13 Proven Health Benefits of Probiotics

There are many health benefits of probiotics—or beneficial bacteria—from digestive health to neurological well-being and much, much more.

| May/June 2014

In our germ-obsessed world, we often perceive bacteria as the enemy—and we have the antibacterial soaps, hand wipes and cleaning products to prove it. Although some bacteria may be harmful or even deadly, we couldn’t live without the good bacteria that hitchhike their way through the world in our bodies. These hitchhikers, known as probiotics, are the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Most well-known for promoting good digestion, probiotics are proving beneficial to our health in more ways than one. From reducing allergy-related symptoms to decreasing the precursors of brain diseases, exciting new research shows that probiotics may help a lot more than just bowel health.

The Pros of Probiotics

Of the many strains of probiotic bacteria, those showing the most promise include Lactobacillus strains such as acidophilus, brevis, casei, plantarum, reuteri and rhamnosus, along with Bifidobacteria lactis and bifiform. These names may sound like a foreign language, but most can be found easily in fermented foods and supplements. (See “Shopping Tips” later in this article.) Here are 13 ways probiotics may help boost health.

1. Assist with weight loss. Many strains of probiotics may be beneficial to weight-loss efforts, but the Lactobacillus strains are particularly valuable. They have been found to stabilize blood sugar levels, which may result in reduced cravings and less fat-storage hormones. Probiotics even show promise in the prevention and treatment of obesity and metabolic disorders, according to the journal Internal and Emergency Medicine.

2. Treat infections. Probiotics can be used to prevent or treat upper respiratory tract and ear infections, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. The research discovered that probiotics compete with harmful disease-causing microbes for nutrients, space and even attachment to their human hosts. As a result, the probiotics can thrive at the expense of the infectious microbes.

3. Treat ulcers and gastritis. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori has been linked with ulcers and gastritis, which is an inflammation, irritation or erosion of the stomach lining. Russian researchers found that adding the probiotic bifiform improved the efficacy of a standard anti-Helicobacter therapy and is therefore a promising treatment for these illnesses. In their research, probiotics also demonstrated antibacterial action and enhanced the body’s own immune response against H. pylori.

4. Improve symptoms of depression. Researchers in Hungary noted that recent studies have shown a frequent association between depression and gastrointestinal inflammation (and other diseases related to inflammation). Studies have shown that treating gastrointestinal inflammation with probiotics, along with vitamins B and D and omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce depressive symptoms.

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