Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements, or even applied to the body via beauty supplements. Research suggests that probiotics can promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which provides us with a multitude of benefits. We have also seen in research that our gut microbiome is linked to disease or overall health.
When we think of bacteria we typically think “bad.” However, we also have “good” bacteria in our body. Our gut is made up of about 50 trillion bacteria cells, which we refer to as our microbiome. Our microbiome can be affected by many external factors including our diet, exercise, and even our genetics. And our microbiome has a huge impact on how we feel internally.
Our gut and its microbiome communicate with and signal to the brain, which is why we want a healthy and diverse one. We can find probiotics in different fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, and even pickles. These foods can be consumed daily for best gut health.
Some benefits that have been found when consuming these foods include:
- Improved brain and mental health: Research suggests fermented foods can improve anxiety, depression, autism, OCD and even memory. We also produce 90 percent of our serotonin, which is a mood stabilizer linked to mental health, in the gut. Having a healthy gut is important to serotonin, and other neurotransmitter production, which benefits our mental health.
- Improved digestion: Fermented foods help to break down complex carbs and produce enzymes to help break down protein. Fermented foods are also high in fiber which helps keep our GI tract running smoothly. Probiotics have also been found to reduce bloating, diarrhea, constipation.
- Improved ability to fight disease: Fermented foods tend to be filled with antioxidants, compounds that fight oxidative stress and protect the body from free radicals. These antioxidants help your body fight disease.
- Heart health: Research suggests fermented foods can help to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure by breaking down bile in the gut and preventing reabsorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
- Improved Immune response: Certain probiotics have been found to promote production of antibodies and immune cells in the body, helping to boost immune response and prevent against infections.
Fermented foods have been found to provide “antioxidant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-atherosclerotic (heart protective) activity”. Probiotics can be found in supplements, but it’s always best to aim for “food first.” Eating fermented foods every day can be a great way to consume probiotics. Whether you prefer pickled foods, beverages such as kombucha or kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or any of the foods mentioned above – all are a great way to make sure you’re getting your daily dose of probiotics.
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)
- 8 Health Benefits of Probiotics (healthline.com)
- How bacteria in your gut interact with the mind and body | American Heart Association
- Health Benefits of Fermented Food (thebeet.com)
Michelle Murdolo, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who guides patients through their bariatric surgery and weight management journey. She comes from a background of eating disorders and disordered eating and emphasizes body positivity and health.