Probiotics. They are on everyone’s lips. You’ve probably heard of it from watching yoghurt commercials or reading the description on the packaging. Or maybe you once complained to a friend about your bloating, and you got the “oh just go take probiotics” recommendation. All these points to one good thing: they are great for digestion.

So is smoother digestion the only health benefits probiotics have to offer? What exactly are probiotics themselves, and what foods are rich in them? Read on to find out.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in our guts and are good for our health. Our digestive tract is a community that has different types of yeast and bacteria and each has its function. Everything in the community works fine when there’s a balance in the population of the good/bad bacteria and yeast.

The bad bacteria in the community thrive on sugar and additive (which are a huge part of the standard American diet). And just like weeds overtaking a yard, they multiply unchecked in the community, hence setting the stage for a whole host of health problems.

Many of the scientific studies carried out on probiotics show they work to generate vitamins, digest foods and eliminate these dangerous microorganisms. However, we sometimes need a wee bit of extra help from outside sources to secure the health benefits probiotics offers. That is why experts recommend a probiotic-rich diet as a great option for getting an extra boost of probiotics. Here are 6 ways in which probiotics can help maintain good health.

Health Benefits of Probiotics                                                                                                

1. Helps with Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance impacts our ability to eat dairy because our body stops producing lactase – an enzyme required for breaking down the lactose in dairy products. The live cultures in probiotics can help breakdown the lactose contained in these dairy products before it gets to our colon. Also, with more healthy bacteria released by probiotics, our body gets to produce more lactase for proper lactose digestion.

2. Balancing Gut Bacteria

The main benefit of probiotics is its ability to maintain a healthy bacteria balance so unhealthy yeast and bacteria don’t take over.

Ideally, the population of the good bacteria in the body should be in the majority, however, in most people, it isn’t anywhere near that. Our level of good floras is reduced because of poor dietary choices, antibiotics, having radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, chlorinated drinking water and stress. When you include probiotics in your diet, you can repopulate your digestive tract with good bacteria to rebalance your gut bacteria.

3. May Improve Mental Health and Reduce Stress

The gut-brain connection is one of the most surprising and important health benefit discovery of probiotics. As a result, scientists have referred to the gut as our ‘second brain'. There exists a line of communication that links the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain to the gastrointestinal system. Researchers have shown that digestive discomfort that arises due to an imbalance of gut bacteria has an impact on several of the pathogenesis of mental disorders.

The good news is that supplementing with probiotics in such cases can change the quality of the bacteria in the gut, and could, in turn, alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and mental distress. In the same vein, when we’re sensitive to gastrointestinal limitation, it can trigger the central nervous system which then influences our mood.

4. Enhances the Immune Function

One of the most common reasons for taking probiotics is enhancing our immune function. The right community of microbes in the body can boost the immune system. In fact, about 70% of our immune system cells live in the gut. Some probiotics can enhance the function of the immune system by boosting the production of inactivating viral particles, natural antibodies,  and immune cells like T-cells and dendritic cells. Research has further shown that when prebiotics are used in conjunction with probiotics, it has an even greater effect in preventing a wide range of immune-related disorders.

5. Helps Prevent and Relieve Diarrhea

Probiotics can prevent diarrhea that arises as a reaction to antibiotics when taken directly after a dose of it. This makes sense because antibiotics affect gut bacteria balance, and probiotics will help repopulate the digestive tract with good bacteria before the baddies have a chance to flourish.  If you've ever experienced diarrhea, then you know that every second you could alleviate the nasty experience by is worth its weight in gold. Probiotics can also help reduce the severity/ duration of diarrhea brought on by a parasite or bacteria

6. Improves Digestion and Nutritional Absorption

The most well-known health benefit of probiotics is their ability to enhance digestive function. We all can use a little (or a lot) of help with our digestive system once in a while. Probiotics are often used in treating and preventing gastrointestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease. They can keep our gastrointestinal tract at the right PH level, optimal to aid digestion and breakdown of food.

Eating a regular balanced diet can be wasted if our digestive system can’t breakdown the nutrients from these foods. Probiotics can also help the body breakdown food into the nutrient needed and absorb these nutrients into the bloodstream to be used by the body.