Probiotic Benefits

Fermented vegetables and dairy products contain probiotics.
Fermented vegetables and dairy products contain probiotics. (Image: MillefloreImages/iStock/Getty Images)

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are good for your health. They discourage the growth of bad bacteria, produce beneficial substances such as vitamins and help relieve gastrointestinal problems, to mention just a few of their benefits. Yogurt is a good source of probiotics, but kefir may be a better choice because it contains more diverse bacteria. Other sources of probiotics include fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut and soy foods like miso.

Short-Chain Fatty Acids Protect Intestine

The probiotics you consume join other beneficial bacteria in your large intestine, where they ferment some types of fiber and starch. During fermentation, probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids, which are used for energy in the intestine and throughout your body.

Butyrate, one type of short-chain fatty acid synthesized by probiotics, fights inflammation and helps keep the intestinal lining healthy. Ongoing research shows butyrate may regulate genes and inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells, according to a report in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in March 2011.

Studies in animals suggest butyrate's influence may extend beyond the intestine. It may help with weight loss or lower cholesterol, but more research is needed to prove its effectiveness in people.

Relieve Gastrointestinal Problems

Probiotics are especially beneficial for relieving diarrhea, including the types that are infectious or caused by antibiotics. Even if you’re lactose-intolerant, chances are you can tolerate yogurt with live bacteria because the microorganisms break down lactose, notes the University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Your doctor may recommend probiotics if you’re diagnosed with gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. While more studies are needed to verify the effectiveness of probiotics for gastritis and inflammatory bowel disease, some Bifidobacteria strains seem to improve symptoms caused by IBS, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Probiotics may lower blood pressure or cholesterol, but talk to your doctor about whether they might help you. Studies published to date have produced conflicting results.

Blood levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol went down when people consumed four specific probiotic strains, including two used in combination, according to a report in Nutrition Reviews in January 2014. However, another study using the same two combined strains found the probiotics didn't produce any change in cholesterol or blood pressure, according to the researchers' conclusions published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases in January 2015.

A review published in October 2014 in Hypertension reported improvement in blood pressure, but only when subjects took a large enough dose every day for at least eight weeks.

Tips for Buying Probiotics

You won’t gain any benefits from probiotics unless the products you buy meet a few guidelines. For starters, the bacteria cultures must be live, so check the label to see if it reports live cultures. Look for an expiration date because the bacteria won’t live beyond that date.

Probiotics also need to have a large quantity of live bacteria to achieve results. Choose products that contain at least 1 billion probiotic units per gram, recommends the University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Follow any storage instructions on the label, especially if they recommend refrigerating the probiotic. This ensures the microorganisms stay alive.

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