Humans have more than 10 times the number of bacteria in their body than they have cells – about 100 trillion, representing more than 500 different species. When in proper balance, a delicate and precise ratio of 85 percent friendly bacteria to 15 percent "unfriendly" bacteria, the human organism quite naturally heals itself. But when something upsets that delicate balance, be it general lack of nutrition, exposure to certain or numerous toxins (depending on the individual) or a medically prescribed course of antibiotics, problems can arise. Under these desperate conditions, the body shifts into survival mode (sympathetic nervous system), bringing its own innate healing abilities (parasympathetic nervous state) to a slow or full stop.
But the miracle of probiotics can help restore us to optimal health. As the antithesis of antibiotics, which kills bacteria indiscriminately (both unfriendly and friendly) while still allowing other harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast to proliferate unchallenged, probiotics work to rebuild and rebalance this intestinal flora so critical to our health and our absorption of vital nutrients. In fact, probiotics are quite necessary in the aftermath of any course of antibiotics, and when taken properly, in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, it can help improve health dramatically. Their many benefits include, but are not limited to, the following:
Relief from gastrointestinal disorders
With gastrointestinal conditions on a steady rise in recent years, improving overall gut function may be the most appropriate and obvious application for probiotics. Common signs of intestinal imbalance – meaning the "bad" bacteria have taken over – include diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, headaches, gas and bloating, nausea and cravings for sugars and refined, carb-heavy foods. Instead of reaching for the nearest over-the-counter symptom quick-fix, incorporating probiotics into your diet may be a better and longer-lasting alternative, as they can repopulate your gut with more "good" bacteria.
Better digestion and nutrient absorption
An unhealthy gut does not digest foods properly. That means the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for survival may be greatly impaired. Probiotics change that by keeping harmful organisms in check and allowing for improved overall digestion and nutrient uptake.
Increased immune function
A healthy bowel is critical to immune function. The friendly bacteria of probiotics assist the immune system in recognizing harmful pathogens, like those that lead to cold and flu. Probiotics may be especially helpful for those with autoimmune diseases, who have a tendency for infection and who may be taking medications which actually suppress immune function, on the condition that a more gentle probiotic is chosen. One containing too many species or particularly strong yeast, for example, may pose a potential risk of overgrowth for an already compromised immune system.
Reversed metabolic syndrome and encouraged weight loss
Research indicates that obese people have more harmful bacteria in the gut than lean people, while lean people have more friendly bacteria in their guts than those who are obese. Studies show that these unfriendly gut bacteria may actually cause low-grade inflammation in the body, contributing to obesity and making losing that weight more difficult. Probiotics may help on their own for a short time, but as always and especially in this case, they should be taken as a complement to a healthy diet. Processed foods and a diet high in sugars and unhealthy fats will only encourage the growth of unfriendly bacteria, insulin resistance and weight gain.
Clearer, better nourished skin
Studies indicate that probiotics may help to heal the systemic inflammation associated with certain skin disorders, such as eczema and acne. A Norwegian study has found that babies born to pregnant women taking probiotics had only half the risk of developing eczema, and in those children who did develop it, the severity of symptoms was greatly reduced. A separate study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science indicated that probiotics may also inhibit the growth of bacteria associated with acne.
Improved urogenital health in women
Similar to the intestinal tract, the ecosystem of the vagina is one of delicate balance, often challenged not just by antibiotics, but by spermicides and birth control pills too. Probiotics can help rebuild the microflora to a balance necessary for the prevention of yeast infections, urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
Beneficial probiotics are available in the form of dietary supplements, and they are also found in fermented foods and organic cultured milk products like yogurt. When it comes to choosing those best suited to your own health, be sure to do your homework. Research the product you’re considering thoroughly before use, as it is possible that not all bacteria listed on the label will be effective for your condition. Because they’re present already in a naturally functioning, normal digestive system, probiotics are generally considered safe; however, it may be wise to consult with a health professional regarding the mixture of certain probiotics, as well as preferred applications for specific medical conditions.
Remember too that a well-balanced lifestyle and a non-toxic, nutrient-rich diet is necessary in order to ensure maximum gain from any probiotics routine. Reducing all types of stress is also particularly important, especially during the holiday season. Good daily habits are the foundation of health, after all, and probiotics can assist in supporting that foundation.
Sources for this article include: