Probiotics for gut health are all the rage these days.
Probiotics are attributed with promoting a healthy gut, keeping your digestive system regular, reduced risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, and improved overall digestive health.
But what exactly does a probiotic do? What should you be looking for in a probiotic? What about timing, specific probiotic strains, side effects, food sources?
Here, we answer all of your questions surrounding the fitness industry’s hottest topic: Probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Digestive probiotics are defined as living bacteria and yeast that live inside your digestive system, specifically your gastrointestinal tract.  While most bacteria we know of is considered harmful to your body, there are actually more bacteria in our bodies than cells. Yes, we are more than 50% bacteria.
These good bacteria aid our digestive system in breaking down food, especially later on in the process, when the food has reached our intestines. That’s why probiotics are associated with a healthy gut. By eating probiotic-rich foods or taking a probiotic supplement, you’re adding to the amount of healthy gut bacteria in your body.
This is not to be confused with prebiotics, which actually promotes beneficial bacteria growth over harmful bacteria growth, as well as help feed the bacteria already living inside you. (Don’t think about it too long, you’ll give yourself the creeps.) 
The benefits of probiotics are widely researched and have been met with some recent skepticism. But the pros definitely outweigh the cons:
- Maintains healthy digestion tract: In short, probiotics help keep you regular. This allows you to avoid both diarrhea and constipation throughout life. If you’ve ever had a problem with either one, perhaps a strain of probiotics could help normalize your bowel movements. Plus, it could help people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
- Prevents or treats numerous diseases: Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, UTIs, tooth decay, eczema, hay fever, liver disease, the common cold, and H. pylori (which causes ulcers) are some of the various issues a healthy gut biome can treat and even prevent. With probiotics, you can completely avoid these digestion-related problems. 
- Assists in urogenital health: For women, probiotics could help with maintaining vaginal health. Using probiotic foods or creams aid in stopping yeast infections, along with balancing out your system despite multiple factors at play (antibiotics, spermicides, birth control, etc.).
- Potential increases in overall health: How well your gut biome is directly affects many other things in your body, including your immune system, metabolism, and cognition. Giving yourself all-natural probiotics will help all of this, resulting in a healthier, happier you!
This is just a taste of what probiotics can do for your body. However, research is ongoing for different strains of probiotics, so the best way to find out how you react to certain probiotics is to test them out yourself.
What to Look for in a Probiotic:
Most probiotics sold in the United States are dished out as dietary supplements, and they aren’t rigorously tested or approved before being manufactured. While companies have to make sure their products are safe and truthful, there’s no guarantee on the effectiveness of probiotic supps.
Usually, first and foremost you want a probiotic that will essentially replace your good bacteria after taking antibiotics or dealing with any of the bodily issues listed above. That means a wide range of probiotic strains could be beneficial. The best way to begin is to consult an expert practitioner who knows about probiotics.
The main types of probiotics include lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. The first one is common, found in most yogurts, and helps fight against diarrhea. Lactobacillus also allows people to digest lactose (a.k.a. dairy products). Bifidobacterium aids in treating IBS and other problems. Both are considered safe and beneficial.
There’s also a yeast found in many probiotics called Saccharomyces boulardii. This fights many digestive issues, so it’s another element to consider for your probiotic regimen.
Other factors include natural or organic sources, reputable companies and brands, additives, and price. Do your due research, pick a solid probiotic, and record how your body feels before and after taking it. Yogurts and other fermented foods work well for getting enough probiotics, but you might want to consider a dietary supplement.
When to Take Probiotics
Probiotics work in conjunction with your stomach acid, so timing is important.
Ideally, when you take your probiotics coincides with the reason you’re taking the supplement in the first place. For digestive issues, taking probiotics during or 30 minutes before meals is best. For those who have trouble sleeping, liver damage, or other skin irritations, taking probiotics before hitting the hay is essential. 
It could also depend on your circadian rhythms. If you wake up early, it might be a great opportunity to ingest probiotics in the morning; the opposite goes for late risers.
For the majority of you, though, prime time is during lunch and dinner.
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Probiotics are extremely beneficial for you overall gut health, which means a healthy stomach, GI tract, and bowels. It’s personal, we know, but it’s important. Your lower digestive system plays a much bigger role than previously known, so keeping good bacteria flowing in your body is crucial.
The advantages of taking an organic probiotic is obvious, but again make sure you find a solid product to test for yourself. (And be on the lookout for our own probiotic supplement!)
Here’s to a happy and healthy gut!
- “What Are Probiotics?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-are-probiotics#1.
- “Probiotics: In Depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 31 July 2018, https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm#hed1.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog, Sep. 2005, updated Aug. 22, 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics.
- “When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?” Natren Probiotics Blog, 27 June 2018, www.natren.com/blog/best-time-take-probiotics/.