The Gut-Balancing Power of Probiotics
By Gastro MD
Let’s talk about what’s going on in your gut—specifically with your tiny gut bugs called probiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that help keep you healthy. As “good bacteria,” probiotics help bring balance to your gut microbiome by preventing “bad bacteria” from multiplying and causing inflammation. When there is balance in your gut, your gastrointestinal system functions better. And consuming probiotic-rich foods is the most effective way to introduce these live microorganisms into your digestive tract.
Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff is credited with pioneering studies of probiotics in the 1900s. Researching Bulgarian villagers who’d lived beyond 100 years, he discovered that the key to their improved health and longevity was the fermented yogurt drink they drank each day. Because the concept of probiotics and consuming fermented foods to aid digestion and improve gut health has been around for centuries.
Still, Metchnikoff’s discovery prompted further studies on the fermented drink, which revealed the presence of beneficial bacteria strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium infantis, and Saccharomyces boulardii. More scientists researched the benefits of probiotics, and more beneficial bacterial strains were discovered.
In 1930 Japanese scientist Minoru Shirota took the strain originally classified as Lactobacillus casei and strengthened and cultured it. The result was the live Lactobacillus casei Shirota bacteria, which is still used today—in Yakult-brand products.
Today, hundreds of probiotic brands and variants exist, including drinks, food products, and supplements. Other drinks we now know are high in probiotics include fermented tea, kombucha, and the fermented dairy drink, kefir.
How Probiotics Improve Your Gut
The community of microorganisms living in your gut is also called the gut microbiome and gut microbiota. For your digestive system to function as it should, the complex ecosystem of the stomach, which includes good and bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, should be in balance. Good bacteria are necessary to help the body create vitamins, digest food and prevent harmful bacteria from entering your blood. Good bacteria also help your gut break down and absorb medications.
Probiotics have been shown to balance the gut by replenishing the good bacteria that prevent harmful bacteria from thriving. The use of antibiotics, for example, is known to kill natural bacteria in the gut. By consuming probiotics and improving gut health, you can combat common digestive issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
Because probiotics bring balance to the gut microbiome, they support healthy immune function, control inflammation, and promote digestive health. For these reasons, probiotic supplementation may be advised if you suffer from digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
A healthy gut brings benefits beyond digestive health, too: Researchers have observed a link between a balanced gut and skin, urinary, vaginal, and oral health.
Probiotic products are generally considered safe to consume because the live bacteria they contain already exist naturally in the body. However, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as increased gas or an allergic reaction.