Did you know that your body is home to trillions of microscopic organisms, often referred to as microbes? They live all over your body but are most plentiful in your intestines and bowel, making up what is now known as the gut microbiome. Imbalance in the microbiome is potentially linked to everything from inflammatory bowel disease to obesity and depression, which explains why probiotics are making their way on all the lists of supplements for men and flying off store shelves in many areas of the world today.
There are about 10 microbes for every cell in your body, and the combination of microbes found in each person is largely unique. This means that the bacteria and other microbes living in your gut could one day help to identify you as an individual. It’s estimated that there are about 100 trillion microorganisms in your bowel alone, representing hundreds of different species. Some of those microbes are beneficial while others are potentially harmful, and it’s to your advantage to keep the beneficial organisms healthy and plentiful.
This is where probiotics come into the picture. If you’re interested in a simple way to boost your health and help avoid issues as you age, take a few minutes to learn what probiotics are and why they’re potentially the link to a longer, healthier life for many people.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microbes contained in food products, prescription medications or over-the-counter supplements. They include bacteria and other microscopic organisms that are naturally found within the human body. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of yogurt, you’ve consumed a probiotic food source.
Other foods rich in living microorganisms include apple cider vinegar, tempeh, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha.
There are hundreds if not thousands of microbe strains within the human body, and researchers have yet to identify and understand the majority of them. The probiotic supplements available today contain specific strains that have already been identified and studied with at least some positive results. Extensive research is ongoing, so we will know about even more strains in the years to come.
A few of the most beneficial probiotic microbes discovered to date include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – Naturally found in the intestinal tract, mouth and vagina, this probiotic is believed to reduce vaginal inflammation, eczema, diarrhea and childhood respiratory infections. It’s found in yogurt and many fermented foods, but you can also find it easily in over-the-counter probiotic supplements.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus – This is one of the most popular and heavily researched probiotics for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and diarrhea, but there is also some research that suggests it may help fight staph infections.
- Lactobacillus helveticus – Research has shown that strains of this probiotic have the potential to make nutrients more readily available to the human body. They may also help with a variety of gastrointestinal issues.
How Probiotics Can Help Men
Many gastroenterologists and other medical professionals now prescribe probiotics to patients suffering from digestive disorders and many other illnesses. The goal is to keep the beneficial microorganisms in the gut microbiome strong and plentiful while supporting the immune system. Probiotics may also help the gut recover from antibiotics and illnesses that kill off good and bad bacteria, upsetting the natural balance of the microbiome. Some may even produce substances that prohibit the growth of undesirable microorganisms.
Once in your gut, the bacteria contained in a probiotic supplement will help break down food that is otherwise indigestible by humans, releasing nutrients that you need to thrive. We have known this for many years, but the newest research is starting to reveal many additional benefits to supplementing with probiotics. For some people, this is a dietary improvement that is potentially life-changing.
Let’s look at some of the most remarkable research into the benefits of supplementing with probiotics or just consuming more fermented foods to improve your ratio of beneficial to dangerous microbes.
Probiotics Help Keep You Healthy
One of the most common applications of probiotics in the medical community is for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel disease, Chrohn’s disease and colitis. Probiotics are believed to help by reducing inflammation throughout the digestive system and assisting with the breakdown of food for nutrients.
Probiotics may one day even lead to a preventative treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers have determined that the gut microbes of Parkinson’s patients are different from those of healthy people. If they can figure out which good bacteria are missing, or which bad bacteria are too plentiful, they could potentially find a way to fight this disease through the gut rather than tackling it from the brain alone.
They are also sometimes used to help constipation for Parkinson’s Disease patients.
The bacteria found in fermented foods can help control cholesterol levels. Research has shown that “bad” cholesterol levels can drop at least four percent when fermented foods are consumed regularly.
Beneficial gut bacteria are believed to support the immune system and reduce the risk of developing some infections. Consuming healthy bacteria from probiotic milk may help children limit the spread and effect of respiratory infections, and probiotics inserted vaginally may help urinary tract infections.
Probiotics Have Positive Mental Effects
Research has shown that consuming probiotics can enhance your mood and lead to more positive thinking with fewer aggressive thoughts. That being said, there isn’t enough research to suggest that probiotics can take the place of therapy and other treatments for depression and anxiety and should never be used to self-medicate those disorders. There is some research that suggests a strong connection between gut microbiota and human thought, behavior, inflammation and metabolism.
Supplementing with a probiotic can possibly help improve spatial and non-spatial memory. Research is showing that healthy microbiota in the gut can reach the brain and help fight Alzheimer’s disease. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two probiotic strains believed to deliver the most dramatic improvements in memory.
Probiotics Help You Stay Fit
There is a direct connection between gut microbiota and obesity. One of the most fascinating studies followed a group of overweight people for more than a year, comparing the microbes in their gut over time.
The participants were all on the same diet, and the researchers discovered clear differences between the gut microbiome of obese people and people of a healthy weight. The microbes found in the guts of the obese participants were more likely to make rats overweight than microbes from people of a lower weight.
This strongly suggests that what lives in your digestive system could impact your natural tendency to gain weight.
Potential Side Effects
Are probiotics safe?
With all the hype over the benefits of probiotics, there are still some potential risks of consuming live organisms. After all, you’re trusting a supplement manufacturer to include only healthy, beneficial organisms in each product, but you have no way of verifying what you’re consuming.
The reality is that little research into the safety of probiotic supplements has been completed to date. The FDA has decided that over-the-counter probiotic supplements are “generally viewed as safe” for healthy people, but they don’t regulate probiotics marketed as dietary supplements. The FDA also recognizes that more in-depth testing into the quality of probiotic supplements is needed. They are developing a new technique to easily identify harmful bacteria in supplements, but the technique isn’t yet active in the market.
What all of this means is that researchers have so far completed more research on the benefits of probiotics than the potential side effects. This is likely due to the fact that you’re consuming organisms that are already plentiful in your body. You’re simply ingesting more of the most beneficial strains.
If you’re a healthy adult with a strong immune system, chances are high that taking a probiotic is safe. The most common side effect is gas or stomach discomfort, which tends to go away quickly. The majority of people report no side effects with short or long-term use.
There are potential risks of taking a probiotic if one or more of the following criteria apply to you:
- Your immune system is weak or compromised
- You take a prescription drug that impacts your immune system
- You have a fungal infection
- You have pancreatitis
- Your body is often or easily infected
- You have a current infection
- You’re allergic to dairy or other potential ingredients in probiotic supplements
If none of those criteria apply and you consider yourself a healthy adult with no known medical issues, you may want to explore the benefits of probiotics. You should always consult your doctor about the supplements you take because they know your medical history and can help you make smart decisions for your health.
Supplements vs Fermented Foods – Which Is Better?
Research has shown that most supplements do contain the type of bacteria that they list on the label, but the exact number of bacteria is often a bit less than advertised on the bottle. They have also found that fermented drinks and foods like kombucha, miso soup and apple cider vinegar have a wider variety of bacteria, but it isn’t yet know what all of those bacteria are and how they may help the human body. Supplements offer a more controlled collection of bacteria types, so you know more about what is going into your body.
If you’re serious about boosting your health with probiotics, consider taking a high-quality daily supplement while including more fermented foods in your diet. This is as simple as eating more yogurt, but there are many other options that you can explore.