By now, you've probably heard something about probiotics. These little microbes have been getting a lot of attention for their seeming ability to support the healthy function of multiple systems within the body. Human bodies function with the support of a healthy microbiome, the system of good bacteria that live within our bodies. A growing number of human studies confirm that the microbiome holds the key to lifetime wellness, and for many, probiotics can be an efficient way to provide support to these critical systems.
But what are the specific health benefits of probiotics? How can increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut increase the overall health of your body? We decided to dig into some of the research to discover the whole body benefits of adding probiotics to your beauty and wellness routine.
Why Take Probiotics?
The logic behind the decision to take probiotic supplements has its roots in the functionality of the microbiome. "Probiotics are essentially healthy bacteria that help to colonize the gut to support and improve gut health," said biohacker and health enthusiast Suman Chatterji. An out-of-balance gut can leave the body susceptible to inflammatory bowel diseases.
Research shows that an out-of-balance microbiome may leave the body susceptible to germs, as well as multiple cumulative health problems. The benefits of taking probiotics are caused by their ability to positively impact this invisible ecosphere we each contain within our bodies.
According to Dr. Bryan Curtin, a physician at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center, "Probiotics are best used for a specific purpose, rather than generally." He suggests that you target your probiotic use for the specific symptoms you want to address. "For example, if you took an antibiotic for a sinus infection and then got diarrhea, a short course of probiotics is likely to be very helpful," he said. "However, for just ‘general health,’ the benefit is much more unclear."
Here are a few of the areas of the body that research shows experience positive probiotic benefits.
1. Gut Health Support
Let's start with the obvious: Probiotics are good for your gut health. A growing body of research shows that your gut microbiome is the key to healthy digestion and may dramatically impact everything from obesity rates to disease resistance. Your microbiota is responsible for supporting your system's ability to digest and process food efficiently. If your microbiome is out of balance, you'll likely experience the ill effects of indigestion, including nausea and an upset stomach. An imbalanced microbiome has also been linked to long-term gut health issues.
Probiotic supplements work to support the healthy gut bacteria present in your colon and throughout your digestive system, which makes them a critical tool in supporting healthy gut function. Studies show that there are a number of stomach and digestive health issues that may be positively impacted by taking probiotics, including:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Fatty liver disease (the non-alcoholic variety, which is linked strongly to obesity)
Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast found in probiotics, may be particularly effective in combating digestive issues — particularly ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome —because it specifically fights against gut inflammation. However, there are many types of probiotics, including those naturally found in fermented foods and dairy products, that actively work to support the health of your gut microbiota and fight against bad bacteria. So if you prefer a few scoops of kimchi to saccharomyces boulardii pills, you'll still be reaping some of the positive health effects of probiotic supplements.
2. Mood-Boosting Benefits
It's difficult to deny there's a deep connection between food and mood. You are what you eat, as the saying goes! We've all had the experience of getting "hangry" or stressing out after a sugar crash. And as it turns out, there are a growing number of studies that show there's a deep connection between mental health problems and the balance of good bacteria within the body. Your diet has a significant impact on your brain's ability to process and respond to stress, meaning that probiotics have a very real impact on the overall mental health of people suffering from a number of imbalances.
But how does it actually work? How can bad bacteria be connected to your mental health? According to recent studies, the gut/brain connection is rooted in the way our brains interact with our nervous system. Research shows that food plays a significant role in regulating stress and mental health because our diet, and the balance of bacteria it introduces into our systems, helps regulate the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls and responds to stress.
One of the benefits of taking probiotics is that regularly using probiotics supplements may help reduce anxiety by providing support for the healthy functioning of the hypothalamus. The research into this area of mental health and probiotics is still in its early stages, but there is a growing body of evidence that our mental health is substantially impacted by the bacteria we consume. Probiotics, either in supplements or in food form, can help encourage a healthier brain and a better balance of stress.
While you should absolutely consult a psychiatrist or other professional if you're experiencing long term stress to your nervous system or mental health, adding fermented foods to your diet can be a tasty way to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need to support mental, as well as physical, health.
3. A Stronger Immune System
As if better mental health and healthy digestion weren't enough of a reason to look into probiotics, there's also research showing that probiotics may support a healthier immune system. Your immune system health is strongly linked to your diet, so it makes sense that adding probiotics would have an impact on the composition and strength of your gut bacteria, which in turn impacts your body's ability to respond to external threats.
One of the benefits of probiotics supplements is how they work to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria within the digestive system. Probiotics support the strength of your colonic microbiota, which makes your stomach more resistant to pathogenic bacteria like E. coli. If you have a friend who boasts of having an iron stomach, they may be experiencing the benefits of probiotics. Bad bacteria simply have a harder time penetrating a healthy microbiome, meaning that people with a healthier microbiome get sick less often, and recover more quickly when they are ill.
But the support probiotics provide for immune function goes beyond stomach and gut health. Studies show that probiotics boosting good bacteria may reduce the severity of respiratory infections in multiple age groups. They've also been shown to reduce the frequency of UTIs by nearly half, making the good bacteria in probiotics a godsend for women cursed with reoccurring infections.
While studies are still being conducted to determine the exact nature of the relationship between immune function and probiotics, it's clear that there's a strong link between the bacteria in your body and its ability to fight off diseases. Probiotics help create a more sustainable internal microbial balance.
4. A Healthier Heart
Because so many heart problems are linked to diet, researchers have been investigating how the bacteria provided by probiotics may help. It turns out that probiotics can have a substantial impact on heart health by lowering both blood pressure and the levels of LDL — aka bad cholesterol — present in the blood. Bad cholesterol impacts heart health by causing fatty deposits to build up within your arteries, which may reduce or even block the blood flow, preventing essential blood and oxygen from reaching your heart, with long-term consequences including chest pains and even heart attack. So reducing LDL is essential to heart health — and as it turns out, probiotics may help do just that.
Certain probiotics, notably those that contain bacteria that produce lactic acid by breaking down cholesterol in the gut, prevent cholesterol from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream, where it can potentially damage the heart. Short-term studies show that participants who regularly consumed a yogurt rich in probiotics can lower both types of cholesterol, making probiotics an excellent addition to the diet of anyone mindful of their heart health.
Other studies show that consuming probiotics may reduce blood pressure somewhat, although you need to consume a high level of probiotics and keep an otherwise heart-healthy diet, to see a substantial impact of probiotics on your heart.
5. The Probiotics Glow
Lastly, but certainly not least, probiotics are beloved in the beauty and wellness communities for their ability to create what nutritionist Paula Simpson describes as the "probiotics glow" in her groundbreaking book "Good Bacteria for Healthy Skin," where she breaks down her beliefs about how creating an environment rich in beneficial bacteria can help support skin health.
While most of the evidence linking probiotics to skin health comes from studies that look at the effect of probiotics on specific skin diseases like eczema, some dermatologists believe that including probiotics in both your diet and topically applied skin care products may help support protein functioning within the skin barrier, reducing the effects of sun damage and increasing the healthy appearance of the skin itself.
This guidance remains largely anecdotal, but there are some promising studies showing that probiotics do have a protective effect on the skin barrier. Increasing your consumption of probiotics, or adding good bacteria to your skincare routine by using products that contain probiotics, avoiding harsh face washes or skin treatments that harm your skin's microbiome, and cultivating your skin microbiome from within can all help create the illusive probiotics glow.
6. Healthier Hair
Probiotics can also promote healthier, stronger hair. A recent study focused on the effects of probiotics on androgenetic alopecia concluded that probiotic supplementation triggered the anagen phase (active phase) of hair growth that resulted in improvements in hair count and thickness in patients with the disorder.
In fact, there's a link between gut health and hair health. A healthy microbiome can help counteract hair thinning and hair loss due to the presence of biotin. Some of the body's gut bacteria produces biotin, while other bacteria helps break down and absorb it. So if you maintain a healthy gut biome, you can help things along by taking a biotin supplement like GRO Biotin Gummies or GRO+ Advanced Gummies with CBD, which your body will break down and absorb to encourage hair growth.
Probiotic Benefits Takeaways
Whatever specific issue you're seeking to address — boosting the health of your hair, your heart, your gut, your immune system, your mood or your skin — adding probiotics to your routine can be a great first step. While you should always consult with your doctor before beginning any specific course of treatment, probiotics are a cheap, low-risk way to support the health of your microbiome and encourage whole-body wellness.
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