Probiotics are powerful microorganisms that you can be getting more of to improve your overall health and wellness. They aren’t some gimmicky ‘get fit quick’ foods or weight loss supplement either. Probiotics and their capabilities come down to science. Absolutely anyone can benefit from them – from infants to grown adults, and all it takes is a couple of extra bites of probiotic-rich foods or a daily capsule. Probiotics can help treat a vast array of physical, mental and emotional health symptoms naturally, including depression, anxiety, allergies, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
But in case you skipped your grade 10 science class and have forgotten much of what you learned back then, this article breaks down the process of probiotics and what they can do for your health.
The Scoop on Probiotics and Their Benefits
To understand the benefits that probiotics offer, you must first know what they are. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that live in the body to keep it healthy and working properly. They function as a naturally-occurring balancing act that help fight off harmful or “bad” bacteria that can lead to a vast array of health concerns, including allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health concerns and even cancer. These probiotics can be found in various places throughout and on the body, including your mouth, skin and lungs, but the most beneficial microbes are found in your gut, (mainly your large intestines).
Having a healthy balance of gut bacteria help support your overall health and wellness by:
- Supporting your immune function
- Protecting you from infections
- Controlling inflammation
- Digesting food properly
- Preventing bad bacteria from getting out of control (and getting you sick)
- Creating vitamins
- Supporting cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria consumed from entering your bloodstream
- Aids the breakdown and absorption of medications
- Promoting weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight
- Preventing and treating diarrhea
- Improving mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, autism, stress and OCD
- Reducing bad cholesterol and lowering blood pressure to help boost heart health
- Decreasing allergies
- Reducing eczema and improving various skin conditions
- Healing symptoms of some digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and IBS
Common Probiotic Strains and How They Can Benefit You
There are many different types of probiotic strains in the market. The seven core probiotic strains are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus. To the average eye, these just look like some funky, hard-to-pronounce names for a group of different organisms. But with a deeper look, they are so much more than that.
Probiotics get their name from their genus, species, and strain (in that order). So, if we were to look at ‘Lactobacillus plantarum 299v’ as an example:
- Lactobacillus (genus: it’s a category of the strain’s extended family with mutual, general traits)
- Plantarum (species: it’s a category of strains that include other probiotics that have similar traits and properties – like siblings)
- 299v (strain: it’s the unique identification of a specific strain)
Each probiotic strain has its own unique species and with that comes its own specific function and unique set of advantages. To help you better understand the power of probiotics and the types you may want to consider, let’s take a look at some of the most common types or rather, species:
- Bifidobacterium animalis has shown to also relieve constipation and promote regularity by shortened colon transit time.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum supports overall digestion, nutrient absorption, and digestion of sugars, and can improve vaginal health by lowering pH levels to prevent the growth of bad bacteria. It has also shown to help lower your chances of getting sick with the common cold and flu.
- Bifidobacterium Breve is a powerful probiotic that effectively fights against a large number of harmful bacteria. It is an anti-aging probiotic strain, can protect you from candida/yeast infections and E. coli, and relieve bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and gas.
- Bacillus Coagulans produces lactic acid and enzymes that help with the digestion of lactose. It also increases your body’s ability to utilize nutrients and minerals such as phosphorus, iron, and calcium. For women in particular, this probiotic is great for aiding vaginal health as it promotes better vaginal pH levels, and can reduce vaginal discomfort.
- Bifidobacterium lactis has shown to promote regularity and provide relief from constipation. It can also help ease abdominal pain and reduce the severity of systems associated with irritable bowel syndrome in adults, such as bloating.
- Bifidobacterium longum can help treat depression, reduce anxiety and alleviate psychological distress in humans, such as compulsion, paranoia and obsessions. It also promotes bacterial balance and homeostasis in the gut to promote a healthy immune system and relieve digestive issues. It’s also particularly beneficial for an infant’s digestive system and is present in breast milk.
- Bifidobacterium infantis helps support an infant’s digestive system and can provide relief for digestive distress, irregularity and the occasional gas and bloating.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus plays a key role when it comes to your digestive system and immunity as it helps your gut absorb nutrients from food and boosts your immune systems to effectively ease many digestive issues including gas, bloating, IBS, leaky gut syndrome, and diarrhea and to fight off infections. It also breaks down the lactose in dairy foods into lactic acid by producing the lactase enzyme to assist with lactose intolerance and can be used to ward off allergies. It’s also beneficial for women in particular, as it enhances vaginal and urinary tract health.
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus has an important role in supporting the total balance of your microbiome.
- Lactobacillus casei contains powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat chronic fatigue syndrome, digestive problems and anxiety. It also improves stool consistency, which can help alleviate constipation and promote bowel regularity.
- Lactobacillus fermentum can reduce the inflammation and reverse psychological problems brought on by antibiotics, such as anxiety and other similar behaviours. It is also one of the few strains that offer special support for the vaginal tract.
- Lactobacillus helveticus helps to reduce stress hormones, obsessive compulsive thoughts and paranoia. It’s also been found to have an anti-anxiety effect that is more effective than certain SSRI anti-depressant medications. It also helps the overall balance of your microbiome to support overall digestion and balance.
- Lactobacillus Paracasei boosts liver function and immunity.
- Lactobacillus plantarum can help treat irritable bowel syndrome and decrease inflammation. It is also known to increase dopamine and serotonin (two brain hormones associated with mental health), to help reduce anxiety, decrease stress hormones and support a better emotional state.
- Lactobacillus reuteri has been found to decrease the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay. Studies have also found that it is beneficial to gut health, can reduce stress hormones and anxiety-like behaviours, and improve symptoms of autism. It also helps improve healthy cholesterol levels to support heart health.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus can reduce anxiety and anxiety-associate behaviours, such as OCD. It also restores a healthy vaginal flora to reduce the risk of yeast and bacterial vaginal infections. This strain can provide great relief for diarrhea caused by antibiotic consumption, as it attaches to the intestinal walls and fights off infections in the gut and urinary tract to improve vaginal health. It also assists with lactose intolerance.
- Streptococcus Salivarius can help prevent sore throats, improve ear health, reduced dental plaque, and improve oral health in children and adults. It is also known for improving inflammatory response in the gums and teeth.
- Streptococcus Thermophilus is another beneficial probiotic for women or anyone dealing with digestive issues, such as leaky gut, IBS, and diarrhea. It also aids in dairy digestion by producing lactase and increases immune resistance to common infections.
With so many potential benefits, you likely feel intrigued to get as many probiotics as you can into your system for optimal physical, emotional and mental health. While there are many probiotic supplements out there, it is said that the best way to increase your probiotic intake is with fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh and kimchi.
The type of probiotics you want will determine the type of foods to eat more of. However, if the foods rich in probiotics simply don’t appeal to your taste buds, taking them in supplement form is still better than not getting them at all! So, if you’re ready to naturally boost your health, prevent disease and illness, and finally put an end to any digestive, vaginal, mental or emotional symptoms you’ve been struggling with, it’s time for some probiotics.