Probiotics for gut health

Probiotics are often considered remedies for restoring the balance of the bacteria in our stomach and intestines when they are negatively affected by medical treatment or illness. This article discusses probiotics for gut health and how they work.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are microorganisms with benefits for gut health when ingested. The gut is populated by trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms. Some of them are good for the gut, and others are not. Probiotics are good bacteria that help restore the gut’s health when various factors like diarrhoea, constipation, gas or bloating disrupt its balance. Taking probiotics helps good microorganisms populate your gut and alleviate the negative symptoms that harm it.

Probiotics are available as supplements and in foods processed by bacterial fermentation, like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh.

What types of bacteria are in probiotics?

Probiotics for gut health

Probiotics may contain different microorganisms. The most frequent are the ones containing the bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Other examples are Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus and Escherichia. Yeast Saccharomyces boulardii is also commonly used in probiotics. 

It’s important to know that different types of probiotics address different health issues of gut health, and that is why you need to know which type of probiotics is good for you.

Some probiotics combine different species of bacteria in the same product – these are called multi-probiotics or broad-spectrum probiotics.

For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another type of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium probiotics would have the same effect.

Do probiotics improve gut health?

Studies have indicated that probiotics can improve several issues that affect the health of the gut:

Diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use

Antibiotics taken to cure various affections can destroy the good bacteria in the gut, allowing damaging bacteria to flourish, which leads to diarrhoea. Diarrhoea causes dehydration, which can become a life-threatening condition when it’s left untreated.

A review published in 2017 analysing 17 studies involving 3,631 participants not hospitalised has concluded that administering probiotics to patients who took antibiotics resulted in a decrease of around 50% in the probability of antibiotics-derived diarrhoea.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a frequent digestive issue whose most common symptoms are constipation, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. 

A summary from 2018 that reviewed 53 studies with 5,545 participants indicated that probiotics might have beneficial effects on IBS symptoms and the abdominal pain associated with this disorder.

Inflammatory bowel diseases

Other studies suggest that probiotic use has benefits in addressing inflammatory bowel diseases, a medical issue that causes a part of the digestive system to become inflamed. The symptoms of this affection include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, loss of weight, decreased appetite or fever. The most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and their treatment consists of medicines and, in more severe cases, surgery. Research has suggested that including probiotics in the treatment of ulcerative colitis could be beneficial for triggering or preserving a remission of this disorder.

Infant Colic

Colic is a condition affecting infants that causes them to cry without an explanation. Some studies have discovered differences between the microbial population of the digestive tract in babies who suffer from colic and those who do not. This led scientists to conclude that colic is connected to the microorganisms from the digestive system. Breastfed babies who received probiotics showed a more than half decrease in crying time.

Ulcers and stomach cancer

Using probiotics for gut health can contribute to the fight against Helicobacter pylori infections, which is one of the principal causes of ulcers and stomach cancer. 

What are the signs you need probiotics?

Probiotics for gut health

Troubles with your sleep

Serotonin is a chemical produced in the gut that delivers messages between nerve cells in the brain throughout your body. When your probiotics levels are low, the gut produces less serotonin, and more high cortisol (stress hormone) is generated. This makes it difficult for your body to relax at night and causes sleep disorders, a sign you have a probiotics deficiency. Taking probiotics can help solve this issue. 

Repeated mood disorders

Probiotics are also linked to mood disorders like stress, depression and anxiety. Serotonin and dopamine are two hormones that keep your mood stable. Because these hormones originate in the gut, an unbalanced microorganism environment may produce them in less-than-needed quantities. 

When the body does not have enough serotonin, it tends to generate high cortisol (the stress hormone), leading to episodes of anxiety, depression and panic attacks. 

The probiotic supplements help improve these issues and decrease the rate of mood swings.

Frequent colds and flu

Frequently catching flu or colds is a sign that you need probiotics, as they help fight against the pathogens that enter your body. Probiotics prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s defence mechanisms and triggering allergic issues.

Bowel disorders

If you experience diarrhoea, constipation, and irregular waste elimination, your gut might not have enough good bacteria. To help these bacteria populate the gut and outnumber the harmful ones, use probiotics supplements or eat foods that contain probiotics. 

Weight gain

One study established the bacteria in the gut of obese people are different than in lean people’s guts. Although more research is needed, it seems that specific probiotic strains have an impact on weight loss. This is due to probiotics that enable the body to break down fats into simpler forms that cells can use to generate energy. 

Before taking probiotics to prevent weight gain, consult with a nutritionist.

Skin issues

The skin contains several types of bacteria. The good ones prevent damaging bacteria from settling in the pores and causing various issues like eczema, acne or rosacea. 

The most common acne treatments are antibacterial products, as this skin condition is caused by a specific group of bacteria that antibacterial products can destroy. But these treatments can kill probiotics, leaving your skin vulnerable to fungal infections. 

Probiotics can treat acne without making the skin prone to infections and help manage eczema and rosacea. 

Talk to a doctor to see if probiotics will address your skin issues.

Who should not take a probiotic?

Probiotics for gut health

Despite the beneficial effects of probiotics on gut health, several medical conditions do not tolerate them.

People affected by immunosuppressed, pancreatitis, melaena (dark blood in their faeces) and short bowel syndrome cannot take probiotics.

Probiotics are not recommended to patients in ICU, those with a central venous catheter, and who have open wounds after major surgery.

 

Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding need to check with their doctor before taking certain types of probiotics. The same rule applies to those who follow an immunosuppressant medication and steroid medication treatment.

Probiotics support gut health and well-being by helping alleviate issues like constipation and diarrhoea, fighting against skin issues, food allergies and sugar cravings, and supporting the body’s immunity and blood sugar management, alongside other benefits for your health.