics are known to strengthen the immune system, which can reduce the risk of infections such as a common cold. (27)
  • Inflammation: Probiotics can regulate systemic inflammation, which is often the main cause of several diseases. (28)
  • Skin Health: Dermatologists have long studied probiotics for their effects on skin health. There is evidence to suggest that probiotics can help with eczema, rosacea, acne, and other skin conditions. (29)
  • Depression and Anxiety: Some probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum are known to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in people diagnosed with Depression. (30)

The benefits mentioned above are just the tip of an iceberg as probiotics are being extensively researched to benefit human health. Several other conditions can be treated, or at least the symptoms of which can be alleviated by probiotics.

Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics

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Digestive enzymes are often confused with probiotics, and some even consider them as alternatives to probiotics.

While in fact, digestive enzymes and probiotics are two completely different substances. 

Digestive enzymes, as the name suggests, are enzymes that help your body digest food. These are proteins held together by amino acids that help our body break food into smaller parts.

Several organs naturally produce digestive enzymes in our body, such as the liver, pancreas, salivary glands, and the small intestine.

Do Probiotics Have Side Effects?

Probiotics are generally considered safe for most people, although you may experience some minor side effects in the first few days, such as gas and mild abdominal discomfort. (31)

People with weak or compromised immune systems such as those who have HIV, AIDS, or other autoimmune diseases that affect the immune system must avoid probiotics, as probiotics can lead to dangerous infections in such cases. (32)

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It’s always a good idea to consult your physician before taking probiotics, and people with any existing health condition must never take probiotics without consulting their doctor.

Is A Higher CFU Count Better?

Most people naively assume that a probiotic with a higher CFU count is better than one with a low CFU count. CFU means colony forming units or the number of bacteria present in a single dose of a probiotic supplement.

Most probiotics are in the range of 5 to 20 billion CFUs. These are ideal for taking probiotics to maintain his health, and is not suffering from any severe digestive disorder.

Probiotics with more than 20 billion CFUs, such as those with 30 billion or 50 billion CFUs, are considered the most potent probiotics.

These are only suitable for those who want to treat some specific digestive ailments, and the probiotics with higher CFUs are also known to have more potent side effects.

Other Ways to Boost Your Gut Health

There are several other ways to boost your gut health in addition to taking probiotics regularly.

Highly spicy, fatty, or oily foods are known to disrupt gut flora, and it’s a good idea to cut out all junk food from your diet as almost all junk food is either spicy or has been prepared using oil rich in fats.
You can also improve your gut health by incorporating natural food products such as vegetables, fruits, etc. These are known to help maintain the ideal balance of good bacteria in your gut.

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic

Prebiotics refers to the non-digestible fiber derived from several plant-based foods such as acacia gum, banana, asparagus, chicory root, garlic, dandelion greens, leafy greens, legumes, onions, etc. Prebiotic is the food for probiotic bacteria as the bacteria in your gut thrive on prebiotics.

So, it’s essential to include prebiotics in your diet if you want to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut. 

Most people confuse prebiotics with probiotics due to similar spelling and pronunciation, but prebiotic refer to fibers derived from plant-based foods, while probiotics refer to live bacteria. 

Probiotic Gummies or Capsules

Back in the day, capsules were the go too for any supplementation needs. However, the problem is that they are hard to swallow and sometimes too strong for daily use.

Probiotic Gummies are also known to contain Pre-biotics to help make sure the Probiotics bacteria are adequately digested. They also taste great. Many people now prefer to take probiotics in gummy form.

The two most common strains used in Probiotics are Bacillus Coagulans and Bacillus Subtilis. They both have medical studies behind them.

Final Thoughts

We’ve tried to cover almost every aspect of probiotics in this guide and hope you’ve enjoyed reading it till the end. Probiotics are essential for a healthy life, and increasingly, research is showing that several diseases and ailments can be treated or prevented with probiotics. So, try to include probiotics in your diet as probiotic supplements or in the form of probiotic-rich food such as yogurt, kefir, etc.

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