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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

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Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's


Guide
Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on June 19, 2017

Did you know that the bacteria in your body outnumber your body's cells 10 to
1?

It's true, and most of them reside in your gut.

But there really is no need to panic, most bacteria are quite harmless.

Having the right bacteria in there has even been linked to numerous health
benefits (1).

This includes weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function,


better skin and a reduced risk of many diseases (2).

This leads us to the topic at hand, probiotics.

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain these friendly bacteria, and
are supposed to help colonize our guts with health-boosting microorganisms.

The importance of this can not be overstated.

Taking care of your gut, and the friendly bacteria that reside there, may be one
of the single most important things you can do for your health.
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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

What Are Probiotics?


According to the official definition, probiotics are "live microorganisms that,
when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host"
(3).

Probiotics are usually bacteria, but there is also a type of yeast that can
function as a probiotic.

You can get probiotics from supplements, as well as foods that are prepared by
bacterial fermentation.

Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi and others.
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics (note the "e"), which are
dietary fibers that help feed the friendly bacteria that are already in the gut (4).

There are actually dozens of different probiotic bacteria that have been shown
to have health benefits.

The most common groups include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Then


there are many different species within each group, and each species has
many strains.

Interestingly, different probiotics seem to work for different health conditions.


Therefore, choosing the right type (or types) of probiotic is essential.
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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

Many probiotic supplements combine different species together in the same


supplement. These are known as broad-spectrum probiotics, or multi-
probiotics.

Keep in mind that this is a new but rapidly expanding area of research.

Although the evidence is promising, it is not conclusively proven that probiotics


help with all the health conditions mentioned in this article (5).

BOTTOM LINE:
Probiotics are live microorganisms that cause health benefits when
consumed in adequate amounts. There are many different types, and
you can get them from foods or supplements.

The Importance of Microorganisms in The Gut


The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora
(6).

Your gut actually contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms, with


some numbers going as high as 1000.

This includes bacteria, yeasts and viruses. The great majority is bacteria.

Most of the gut flora is found in the colon, or large intestine, the last part of the
digestive tract.

The metabolic activities of the gut flora actually resemble those of an organ.
For this reason, some scientists refer to the gut flora as the "forgotten organ"
(7).

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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

The gut flora actually performs many functions that are important for health. It
manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins (8).

It also turns fibers into short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate and acetate,
which feed the gut wall and perform many metabolic functions (9, 10).

They also stimulate the immune system, and regulate the integrity of the gut.
This can help prevent unwanted substances from "leaking" into the body and
provoking an immune response (11, 12, 13, 14).

However, not all organisms in the gut are friendly. Some are good, others are
bad.

The gut flora is actually highly sensitive to modern insults, and studies show
that an "unbalanced" gut flora is linked to numerous diseases (15, 16).

This includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease,


colorectal cancer, Alzheimer's, depression and many, many more (17, 18, 19,
20).

Probiotics (and prebiotic fibers) can help correct this balance, making sure that
our "forgotten organ" is functioning optimally (21).

BOTTOM LINE:
Your gut flora consists of hundreds of different types of
microorganisms. Probiotics help your gut flora perform optimally.

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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

Probiotics and Digestive Health


Probiotics have been studied most in regard to digestive health (22).

The strongest evidence has to do with antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they often
suffer from diarrhea for a long time after the infection has been eradicated.

This is because the antibiotics kill many of the natural bacteria in the gut, which
shifts the balance and allows the "bad" bacteria to thrive.

Dozens of studies have provided strong evidence that probiotic supplements


can help cure antibiotic-associated diarrhea (23, 24, 25).

Probiotics have also been shown to be beneficial against irritable bowel


syndrome, a very common digestive disorder. They can help reduce gas,
bloating, constipation, diarrhea and other symptoms (26, 27, 28).

Some studies also show that probiotics may be beneficial against inflammatory
bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (29).

Probiotics may also be useful against Helicobacter pylori infections, the main
driver of ulcers and stomach cancer (30, 31, 32, 33).

If you currently have digestive problems that you can't seem to get rid of, then
perhaps a probiotic supplement is something you should consider.

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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

BOTTOM LINE:
Probiotics have been shown to be effective against various digestive
problems. This includes antibiotic-associated diarrhea and irritable
bowel syndrome.

Probiotics and Weight Loss


Obese people have different gut bacteria than lean people (34).

Animal studies have also shown that fecal transplants from lean animals can
make obese animals lose weight (35, 36).

For this reason, many scientists now believe that our gut bacteria are important
in determining body fatness (37, 38).

Although this needs to be studied a lot more, some probiotic strains have been
shown to help with weight loss (39).

The most impressive study on this was published in 2013. It was a study of 210
individuals with central obesity (lots of fat in the belly area).

In this study, taking the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri caused people to lose
8.5% of their belly fat mass over a period of 12 weeks (40).

When they stopped taking the probiotic, they gained the belly fat back within 4
weeks.

There is also some evidence that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium


lactis can help with weight loss and obesity prevention (41).

However, this needs to be studied more before any recommendations can be


made.

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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

There are also some animal studies showing that other probiotic strains could
even lead to weight gain, not loss (42).

Here's an article with more info about the weight loss effects of probiotics.

BOTTOM LINE:
There is some evidence that the certain probiotic strains can help
people lose weight, but this needs to be studied a lot more.

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Other Health Benefits of Probiotics


Getting into all the incredible benefits of probiotics is beyond the scope of this
article.

However, there are a few that are definitely worth highlighting here:

Inflammation: Probiotics have been shown to reduce systemic


inflammation, a leading driver of many diseases (43).
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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

Depression and anxiety: The probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and


Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety
and depression in people with clinical depression (44, 45).
Blood cholesterol: Several probiotics have been shown to lower total and
LDL cholesterol levels (46, 47).
Blood pressure: Probiotics have also been shown to cause modest
reductions in blood pressure (48, 49).
Immune function: Several probiotic strains can enhance immune function
and lead to reduced risk of infections, including the common cold (50, 51).
Skin health: There is some evidence that probiotics can be useful for acne,
rosacea and eczema, as well as other skin disorders (52).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial
for a wide range of other health problems.

For more details, here are the top 8 health benefits of probiotics.

BOTTOM LINE:
Probiotics have been shown to have numerous health benefits. They
may reduce depression and anxiety, improve heart health and
enhance immune function, to name a few.

Are There Any Side Effects?


Probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for most people.

However, in the first few days, you may experience side effects related to
digestion. This includes gas and mild abdominal discomfort (53).

After this initial adaptation period is over, your digestion should be better than
it was before.
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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

In people with compromised immune systems, probiotics can lead to


dangerous infections. This includes people with HIV, AIDS and several other
conditions (54).

If you have a medical condition, definitely consult with your doctor before
taking a probiotic supplement.

BOTTOM LINE:
Probiotic supplements may cause digestive symptoms, but this should
subside within a few days. They may be dangerous for people with
certain medical conditions.

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Take Home Message


Maintaining a healthy gut goes way beyond just taking a probiotic supplement.

What you do from day to day is just as important, since all sorts of lifestyle
factors have been shown to affect your gut bacteria.

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11/30/2017 Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide

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