All of us have trillions of bacteria living in our intestines, especially the large intestine. Much of this bacteria, also known as gut microbiota, helps to balance our immune health, digestion, and other bodily functions.
Some of these bacteria cause disease, but others fight it off. This is why it’s so important for your body to have a balance of both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics can help maintain this balance. They also support your overall health.
How Probiotics Support Gut Health
The balance of bad and good bacteria in your gut can be upset by medical conditions, physical stress, emotional stress, or the use of antibiotics — which are known to destroy bacteria.
Probiotics can tip the balance back to good bacteria. They can also boost your immunity, fight inflammation, and provide relief for painful digestion related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or infectious diarrhea.
Which Probiotics Should You Add to Your Diet?
Probiotics are commonly found in food. They are also available in dietary supplements.
Food. Many foods have good bacteria. However, these bacteria don’t always survive strong stomach acids and may not be able to add to gut health. Other foods have probiotic strains that can survive the digestion process and successfully reach the gut.
Whether a food truly has beneficial probiotics depends on three things: the levels of good bacteria contained when eaten, whether the good bacteria can survive passage through the stomach, and whether those strains of bacteria are able to support your health.
These are a few foods that provide a good source of probiotics:
- dried beans and other legumes
- certain artichokes
- green bananas
Dietary supplements. Probiotics are also available as capsules, powders, liquids, and more. The wide variety of available products can make it difficult to determine which ones offer health benefits based on science.
Some of the best probiotic strains for health include:
Lactobacillus acidophilus. Lactobacillus acidophilus balances potentially harmful bacteria that can otherwise grow in your gut due to illness or antibiotics.
Lactobacillus fermentum. Lactobacillus fermentum strengthens your immune system and prevents gastrointestinal and upper respiratory infections.
Lactobacillus casei/paracasei. Lactobacillus casei/paracasei can ease inflammatory bowel disease – a common disorder that causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation).
Lactobacillus plantarum. Lactobacillus plantarum stimulates your digestive system, fights off disease-causing bacteria, and helps your body produce vitamins.
Lactobacillus reuteri. Lactobacillus reuteri supports heart health by balancing cholesterol levels. It also reduces ulcer-causing bacteria and supports female urinary tract and vaginal health.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus. This is a common bacteria used in the production of yogurt. It supports good digestion, prevents diarrhea, and helps relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Lactobacillus rhamnosus. This is a bacteria that is naturally found in your gut, although you can eat foods or take supplements to increase its benefits. It's helpful in relieving IBS symptoms, treating diarrhea, strengthening your gut health, and protecting against cavities.
Bifidobacterium longum ssp. Longum. This strain of bacteria can help prevent inflammation and provide some protection from colon cancer, intestinal infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, and even depression.
Bifidobacterium longum ssp. Infantis. This strain of bacteria is commonly used to treat bowel problems, eczema, vaginal yeast infections, lactose intolerance, and urinary tract infections.
Bifidobacterium bifidum. Bifidobacterium bifidum can help manage your digestive system, improve IBS, and boost your immune system.
Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. Lactis. This strain of bacteria helps prevent infection. It also produces vitamins and other important chemicals in your body.
Benefits of Probiotics for Older Adults
In addition to balancing good and bad bacteria, probiotics offer a number of benefits to older adults.
- They help reduce the frequency and duration of diarrhea.
- Some strains can help improve heart health.
- They can help relieve lactose intolerance – the inability to digest sugar in dairy products.
- They can help relieve various food and skin allergies.
- They help reduce inflammation in the vagina due to an overgrowth of bacteria.
- They can improve unpleasant odor in exhaled breath.
Helpful Considerations to Keep in Mind
Before taking probiotics, there are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind.
In general, probiotics are safe. However, they could be dangerous if you have a weakened immune system. Your doctor can help determine which probiotics will help you.
Sometimes it takes time to find a probiotic that is right for you. If you don’t experience any benefits from using one product after a few weeks, try something different. Different probiotic products will carry different strains of bacteria, and they’ll interact with your body in different ways. It’s about finding what’s best for you.
Some probiotics can cause gas and bloating and changes to your bowel movements. Those can all be signs that it’s working, but if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.