Did you know probiotics had all these health benefits? This quick read will get you up to speed.
What’s the Deal with Probiotics?
You’ve probably heard the virtues of probiotics extolled in health magazines and on cartons of Greek yogurt. Probiotics are live bacteria that naturally occur in certain foods—from fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut or kimchi, to live-cultured yogurt. They’re also added to some high-end dark chocolates and available as supplements.
Broken down, the word probiotic means “for life” or “promoting life.” While it sounds good, you still may wonder: are probiotics just another New Age gimmick, or is there some science behind the health benefits? Though far from a panacea, probiotics can help cure some ailments that may surprise you.
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Down with Blood Pressure
If poor marks on your last physical have sent you on a personal quest to lower your cholesterol, look no farther than your fridge.
A small study presented at a recent AHA scientific meeting found that a strain of probiotics found in dairy and meats called Lactobacillus reuteri lowered LDL levels in participants by nearly 12 percent more than the group taking a placebo. Overall cholesterol was lowered by 9 percent.
How? The liver uses cholesterol to make bile. Researchers believe that probiotics break up bile salts and decrease their reabsorption in the gut.
Keep Your Teeth Intact
Your eyes may be the windows to your soul, but your smile is your welcome mat to the world. Besides being unsightly, poor oral hygiene is associated with serious health woes, including heart disease, diabetes, and even low birth weight.
Studies have shown that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay and lessens the harmful effects of gingivitis. A full mouth of teeth and a reduction in bleeding gums are two good reasons to add probiotics to your daily menu.
Whether you experience the occasional bout of traveler’s diarrhea, or are among the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) estimated one third of people who will experience it as a common side effect of antibiotics, diarrhea is unpleasant and embarrassing.
But don’t worry—there’s good news for your tush: according to the Harvard Medical School, many studies suggest that probiotic consumption can help reduce diarrhea episodes. For example, a 2012 clinical review published in JAMA found that those who took probiotics with antibiotics were 42 percent less likely to develop diarrhea than those who took the placebo.
If you have eczema, you know how annoying and frustrating perpetually dry, itchy skin can be. What if we could prevent future generations from getting it? A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that babies who are at risk for developing eczema may benefit from their mothers’ consumption of probiotics.
Allergy-prone mothers with eczema were given probiotics two months before giving birth and during the first two months of breastfeeding. The babies, who were assessed at 6, 12, and 24 months, showed a significant reduction in their risk of developing the no-fun skin inflammation.
Listen Up, Ladies
The vagina is a delicately balanced environment of good and bad bacteria. Unfortunately, sometimes just taking antibiotics or birth control pills, becoming pregnant, or having diabetes is enough to throw your system out of whack. If you’re prone to pesky yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or urinary tract infections (UTIs), you might consider protecting your lady parts with probiotics.
According to the Harvard Medical School, probiotics may help balance the bacteria present in your vagina and prevent the overgrowth of harmful microorganisms. While their effectiveness is still being debated, researchers agree that there’s no harm in adding more probiotics to your diet.
Give Respiratory Infections the Cold Shoulder
Some people seem to get sick every time the weather changes, but that doesn’t have to be you this year. Researchers who conducted a review of studies from the Cochrane Library concluded that, overall, probiotics seem to reduce upper respiratory infections when compared to a placebo.
In another study, children from 18 daycares in Helsinki, Finland were given milk with or without probiotics. Can you guess which group remained healthier? You got it—those who drank the probiotic-enriched milk were 17 percent less likely to get a respiratory infection and 16 percent less likely to be absent due to illness.
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Hush, Little Baby
Any parent or airplane passenger would agree: nothing is worse than a crying baby—especially one that can’t be comforted. Because we don’t know exactly what causes colic in babies, it’s difficult to treat. However, some research suggests that probiotics might provide some relief.
A 2007 study published in Pediatrics found that after 28 days, breastfed babies whose mothers consumed a daily dose of probiotics cried 194 minutes less than the test group that didn’t. A 2010 study published in the same journal found similar results. Gaining just a minute of peace and quiet would give you good reason to pop a probiotic supplement. Now you’ve got 194 good reasons.
Love Your Gut
If constipation, bloating, and gas are mainstay symptoms of your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s, a cup of yogurt a day may keep you regular all day. Johns Hopkins Health Alerts reports that those who ate two 4-ounce servings of live-culture yogurt during a study experienced less bloating and more bowel movements after a few weeks.
Another study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics revealed that people who ate live-culture yogurt twice a day experienced a shorter amount of time between eating and bowel movements. That’s less time you’d have to spend doubled over, clutching your stomach in pain.
Putting Probiotics in Perspective
It’s important to remember that while many studies suggest that probiotics can have a positive impact on your health, other studies report weak findings. Although probiotics may not be the miracle cure you’re looking for, one thing’s for sure: they can’t hurt.
Whether it’s an apple a day or a cup of probiotic-rich kefir, if you feel healthier when you eat it, keep it up. Pay attention to your body and to emerging research on new and natural ways to stay healthy.
4 Intriguing New Applications For Probiotics
Since probiotics have enjoyed a recent boom in popularity, we’ve seen a major uptick in publications about the importance of probiotics in regard to gastrointestinal health. However, the scientific community has upped the ante by thinking outside of the petri dish and discovering some innovative and novel applications for these amazing microbes.
From fighting for optimal gum and skin health to helping to clear congested nasal passages and arteries, strains from the Lactobacillus genera are shaping up to be some truly impressive multitasking microflora!
Probiotics and heart health
Due to the alarming number of heart issues affecting so many around the country, most of us are concerned about cardiovascular well-being these days. It is becoming obvious that we need to take better care of our hearts, and one way to do this is by supplementing with probiotics.
New research has indicated that the probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri is helpful in normalizing cholesterol levels in the blood. In a fascinating study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in 2012, two daily doses of L. reuteri appeared to have helped lower key cholesterol-bearing molecules in the blood.
Excess cholesterol creates buildup inside artery walls, which can lead to all kinds of problems. As this gunk builds up, it narrows blood vessel pathways, which increases blood pressure along with the chances of poor heart health down the road.
Medications like statins can maintain cholesterol levels in a healthy range by interrupting enterohepatic circulation, a process that synthesizes and circulates cholesterol in the body. While statins are the “go-to” choice for many doctors and patients, these and other lifestyle factors have a way of wiping out the good flora in your system. L. reuteri can help to reduce the numbers of cholesterol esters, the compounds that carry cholesterol through the bloodstream, and support optimal cholesterol levels in the blood without indiscriminately targeting the other good guys working to keep your heart healthy.
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Dental health and oral hygiene
Probiotics for oral health make sense if you consider where probiotics prefer to live – in the intestinal tract as well as in the nose, mouth, and throat (all part of the human microbiome.)
Your mouth is full of microbes, both good and bad. The issue is that until now, we’ve mostly been concerned with the bad. And with a host of hygiene products aimed at eradicating all oral bacteria, many of us have wiped out the majority of the good guys along the way.
The truth is that the beneficial flora living within the oral cavity often have just as much adversity as their neighbors living in the gut.
You see, these probiotics are meant to act as warriors, guarding our teeth and gums and serving in our immune system’s first line of defense — and if they aren’t plentiful, you could struggle with bad breath, tooth sensitivity, gum issues, or even ear, nose, and throat health challenges. Probiotic supplementation can help ensure we have the right balance of beneficial microbes in our mouths, but it will only help if we use the right types of probiotic strains.
1. reuteri comes to the rescue again in this case. Not only is L. reuteri known for helping to regulate cholesterol, but it seems that this species is equally effective in easing the effects of temporary inflammation that can build up on your teeth and around your gums.
Skin and a healthier complexion
While many philosophers claim that the eyes are “windows to the soul,” medical professionals and beauty experts will avow that the skin is a mirror to one’s overall health. Many skin issues arise due to lack of nutrition or poor nutrient absorption and immune system reaction, two areas that scientists have studied in-depth regarding probiotic application. Probiotics are key to regulating one’s immune system and keeping it balanced – which can then influence the complexion of your skin.
While probiotic supplements support immunity (and thereby assist in easing temporary inflammation) from within the gut environment, topical probiotic treatments may soothe irritated skin and help provide the building blocks of healing from the outside in.
Researchers from Sca Hygiene Products, a leading cosmetic company, have tested various Lactobacillus extracts on mild skin afflictions, and the results were highly encouraging. Not only did the probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum appear to help abate inflammation quickly, but it also supported the immune system response in general.
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Sinus and upper respiratory health
For many of us, common environmental allergens are the bane of our comfort and overall health. Whether you are a seasonal sufferer or have sensitivities to animals, you may be able to reduce these issues by eating more probiotic foods and by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
During the past decade, Swiss and Finnish scientists conducted various studies testing how probiotics affect the immune mechanisms behind seasonal sinus congestion, itchy eyes, and sensitive skin. While their goals, methods, and parameters varied, all three groups came to the same conclusion: people with seasonal upper respiratory issues need more probiotics.
The immune response to certain microbes in the air creates irritations such as inflammation and increased white blood cells in the nasal mucosa. (This is how scientists explain your stuffy or runny nose, excess mucus, and sinus pressure.) When the immune system reacts like this, it releases eosinophils (white cells) and cytokines, which are proteins that trigger cell responses. A Finnish group studied children with birch pollen sensitivities in 2009, and the results indicated that the children who consumed the probiotics (compared to the placebo group) showed decreases in white blood cell counts and cytokines in their blood and nasal mucosa along with higher levels of microflora in their feces.
In 2011, one of the Swiss teams investigated the effects of probiotics on immune markers in the blood, which are indicative of certain vulnerabilities that can incite an unnecessary immune-system reaction. The test subjects were adults sensitive to grass pollen. One group of subjects received the placebo, while the others received daily doses of fermented milk containing Lactobacillus paracasei. Blood tests revealed no significant change in the immune markers for the placebo group, but blood work for the fermented milk group showed decreases in the immune markers that signal an unfavorable response to microbes in the air.
The major theme here is that science is making leaps and bounds in learning how you can improve various aspects of your health by increasing your intake of probiotics to repopulate your personal microbiome – countering the effects of modern lifestyles and getting back to health in the way that nature intended.
While fermented milk products contain some of the probiotic species mentioned in this article, it is best to replenish your system with a variety of microflora.
Convinced? If so, Green Planet Nutraceuticals has an excellent probiotic product. It contains more than double the number of organisms (a whopping 40 billion). It is manufactured in the U.S.A. in an FDA-approved facility using the highest quality natural ingredients. You can pick up a bottle on our Amazon.com listing.