Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Our body is a natural habitat for many bacteria, yeast, protozoans, and viruses. Many of these are very helpful in keeping the internal functions running smoothly. For example, our digestive system’s flora helps digest food more effectively by releasing enzymes like lactase.
All the different organisms living on and in our bodies make up our unique microbiome. A harmonized balance between the good and bad microbes in our bodies is essential to keep us away from falling ill.
Probiotics can be explained as all the good and beneficial microbes living on and in our bodies. Probiotics mainly include good bacteria. In normal healthy adults, the microbiome is maintained in optimal balance. However, in the presence of infections, diseases, or stressful conditions, this delicate balance is interrupted and may cause health issues.
Every individual has a different microbial environment in their body. Therefore, an increase in probiotics or taking supplemental probiotics may improve bacterial harmony or have no effect. Probiotics do not have any side effects. They are part of the natural system already present in the human body.
Natural probiotics help us in various daily functions like:
- Act as a skin barrier from infections
- Gut bacteria release enzymes for digestion
- They help immunity by transferring messages of unwanted ingested material (harmful bacteria and viruses)
- Secrete vitamins like vitamin k and b12
- Act as the barrier of the gut wall to prevent infections
Dietary probiotics can be obtained from:
- Fermented dairy like yogurt
- Fermented drinks like kefir
- Fermented preparations like sourdough bread
- Pickles and kimchi
- Fermented lentils
- Miso products
- Gooseberry products used for hair
- Fruits and vegetables
- Seeds and spices
Supplemental probiotics are tablets, syrups, or powders made using live bacterial strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. A type of yeast called Saccharomyces Lombardi is also used. These are bacteria known to be beneficial to the human body, can be isolated easily, and grow abundantly.
What Are The Signs You Need Probiotics?
The following are some signs that can tell you when you may need to take probiotics. Still, the use of supplemental probiotics should always be after consultation with your doctor.
- Issues of the digestive system
Most of the bacterial colonies in your body are present in the digestive tract. They influence the digestion and movement of food through the gut. If you get too gassy or have a constant bloated feeling, taking probiotics may help alleviate some of these issues. Probiotics can be taken when recovering from a stomach infection and treated with antibiotics. This helps in faster recovery. It helps treat bacterial diarrhea, acid reflux, and heartburn.
- Type-2 diabetes control/sugar cravings
Different kinds of bacteria in a body require additional nutrients for their growth. Simple sugars are present in most vegetables and fruits. However, some types of bacteria feed only on refined sugars.
Studies suggest that gut flora can cause a change in what kind of food we prefer to eat. This can be done by the bacteria signaling the brain to eat certain types of food or trying to change your taste bud perceptions. It is also found that changing dietary habits can change your digestive flora in 4-8 days.
- When you have a slow metabolism
Studies found that a low amount of gut bacteria is found in many obese people. So if you want to increase your metabolism, which helps you burn fat faster and aids digestion, you may need to look to add probiotics to your regular meals.
- If you have ever taken antibiotics for infections
Antibiotics help us recover from a lot of bacterial infections. But this comes at a price. Along with the strain of harmful bacteria causing the infection, antibiotics tend to destroy many good bacterial populations. Thus, including probiotics in your diet may help recover the lost beneficial bacteria.
- If you have eczema, itchy and dry skin, psoriasis, or atopic dermatitis
A good microbiome directly reflects on the health of your skin. Suppose you are suffering from any skin mentioned above disorders. In that case, you may need to take probiotics to help your skin heal faster.
- Excessive fatigue, brain fog, and depression (unknown causes)
Studies like “Fatigue- a distressing syndrome,” published in the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Society, show that fatigue, brain fog, and general depression associated with irritable bowel syndrome can be treated by the simple inclusion of probiotics in our daily diet.
- Issues related to sleep
Sleep problems associated with gastrointestinal diseases can be treated by introducing and increasing beneficial bacteria in your gut. The “Sleep dysfunction and gastrointestinal diseases” study published in the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal suggests that most mood and sleep problems related to gastroesophageal reflux disease can be reduced with the help of probiotics.
- Hormonal imbalance
In the study titled “Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications,” published in Maturitas, it was found that estrogen production and regulation are influenced by circulating bacteria in the digestive tract. Androgen insufficiency, especially seen in obese men, has been directly linked to testicular dysfunction.
Additionally, a study titled “Endotoxin-initiated inflammation reduces testosterone production in men of reproductive age,” published in the American Journal of Physiology, has found that testosterone production is reduced by almost 30% in the presence of endotoxin (harmful bacteria) exposure.
- Thyroid issues
Hashimoto’s disease and autoimmune gastric inflammation are associated with a decrease in the beneficial bacteria of the body. Therefore, taking probiotics may help with reducing symptoms of the disease.
Thyroid issues are also seen in patients with high bacterial growth in the small intestine.
Many thyroid medications also are found to cause small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. A study titled “Levothyroxine therapy and impaired clearance are the strongest contributors to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: Results of a retrospective cohort study,” published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, helps understand that probiotics can help counter these issues related to thyroid treatment and medications.
- Joint pains
The treatment of joint pains associated with rheumatoid arthritis can be improved with probiotics. Increasing your beneficial flora can help the negative effect of rheumatoid arthritis on the heart and joints. A study titled “Intestinal Dysbiosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Link between Gut Microbiota and the Pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis,” presented in the Journal of Immunology Research explored this notion.
You may also consider talking to your doctor about taking probiotics in cases of
- Chronic Acne
- Common cold, sinusitis
- Vaginal candidiasis
- Elevated cholesterol levels
Dietary and supplemental probiotics help maintain our internal bio-system. This is found to help maintain good health and prevent new infections and diseases. In addition, certain conditions resulting from the imbalance of our body’s microbiome can be treated with the help of Probiotics. Supplemental probiotics should always be taken based on medical advice from your healthcare provider.
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Brechmann, T., Sperlbaum, A., & Schmiegel, W. (2017). Levothyroxine therapy and impaired clearance are the strongest contributors to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: Results of a retrospective cohort study. World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG, 23(5), 842–852. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v23.i5.842
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