Probiotics are live bacteria that stimulate the growth of helpful microorganisms, especially those in your gut.
While we may recognize bacteria as a bad thing that can cause disease, it also occurs naturally in the human body. There are the “bad” bacteria we immediately think of, but there are also “good” bacteria.
Probiotics contain these “good” bacteria. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most common probiotics.
Lactobacillus can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. It is best known for helping ease diarrhea and assisting in the processing of lactose (the sugar found in milk.)
Bifidobacterium can also be found in some dairy products, and may help ease symptoms of various digestive issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS.)
Probiotics help move food through the digestive system. When your gut is working at peak performance, you can expect not only improved digestion, but better odds of fighting off food-borne illness, even helping to heal diseases like IBS and Crohn’s.
Not only will your digestive function benefit, but you will also experience a boost in immunity. An astounding 80% of the body’s immune system is located in the gut! Probiotics can help you fend off all sorts of illnesses, from the common cold to the flu.
The digestive system is also a huge part of the body’s neurological system. Chronic fatigue, joint pain, thyroid disease, even psoriasis are initiated in the gut. With improved gut health, some symptoms of these illnesses could be alleviated.
Are you beginning to see how important gut health really is? Well, thanks to the Cambridge Cardiac Care Centre in Ontario, Canada, there is now another potential benefit to taking probiotics.
New research suggests adding probiotics to your health regimen may help to lower blood sugar.
The 80 participants in the study were following the DASH diet, a diet recommended for individuals with high blood pressure. About 15% of the participants also had prediabetes.
All participants had their blood pressure, hemoglobin A1C levels, and fasting blood sugar levels checked prior to beginning the study.
Some of the participants followed the DASH diet only, while the others followed the DASH diet with the addition of probiotic-rich foods.
After three months, both groups experienced similar drops in blood pressure. Therefore, the addition of probiotics did not appear to affect that aspect of the study. However, the probiotics did affect participants’ blood sugar levels.
Participants who followed the DASH diet only lowered their A1C by 3.4% compared to an 8.9% reduction in A1C for those who had added probiotics.
The probiotics also affected participants’ fasting blood sugar. The DASH diet only group lowered fasting blood sugar by 3.3% while the DASH plus probiotic group enjoyed a 10.7% reduction.
How can researchers explain these results?
There is a naturally-occurring compound in the gut called butyrate. Butyrate may positively impact insulin sensitivity. When insulin sensitivity is improved, the body does a better job of regulating blood sugar and is able to keep blood sugar levels lower.
While this single study does not prove cause-and effect, it is a starting point for additional research.
So how do you find the right probiotic?
While probiotics do naturally occur in several foods, some find it helpful to take a probiotic supplement.
Probiotics are safe for most people, although individuals with immune disorders or other serious health conditions may need special consideration. You should always consult with your physician prior to starting new supplements or medications.
When first starting probiotic supplements, you may experience temporary bloating, upset stomach, gas, or diarrhea. These symptoms should resolve within a few days as your digestive system regulates.
Make sure the bottle label states “shelf stable” or “refrigeration not required.” If not, you will have to keep your probiotics in the refrigerator to prevent the bacteria from expiring.
Also check the label for potential allergens like dairy, wheat, soy, and gluten. Make sure you are getting a quality probiotic.
Hopefully, you will soon be on your way to a happier gut and a healthier body with the help of probiotics!