The gut is a complex part of the human body. As such, it’s considered critical to good heart and brain health, strong immunity, better sleep, improved mood, and effective digestion. Good gut health may also help in preventing some autoimmune diseases.
One way of maintaining good gut health is taking probiotics. If you’ve ever looked at a yogurt container or carton, you must have seen the words ‘live and active culture’ on the label. Some companies even provide a list of the active cultures like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium lactis present in the yogurt. These cultures are referred to as probiotics.
In simple terms, probiotics are living microorganisms helping with digestion by maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. When taken in adequate amounts, probiotics provide health benefits to the host. While probiotics offer many health benefits, they also have their downsides.
Pros Of Probiotics
Probiotics may be taken in the form of supplements or as fermented foods. Some key benefits of probiotics in supporting gut health include:
1. Preventing Diarrhea
Probiotics can reduce the severity of diarrhea or even prevent it. Diarrhea mostly occurs when antibiotics affect the balance of bad and good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics help in lowering the risk of diarrhea associated with a high intake of antibiotics.
Probiotics are also instrumental in reducing the severity by decreasing the duration of infectious diarrhea. Even so, efficacy varies based on the dosage and probiotic strain one takes.
2. Balancing Bacteria In The Gut
When the number of bad bacteria in the gut is higher than that of good bacteria, an imbalance occurs. Often, imbalance occurs due to illness, poor diet, or intake of medications such as antibiotics. This can result in digestive issues, obesity, mental health problems, and allergies, among others.
Since probiotics are considered functional medicine containing good bacteria, they help in fixing this problem. Once taken, these live microorganisms offer health benefits by restoring the natural balance of bacteria in the gut.
3. Supporting Heart Health
Probiotics can support heart health by reducing the amount of cholesterol in the body and by lowering blood pressure. Some probiotics contain lactic acid that helps in breaking the bile in the gut.
Bile is a fluid that occurs naturally. It’s made of cholesterol and it’s instrumental in supporting digestion. Once it’s broken down, probiotics ensure it isn’t reabsorbed in the gut where it can get into the bloodstream as cholesterol.
4. Boosting Immunity
Probiotics can boost the immune system by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Better still, some probiotics can enhance the production of antibodies in the body, which boosts the immune system. They can also support immune cells such as T lymphocytes, IgA-producing cells, and other natural killer cells. The effectiveness of probiotics to boost immunity is particularly evident in reduced respiratory infections.
5. Supporting Weight Regulation
Besides keeping the gut healthy and boosting immunity, probiotics can also facilitate weight loss in various ways. Some probiotics support by preventing dietary fat absorption in the intestines. The fat is excreted instead of being stored inside the body.
Other probiotics cause you to feel full for an extended period. This enables you to store less fat and burn more calories. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri can support direct weight loss.
6. Reducing Digestive Disorders
Digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease are common. Some probiotics, particularly those containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, can improve the symptoms of mild ulcerative colitis. Probiotics can also ease digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and lower the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, a fatal bowel disease that affects premature infants.
Cons Of Probiotics
While probiotics are largely considered safe to take, they have some downsides as well. Here are the most common ones:
1. Triggering Stomach Reactions
Probiotics can trigger allergic reactions such as mild stomach issues during the initial days of intake. Some common reactions you’re likely to experience when you start using probiotics include stomach upsets, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Often, these symptoms disappear once the body gets used to them.
2. Side Effects In Individuals With Immune Problems
Probiotics may have serious side effects in people who have immune system problems or individuals dealing with other serious health conditions. In people who have immunity problems, probiotics can overstimulate the system and affect metabolic pathways significantly.
People who have serious health conditions could end up with infections after taking probiotics. Serious side effects are common in people who have other health conditions, individuals who are critically ill, and people who have undergone surgery. Probiotic intake can lead to antibiotic resistance and harmful byproducts may develop from the supplement being taken.
As such, individuals who are immunocompromised, seriously ill, or are suffering from certain bowel problems can only take probiotics when their doctors advise them to do so. Also, pregnant women, young children, and infants should take probiotics cautiously.
3. Can Cause Fluctuation In Body Mass
While probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri are known to help with direct weight loss, not all strains offer this benefit. Some strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus can cause weight gain.
4. Short Shelf-Life
Live bacteria in probiotics can expire early due to various factors such as temperature and overabundance of oxygen, which may affect balance in the gut if they’re not in good condition. It’s important to consume it immediately or have it refrigerated.
The gut plays a key role in keeping people healthy. When there are too many bad bacteria in this part of the body, your immunity could be compromised and you could experience a wide range of stomach issues.
To live a healthy life, your gut should have more good bacteria than bad ones. But it’s not always easy to strike a balance between the two. This is where probiotics come in handy. These live microbes that can be taken in food or supplement play an important role in balancing good and bad bacteria. They offer numerous benefits, but they also have their downside as discussed above.