The 10 Best Probiotics
We spent 37 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. Kimchi and sauerkraut contain healthy microorganisms, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to eat them every day. To reap probiotic benefits, then, you might turn to supplements, which can have the same nourishing effects, including better digestion. Look for products that contain many colony-forming units (CFUs) and a wide range of bacteria, as these typically offer the greatest results. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best probiotic on Amazon.
How Do Probiotics Improve Digestion?
While adding bacteria to the body may sound scary, the idea that all bacteria are bad is a common misconception.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that are now a staple in many diets, mainly due to the benefits they have for the digestive system. While adding bacteria to the body may sound scary, the idea that all bacteria are bad is a common misconception. It is helpful to understand exactly how these probiotics improve digestion to put the mind at ease.
The epidemic of poor digestion in Western countries is a huge reason probiotics have gained so much popularity in recent years. Digestive symptoms are widespread, affecting more than 60 percent of adults. The actual numbers are probably higher, as many people with digestive symptoms never report them. This tells us that symptoms of digestive issues are extremely common. Things like bloating, burping, flatulence, occasional constipation or diarrhea, and even acne are all signs of poor digestion. Probiotics help reverse these symptoms by empowering the digestive system.
Probiotics work by balancing out the digestive flora. This is the collection of both harmful and helpful bacteria that live in the human digestive tract. Each individual has a different balance in their gut, but the average healthy gut will contain around 85 percent healthy bacteria and 15 percent harmful bacteria at any given moment. These bacteria help break down foods for better absorption and digestion. This also empowers the bacteria to grow and multiply. A condition called dysbiosis arises when the level of bad bacteria in the gut starts to overpower the level of good.
Dysbiosis negatively impacts the body. It can easily cause the symptoms of poor digestion and may influence chronic digestive disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Poor dietary choices are the main cause of dysbiosis in many people, especially those that eat overly processed foods and introduce chemicals or antibiotics into their bodies.
The first line of defense for treating dysbiosis is to correct the imbalance in the gut using probiotics. Probiotics are concentrated versions of common bacterial cultures that thrive in the digestive system. Adding more of these helpful bacteria allows them to starve the bad bacteria and push them out. This ultimately brings harmony back to the gut, helping to eliminate digestive issues.
Additional Benefits Of Probiotics
The benefits of probiotics in the body do not stop at better digestion. New research is shining light on the many ways probiotics help the body. Dysbiosis usually takes a while to settle in. Years of making poor diet and lifestyle choices lead up to a gut full of very strong harmful bacteria. This often goes unnoticed in Western medicine, where the focus is typically more on treating the symptoms and not the root cause of a chronic illness.
This proximity means that digestive health has a direct impact on neurological disorders, as well as metabolic disorders.
Luckily, a large body of research is turning this trend around. Many disorders that were once thought to be life sentences are now being studied from a new lens. Dysbiosis in the gut may have a farther reach than ever thought possible. Recent studies have shown us that gut flora plays a role in many chronic diseases and disorders. This includes asthma, allergies, obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
The relationship between intestinal health and overall health grows stronger every day. This is largely due to the discovery that microorganisms living in the gut are in direct contact with the epithelial and immune system cells. An estimated 70 percent of the immune system is within the gut itself, in the form of gut-associated lymphoid tissue. This proximity means that digestive health has a direct impact on neurological disorders, as well as metabolic disorders.
Influencing physical symptoms and boosting the immune system through the gut is one thing, but mental disorders are usually a different matter. Yet it seems probiotics can help there, as well. Recent research shows us that probiotics can affect the brain in a positive way. Initial tests found that certain probiotics had an antidepressant and stress-relieving effect on test subjects. There will be more research to medically substantiate early tests, but the combined knowledge shows us that gut health may influence every single system in the body.
Understanding Fermentation And Its History
Much of the hype surrounding probiotics has come in recent years. This makes many people think probiotics themselves are a recent innovation. Actually, probiotic use dates back thousands of years and is found in many cultures. While ancient cultures may not have labeled their foods as probiotics to differentiate them from other foods, the living cultures in their foods were very similar to the cultures we still use for probiotics today.
The salt helps kill certain harmful bacteria while the water chokes out other airborne bacteria.
The lactic fermentation process that makes probiotic bacteria multiply is extremely easy to carry out. It is basically letting the food rot, but in a very controlled way. When food is left out at room temperature and exposed to air, many different microbes living in the air start to inhabit the food. Add to this the number of germs already on the surface of the food, and it is a wild guess as to what kind of microbe will win out and dominate the food. In many moist foods it is a mold or mildew that takes over. The white or green spots on bread and oranges are good examples of uncontrolled food rot.
By controlling the conditions the food is in, whether in a factory environment or using a home fermenting kit, people can control the type of bacteria that grows on the food. Most healthy bacteria thrive in an anaerobic state, or a state without air. This is also why a saltwater brine is often used to ferment foods. The salt helps kill certain harmful bacteria while the water chokes out other airborne bacteria. The water also allows the beneficial bacteria to spread throughout the food much faster.
Lactic fermentation was a way for ancient peoples with abundant harvests to preserve food indefinitely without it rotting. Many old fermented foods are still found in cultures worldwide, and include foods like sourdough, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and even hákarl, Iceland’s favorite fermented shark. Modern fermentation methods have eliminated levels of error that were common with ancient practices. Yet other than the potential potency in modern fermentation methods, the process has not changed for over 6,000 years.
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