5 Health Benefits of Adding Probiotics to Your Diet

The pros to eating probiotics The pros to eating probiotics Think probiotics are only helpful for those with stomach or digestive issues? Think again. Experts say that 70% to 80% of our immune systems are located in the gut, so a healthy gastrointestinal tract is important not just for our digestive systems but for our overall health.

That is where probiotics can come into play. These live microorganisms, known as "good bacteria" may improve and maintain the health of your gut and therefore your health.

My son has a gastrointestinal disease and recently began taking a daily probiotic to restore his gut health. After learning about their potential benefits, I have begun taking one as well.

Probiotics may come in the form of tablets, powders, drinks, or in some fortified foods, such as yogurt. The most commonly used bacteria in probiotics are: lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces boulardii. Probiotics are generally considered safe since the bacteria in probiotics are already present in small amounts in the body. With that said, it is still important to use a probiotic from a reputable manufacturer. You may wish to speak with your pharmacist and/or healthcare provider before starting on a probiotic.

The potential benefits of probiotics have become a hot topic for medical researchers. Evidence now suggests that you may be able to treat, prevent, or lessen the effects of some illnesses with daily probiotic use. Here are some of the other potential advantages of probiotics:

1. Female Urinary Tract Health
The urinary tract can be disturbed by the presence of antibiotics, birth control pills, and even spermicides. Researchers believe that probiotics may restore the system and help fight off common and extremely uncomfortable urinary tract issues, such as: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections. If you have any of these types of infections recurrently, you may want to talk with your healthcare practitioner about giving probiotics a try.

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2. Crohn's Disease & Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A large scale study is needed to determine the definitive benefits of probiotics for those with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Those who have these gastrointestinal disorders know that they can be painful and difficult to treat. A few small studies have suggested that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn's disease, as well as a recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis). Though more large-scale research is needed, some patients are already using probiotic supplements with relief. If you think that probiotics may be helpful for you, speak with your healthcare practitioner.

3. Oral Health
It is believed that replacing bad bacteria with good can also help with oral issues such as: foul smelling breath, periodontal disease, tonsil stones, and other oral health issues. A recent study released by the International Journal of General Medicine found that the probiotic BLIS K12 is effective in preventing reoccurring infections in the mouth and throat in children, while a second study found the same potential benefits for adults. BLIS (bacteriocin-like-inhibitory substances) is a specific strain of streptococcus salivarius that may help promote healthy bacteria in the mouth when taken on a daily basis.

4. Strep Throat & Tonsillitis
It should be no surprise (based on the last slide) that researchers have found that probiotics can be helpful for reducing recurrent issues with throat and ear infections, both of which are also associated with the BLIS and K12. A small study of adults with a history of recurrent throat and ear infections showed an 80% reduction in episodes of streptococcal pharyngeal infection (strep throat) and a 60% reduction in pharyngitis when given a BLIS K12 probiotic. Another study showed that BLIS K12 may reduce the recurrence of throat infections and tonsillitis by up to 90%.

5. Emotions & Brain Activity
A small study out of the University of California Los Angeles shows some evidence that probiotics can actually modulate brain activity. Fascinating, is it not? Studies in animals have shown that changes in gut flora led to changes in affective behaviors, so researchers wanted to determine whether similar results could be found in humans. Using functional MRI, the research showed that women who regularly consumed yogurt fortified with probiotics showed altered activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation. This study shows some exciting promise for the future, though more extensive research is certainly needed.

- By Jessica Cohen
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