(StatePoint) If you’re familiar with probiotics, you probably know that these “good bacteria,” found in such foods as yogurt and pickles, are associated with good digestive health. But the health benefits of probiotics are more extensive than just improving digestion. Experts now say that paying attention to your probiotic intake, including the use of probiotic supplements, can potentially help you achieve better health -- from developing a stronger immune system to reducing stress.
“Probiotics have formed a vital part of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets for thousands of years and are credited, in part, for the remarkably low rates of chronic, age-related diseases that prevail in those regions,” says Michael A. Smith, M.D., senior health scientist with Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and host of Healthy Talk on www.RadioMD.com.
The human gastrointestinal system has the all-important job of digesting food and absorbing nutrients. If it fails at this, you’ll quickly become malnourished. These tasks are managed mostly by bacteria and not by your own body. Foods and supplements that replenish important bacteria are called probiotics.
Additionally, probiotics are said to ease inflammation by decreasing production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines.
Your gut system is exposed to lots of dangerous bacteria, molds and fungi. A vast majority of your immune defenses are right there in the gut. Probiotics can help keep these critical defenses functioning properly.
Have you ever experienced “butterflies” in your stomach? This sensation isn’t just “in your head.” The gut contains over 100 million neurons. One particular nerve, the vagus nerve, communicates directly with your brain. When you’re stressed, your digestive system suffers as a result. But new research shows that probiotics can potentially alleviate these symptoms.
Though more research is needed in this area, scientists are uncovering new ways that your mind is connected to your gut.
Reaping the Benefits
Start by incorporating more probiotics into your diet. Sources include yogurt, sour pickles, certain soft cheeses and miso soup. While these foods do supply a small dose of beneficial bacteria, Smith says that if you’re not already doing so, you should consider supplementing your diet with probiotic supplements or foods with added probiotics.
“Thanks to new research and the emerging field of pharmabiotics, you can increase your intake with a broad spectrum of probiotic products, as well” says Smith.
Remember, not all probiotics are created equal -- there are many strains and preparations on the market. One of the complications many commercial probiotics face is their inability to overcome hurdles in the digestive tract before hitting their target area, which can limit their beneficial effect. Additionally, some supplements only provide one type of bacteria. It’s important to get clinically effective strains in whatever product you choose. To learn more, visit www.Lef.org/FlorAssist or call toll-free, 1-855-870-0682.
An improper balance of good-to-bad bacteria can wreak havoc throughout the body. But by being proactive about probiotics, you can better achieve optimal health.
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