Benefits of probiotics don’t stop at your gut

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By Nina Cusmano

When it comes to health, probiotics have recently started showing up on the radar.

These good bacteria are nothing new, and come in dairy, non-dairy or supplement forms.  

But what is chugging a bottle of Kombucha tea or taking a daily probiotic pill actually doing for your body?

Dr. Baharak Moshiree says that there are very few reasons not to take probiotics. She explained probiotics are live bacteria that normally exist in the gut, which includes both the large and small intestines. Taking probiotics helps maintain and grow healthy amounts of good bacteria in your gut.

People that need to take probiotics are typically patients with gut problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, colitis, or Crohn’s, according to Dr. Moshiree, a gastroenterologist at University of Miami Health.

“They [probiotics] help the movement of the intestines and help absorption of nutrients and minerals,” says Dr. Moshiree.

The bacteria in probiotic sources also help alleviate bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and malnutrition, which are caused by excess bad bacteria. People without gastrointestinal diseases or symptoms can still benefit from sources of probiotics.

There are numerous studies pointing to benefits associated with probiotics, other than digestive health. Gut health, Dr. Moshiree says, impacts many other parts of your body in terms of health.

“Disturbances in the gut can cause obesity, autism, multiple sclerosis, fatty liver disease –the liver disease not caused by alcohol-use, diabetes, food allergies or asthma,” says Dr. Moshiree.

Although the research is limited, there is also preliminary evidence that these good bacteria can promote positive mental health.

As for people who wouldn’t benefit from taking probiotics, Dr. Moshiree only lists pregnant women and certain immune-compromised individuals.

Probiotics can be in dairy or non-dairy products, supplements and foods.

So, if you’re convinced it can’t hurt to add probiotics in your diet, here are a few ways to do just that.

Dairy

One of the best-known sources of probiotics is yogurt. Greek yogurt is a natural, easy choice to receive plenty of probiotics daily. Greek yogurt typically has a thicker consistency than regular yogurt and is also a good source of calcium.  

Kefir, a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains, is also a highly recommended natural source of probiotics. Lauren Stracener, 22, likes to add Kefir to her smoothies. She said it is tasty and makes her feel healthier.

Non-Dairy

Kombucha tea is fermented sweetened tea that is popular for its association with being beneficial for your health. There are numerous brands of Kombucha tea. GT’s Classic Synergy in the trilogy and gingerberry flavors, or Yogi brand tea are both popular choices. Along with digestive health, these teas contain high amounts of antioxidants and is said to be good for joints and mood stability.

Supplements

If you do not have a physician’s recommendation, Dr. Moshiree suggests eating natural sources of probiotics in foods, like the ones listed above, rather than supplements. For those suffering from Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s, she believes VSL3 is the best. For IBS, she recommends Align or Culturelle, although every patient differs.

She emphasized that she believes the healthiest option for people without these diseases are the dairy or non-dairy options because there are so many supplements and regulation of these supplements is difficult.

Prebiotics

Dr. Moshiree compares prebiotics to fertilizers that prepare the gut to grow probiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics, taken together best prepare your small and large intestines to maintain strong, healthy levels of probiotics.

These prebiotics are available in supplements, she recommends Inulin, but also in non-digestible carbohydrates.

Natural sources of prebiotics are beans, soy, onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks and bananas. Dr. Moshiree warns that excess amounts of these foods can have the opposite effect and cause discomfort in the stomach.

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