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Understand Your Gut Health - A Helpful Guide to Probiotics

Posted October 11, 2019 by Julia G Thornton, MD


Your body is full of bacteria – in fact, the bacteria in your body outnumber your cells 10 to one. The majority of that bacteria lives in your gut, and most of it is not only harmless, but helpful to your body’s functions.

Balancing your gut bacteria correctly can have many health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, better immune function, better mood and memory function, healthier skin, and a reduced risk of many diseases.

To boost this friendly gut bacteria, many people use probiotics – gut-friendly bacteria – to help colonize your gut with health-boosting organisms. Probiotics come in countless forms – everything from food and beverages, skin products, and dietary supplements. The benefits of probiotics include nurturing and feeding your gut and supporting overall digestion.

But what are the details – are probiotics needed and are they safe? Here’s the full scoop on probiotics:


What are probiotics?

Essentially, probiotics are the “good guys” for your digestive system. They are living microorganisms that, when ingested, are beneficial to your health. Probiotics help maintain a balance with the natural-occurring bacteria and yeast that lives within your digestive system. You can get probiotics from taking supplements, but also from fermented foods and beverages.

Some probiotic rich foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, pickled foods, and kimchi. There are many different strains of probiotic bacteria, and different strains help different health conditions.

Probiotics work to promote your health by traveling through your small intestine and colon and interacting with different cells and nutrients along the way to help protect the gut barrier and trigger the neurotransmitters that aid in digestion.


Is it safe to take probiotics?

Probiotics are usually well tolerated by most people, though you may experience some side effects initially as your body adjusts. That being said, people with compromised immune systems must consult with a doctor before taking probiotic supplements because they can experience dangerous infections.

Generally, people should be cautious about what supplements they decide to take because probiotics do not require FDA approval. Since probiotics are not standardized, different brands that appear to contain similar strains may actually vary significantly. Also it’s important to be aware that it may take some time for the benefits to kick in.


Should you take a probiotic supplement?

Before taking a supplement, talk to your doctor to see if they recommend a probiotic for you. Many doctors will likely first recommend trying to incorporate more probiotic rich foods into your diet. Of course, we recognize that it may be tough to get a good dose of probiotic foods every day, so it may be worthwhile to supplement with a probiotic pill. Your doctor will be the best source for giving you dosage and brand recommendation.


The bottom line

Your gut health is important for many areas of your health, so it may be useful for you to consider incorporating probiotics into your daily routine. Make an appointment to talk to your Summa Health primary care physician or scheduling a consultation in the Gastroenterology department and work with them to come up with the best plan for your health today.


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