When people think about bacteria, the first few things that typically comes to mind are dirt, germs, disease and illness. There is not much positive that springs to mind at the mention of the word. However, our bodies are home to trillions of microorganisms that are essential to our everyday health and overall well-being.
Think about this; the human body is made up of approximately 30 trillion human cells and anywhere between 30 and 50 trillion bacterial cells. Essentially, we are made of just as much bacteria as we are human cells. When you consider this important information, it is easy to understand why bacteria are important to our health.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the bacteria and yeast that live within our body, and are responsible for keeping us and our guts healthy. These are very different to the pathogenic bacteria that cause disease and illness. In fact, this friendly flora travel through our digestive system, protecting us from pathogens, producing vitamins that we need, and making sure all digestive processes are running smoothly.
Probiotics are particularly useful after an illness where you were prescribed antibiotics. These medications can severely deplete the levels of good bacteria in our systems as well as the bad. When the levels of friendly bacteria are reduced, pathogenic materials are able to flourish, causing digestive problems and a whole host of other illnesses.
Choosing The Best Probiotic
Given the importance of the digestive system to overall health, maintenance of the bacteria levels is critical. A poorly functioning gut can mean loss of nutrients and minerals that we need. Because the gut and your brain are in constant communication, the health of your gut is integral to your well-being. A healthy digestive system can therefore mean improved cognitive function, appearance, and reduced depression.
There are so many strains of probiotics, each with their own set of particular benefits, and there is still room for more research. Some can be found in your genital or urinary systems and also in fermented foods, whereas others live as lactic acid in your intestines. When choosing a probiotic, you need to consider your specific conditions as well as what each strand is beneficial for.
The Lactobacillus Family
L. Acidophilus: Great for Acne and Vaginal Health
This probiotic has been used for decades originally as a treatment for constipation and diarrhea in the 1920’s. They are able to colonize in the intestines and promoting intestinal health. Additionally, this flora can treat vaginal infections and inflammatory acne as well as reduce lactose intolerance and the risk of colon cancer.
L. Rhamnosus: Great for Eczema
Studies have found that this probiotic is able to colonize in the gut and is therefore great for treating diarrhea. Also, this particular strain has proven to be beneficial in combating eczema. Studies showed that when taken during pregnancy, children were half as likely to develop atopic eczema as the children of mothers who did not.
L. Plantarum: Great for Inflammation
This probiotic helps to regulate immunity and control inflammation in the intestines. They are particularly useful in providing relief from bloating and abdominal pain in patients suffering from IBS.
L.Casei: Great for Brain Function and GI Support
Another probiotic that shows support for gastrointestinal health, this strain also helps to regulate diarrhea. Recent studies have surprised scientists and health professionals alike as they discovered that this strain helps to relieve anxiety. Supplements of L. Casei have been linked to a significant reduction is anxiety and depressive symptoms.
The Bifidobacterium Family
B. Lactis: Great for Immunity
When you are looking to give your immune system a little boost, this choice has a lot of potential. Research has found that when B. Lactis supplements are taken there is an increase in antibody levels, indicative of a strengthened immune system.
B. Longum: Great for Constipation and Brain Function
A bacterial strain that again helps the brain and the gut, showing just how linked these two systems are. This strain actually colonizes in our bodies from birth and is responsible for producing lactic acid from sugars to stabilize the acid levels of the gut. Regular bowel movements are a product of a stabilized GI tract. Additionally, these supplements have shown an ability to lower stress levels and increase memory.
B. Bifidum: Great for Immunity and GI Support
Over time, stress, diet and antibiotics deplete your natural source of B. Bifidum which will have a negative impact on your immunity. This strain is directly responsible for regulating your body’s innate immune response, so when the levels fall too low, you leave yourself open to infection. Additionally, this flora helps to prevent pathogens from flourishing in the gut, maintaining optimal bacterial balance.
B. Breve: Great for Anti-aging
Spending too much time in the sun not only increases your risk of skin cancer but also prematurely ages your skin. Studies with B. Breve have shown that increased levels actually prevent the UV induced aging and can help to keep your skin looking younger and more hydrated.
The Streptococcus Family
If the mention of this name caused you to gasp, you would not be wrong. Although typically associated with the dangerous bacterial infections, this family does contain some beneficial strains. Streptococcus Thermophilus has shown to possess antibacterial qualities and can prevent certain diseases.
Recent research indicated that the benefits of this flora also reach the skin by improving the levels of ceramides. These are the natural lipids in our skin that protect the underlying tissues from damage. Streptococcus Thermophilus helps to support the ceramides by trapping antioxidants that dry and prematurely age skin.
What to Look For
Now that you know the benefits linked with some of the most common probiotics, you can choose what best suits your needs. Be sure when you are shopping that you always check the label. You want to get ‘live’ bacteria with CFUs (colony forming units) in the billions to ensure you get a potent amount. Additionally check the expiration dates and best by dates. This tells you that your bacteria will be viable through and able to reach your gut while they are still live. There is no substitute for quality, so you need to be prepared to spend a little extra for good probiotics. A typical high-quality supplement will run between $45 and $70.
Once You Are Home
Be sure to keep your probiotics away from heat and moisture, which can kill microbes. A cool, dark place is recommended, especially the fridge. Many strains are delicate and easily damaged by heat, which makes refrigeration ideal. When it comes to taking your probiotics, it is recommended to take on an empty stomach; the earlier in the day the better, with the ideal time being right after you wake up.