We often hear the term “probiotic,” especially when it comes to yogurt and its impact on digestive health, and science is continually finding new health benefits of probiotics. To help you sort through the facts, we’re Getting the Skinny with Molly on 7 proven benefits of probiotics, and how to get more of them in our diets.
What are probiotics, and how are they helpful? Also referred to as “good bacteria,” probiotics are live microorganisms that exist naturally in the gut. Probiotics alter the permeability of the intestinal wall, and help to keep pro-inflammatory compounds from entering the bloodstream. As a result, they help prevent a wide range of chronic conditions, and have been shown to help improve:
- Weight loss/weight control: Probiotics can improve blood sugar control, affect leptin sensitivity (a hormone that helps regulate appetite). Women seem particularly sensitive to the effects of probiotics.
- Boost mood, fight depression: Taking probiotics is linked with lower levels of anxiety & depression, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – probiotics appear to help reduce several markers of inflammation in the body.
- Boost immune system: Studies have shown that taking a probiotic may result in fewer (about 40% fewer) colds.
- Gastrointestinal & digestive health, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea, as well as chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics may also help maintain remission/prevent relapse of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Urinary tract infections & yeast infections – probiotic treatment can restore the balance of microflora that may be altered by a variety of factors, including birth control pills and antibiotics.
- Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea
Health effects of probiotics are strain-specific, meaning that the unique types of bacteria are effective for specific conditions. For a summary of probiotics shown to be effective for specific conditions, visit www.usprobiotics.org.
Top naturally probiotic-rich foods that are filled with live, active cultures:
Kombucha. Fermented yeasts and bacteria with sweetened tea, resulting in a carbonated, probiotic-rich beverage.
Yogurt. My preference is plain, lowfat Greek yogurt
Buttermilk. A good source of probiotics, thanks to the live cultures added to ferment the milk sugars.
Kefir. Made by fermenting milk with a culture of yeasts and bacteria that are referred to as kefir ‘grains.’
Cultured cottage cheese such as Nancy’s (www.nancysyogurt.com)
Miso. It’s made by fermenting cooked soybeans with rice or barley, salt, and koji (a starter culture) to form a red, white, or dark colored paste. Can be used in place of salt in your favorite recipes
Sauerkraut. The fermentation process means that homemade sauerkraut is a good source of live, active cultures.
Kimchi. Fermented & pickled cabbage, mixed with ingredients like red pepper flakes, radish, ginger, and onion.
If you opt for capsules or supplements, check out our probiotic supplement 101:
- Check the expiration date. You’re looking for live active cultures, not a product that is past the lifespan of the organisms it contains.
- Get enough CFUs. Look for a dose of 10 to 20 million CFUs (colony forming units).
Maintain proper temperature. Probiotics need to be kept in a cool, dry place – ideally sold refrigerated and stored in the fridge at home.