When venturing down the rabbit hole that is health and nutrition education, oftentimes it’s difficult to know exactly where you’re heading. There are countless signs claiming to be the way to go – offering a cure-all to your every ailment – and guaranteeing your success if you just follow along. Among these many signs and signals is a message to take probiotics – to load up on yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha – but is taking probiotics really the way to go? And if so, how do you know if it is the right path for you?
To start, we know that probiotics are good for us, and that they are a natural part of the body’s environment. Probiotics are microorganisms (microflora) that reside in our intestine. They are good bacteria that keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms or bacteria) in check, aid in proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function. Probiotics have been researched extensively, showing positive results for an array of conditions ranging from asthma and allergies, to skin disorders and vaginal and urinary infections. They crowd out bad bacteria, preventing the bacteria’s ability to host in the body, which inhibits infection, inflammation and disease.
Another way in which probiotics impact the health of the body is by improving digestion. Proper levels of probiotics in the gut have been shown to be effective in combating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, they help the body to absorb nutrients, making sure your body receives the vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids from the foods that you are consuming. In fact, probiotics are needed for the generation of certain B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids.
Finally, we know that probiotics are the foundation of a concept called the “gut-brain” connection. This is the idea that microflora (probiotics) directly impact your brain behavior. Proven by researchers at UCLA, the correction of healthy bacteria in the gut can optimize neurotransmitter function, leading to a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress, and may even improve learning and sharpen focus and memory.
Now that we see how probiotics help the body, how do we know if our body needs them? Probiotics exist naturally in your gut, so we really only need to supplement with them if they have been depleted. And how do we know if they have been depleted? Take a look at our list of the top signs that indicate deficiency, and see if a probiotic supplement needs to be added to your shopping list.
Insider’s Info: Probiotics are abundant in fermented foods, but most often their probiotic concentration is not enough to be used therapeutically when the gut flora has been drastically depleted. Therefore, use fermented probiotic-rich foods as an ongoing part of the diet to keep your levels up as a form of prevention. Then choose a high-quality probiotic (like these favorites), as a form of nutrition therapy.
9 signs you need probiotics
Antibiotic means anti-life, which is the exact opposite of probiotic, which means pro-life. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria in the body, and they do not discriminate between the bad and the good. So if you have ever taken a round of antibiotics, consider taking a probiotic to reintroduce the healthy flora back into the body.
TCM Tip: Start a round of probiotics after you finish your antibiotics. Antibiotics prevent the probiotics from living in the body, so do not waste your money by taking them concurrently.
If you recently have had food poisoning or have eaten something that just didn’t sit right, there is a good chance bad bacteria has made a home in your body. Taking a probiotic will fight off these bad guys and get your digestion and bowel movements back to normal.
TCM Tip: When traveling in a foreign country, take probiotics as a preventative measure both before and during the trip. The more healthy bacteria you have in the gut, the better defense your body has against potential invaders.
If your gut has not been functioning correctly and you are suffering from a condition of the digestive tract, consider using a probiotic supplement. Oftentimes the simple addition of these healthy bacteria can quell symptoms, and no further treatment is needed. Research has shown probiotics to be helpful for diarrhea, gas, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s and H. pylori infection.
TCM Tip: Always improve the diet first, eliminating hard-to-digest foods such as processed, packaged, and fried foods, dairy, gluten and soy. If your condition is still occurring, then you know it is time to bring in probiotics.
If you suffer from acne, eczema, rashes, hives, or psoriasis, it’s most likely due to poor digestion and an imbalance in gut bacteria. Start using probiotics while also cleaning up your diet.
TCM Tip: If your skin does not clear from diet and probiotics alone, you may consider using digestive aids such as HCL and enzymes, and agents to heal the intestinal lining (glutamine and aloe). Checking your hormones is also important when acne is present, especially on the chin, chest and upper back.
If your daily life is riddled with stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, it could be because your intestinal flora is out of whack. Start using probiotics to normalize the flora, which will improve the functioning of your neurotransmitters and therefore your mood.
TCM Tip: If your mood does not improve with the use of probiotics, consider taking live-source B vitamins, and herbs to strengthen the kidney. These are oftentimes the missing link when mood conditions are present.
If you get sick from the flu every year, have maxed out your work sick days and seem to catch everything that goes around, then try probiotics. Probiotics have been clinically found to boost the immune system and strengthen the body’s defenses against illness. Healthy bacteria can train your immune system to distinguish between “foreign” microbes and those originating in your body, making probiotics the best front line against infection.
TCM Tip: In order to keep the immune system strong, it is ideal to do a round of probiotics for a month or so, and to stay on a low dose as a form of prevention. Eating probiotic-rich foods daily is also going to be a key component for keeping the healthy bacteria in balance.
Asthma and Allergies
Research has shown promise in the effects of probiotics in reducing symptom severity and medication use for asthma. Probiotics may also be helpful in reducing allergies, especially food allergies. Most often the root cause of food allergies is leaky gut, which can be improved by proper flora levels in the gut. Studies indicate that children with healthier gut flora have a reduced risk of developing allergies and asthma.
TCM Tip: In order to help prevent asthma and allergies in your children, consider breastfeeding. Breastfeeding helps protect your baby from this abnormal gut flora by introducing naturally occurring probiotics via the breastmilk.
New research suggests that probiotics may have therapeutic potential in autism spectrum disorder. They believe that gut bacteria may contribute to symptoms of Autism. By balancing the gut bacteria – reintroducing healthy probiotics – communicative, stereotypic, anxiety-like and sensorimotor behaviors were shown to decrease. While more research has to be done on the topic, probiotic supplementation for autism appears hopeful.
If you suffer from recurring yeast infections or Candida, then this is a good indicator that there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the body. The best way to bring it back into balance is with probiotics. Probiotics, or good bacteria, crowd out the bad bacteria, helping to relieve the body of the symptoms attributed to the overgrowth.
TCM Tip: Eliminate white sugar and significantly reduce natural sugars, and sugary carbohydrates. These foods are what bad bacteria feed on, so in order to expedite their elimination from the body, it is best to cut off their food source.