Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, that improve overall health when consumed. They play a crucial role in the gut microbiome - a collection of microorganisms within our digestive tracts that aids digestion, immune function, and mental well-being.
Including probiotics in your diet, either through supplements or fermented foods like yogurt, can lead to a healthier balance of microbes within the gut and improved overall vitality.
Welcome to A Beginner's Guide to Probiotics!
In this guide, we'll explore the wonderful world of the gut microbiome and the beneficial bacteria that can help improve your health from head to toe!
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms living in our digestive tracts, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These microbes play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health, including digestion, immune function, and even mental well-being. In fact, recent studies have linked gut bacteria to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and even obesity - amazing, right?
Here are some more interesting facts about your gut microbiome:
There are approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells in the human gut microbiome, which is 10 times more than the number of human cells in the body. 
It is partly responsible for producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which can affect mood and behavior. 
Your gut microbiome can communicate with the brain through the gut-brain axis, a bidirectional pathway that involves neural, hormonal, and immunological signaling. 
With over 70% of the immune system residing in the gut, a healthy immune system can help to protect against infections and diseases. 
Bacteria within the gut microbiome produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) from dietary fiber, which can provide energy for colon cells and have anti-inflammatory effects. 
The gut microbiome can influence the skin microbiome, which can affect skin health and conditions such as acne and eczema. 
Research shows that the balance of bacteria within the gut microbiome can influence weight gain and obesity, possibly by affecting the absorption of nutrients and the regulation of appetite. 
The gut microbiome may be able to influence our sleep patterns and circadian rhythm through the production of metabolites and the modulation of neurotransmitters. 
- Stress can lead to changes in gut lining permeability and the composition of the bacteria within the gut microbiome. 
So, what are probiotics? Simply put, probiotics are live microorganisms that can be ingested to provide a health benefit. These beneficial bacteria or yeasts are found in a variety of sources, including probiotic supplements and certain fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
The probiotic strains
Now let's dive into the most common strains of probiotics and their potential health benefits:
Lactobacillus acidophilus: This strain is the most clinically studied out of all the different probiotic strains. Lactobacillus acidophilus makes up an essential part of the human gut microbiome and has been shown to improve gut health by promoting regularity and immune function. Some studies have also suggested that Lactobacillus acidophilus may be beneficial for weight loss and skin health. 
Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Another common strain of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and also support the gut lining by reducing “leaky gut,” also known as intestinal permeability. Some animal studies suggest this strain may also benefit mental well-being by reducing anxiety.  
Bifidobacterium lactis: This strain of probiotic bacteria is known for its ability to support gut motility, improving bowel movement frequency in those with constipation. It also may help to reduce antibiotic-related diarrhea and support the breakdown and absorption of nutrients from food. 
Bifidobacterium infantis: This particular strain of bifidobacterium seems to be helpful for those with gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis by reducing symptoms and inflammation markers.  
Saccharomyces boulardii: While technically a type of yeast rather than a bacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii is still considered a powerful probiotic! This super yeast helps to promote a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut while preventing candida overgrowth. 
Choosing a probiotic
When choosing a probiotic supplement, it's important to pay attention to the specific probiotic strains included, along with some other essential factors.
Here is a guide to help you choose the right probiotic supplement:
1. Identify your health goals:
The first step in selecting the right probiotic supplement is to identify your health goals. Are you looking to support digestive health, boost your immune system, or improve your mental well-being? Different strains of probiotics have different benefits, so choosing one that aligns with your specific health goals is important.
2. Look for specific strains:
Once you have identified your health goals, it's important to look for specific strains of probiotics that have been shown to provide the desired health benefits. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis have been shown to support digestive health, while Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium bifidum may help boost the immune system.
3. Check the CFUs:
CFUs, or colony-forming units, indicate the number of live bacteria in each dose of a probiotic supplement. It's important to choose a supplement with an adequate amount of CFUs to ensure that the probiotics are effective. A general guideline is to choose a supplement with at least 1 billion CFUs per dose.
4. Consider the delivery method:
Probiotic supplements come in many different forms, including capsules, powders, and liquids. It's important to choose a delivery method that works for you and is easy to take regularly!
5. Choose a reputable brand:
When it comes to supplements, it's important to choose a reputable brand that follows good manufacturing practices and provides transparent labeling. Look for brands that have been third-party tested and have good customer reviews.
6. Talk to your healthcare provider:
While probiotics are generally considered safe for most individuals, it's important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking probiotic supplements or making any significant changes to your diet. Some individuals may experience mild digestive discomfort when first taking probiotics, but this usually subsides after a few days.
It's also worth noting that probiotics are often paired with prebiotics, which are non-digestible fibers that help nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut. By consuming both probiotics and prebiotics, you can help support a healthy gut flora and improve your overall digestive health.
Learn more about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics here.
In conclusion, the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being, affecting everything from our digestion to our mental health.
Probiotics are a natural and safe way to support the beneficial bacteria in our gut, leading to a healthier gut microbiome and improving overall health.
When selecting a probiotic supplement, it is important to choose a strain that has been scientifically proven to have specific health benefits for your needs and ensure it contains an adequate amount of CFUs.
In addition, incorporating probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut into your diet alongside an array of veggies rich in prebiotic fiber can also be very beneficial.
Remember, as Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” So let’s prioritize our gut health and reap the benefits of a happy, healthy gut!
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.