Naturally Healthy Living

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

The word probiotic, derived from a combination of Latin and Greek, literally means ‘for life’. Probiotics are the helpful, healthy bacteria that fight pathogens, ‘bad’ bacteria, and yeast in your gut. They play a crucial role in our health.

It’s a little known fact that 80% of your immune system cells are found in your gut. This portion of your immune system has a lot to deal with too. It has to fight off and kill pathogens that enter your stomach. Bacteria helps out in this by creating ‘holes’ in bad bacteria to make it easier for your body to kill and remove them.

 Your gut is also responsible for nutrient absorption from your food. Here again probiotics play a role. They aid digestion by breaking down molecules and pulling out nutrients, aiding the absorption of minerals, and they even produce vitamins and create chemicals (including over 30 neurotransmitters) that affect your whole body — especially your brain.  [1]

The Bacteria Imbalance

It should be obvious now — a healthy body is dependent on a healthy gut. In fact, your gut contains approximately the same number of bacteria as it does cells in the rest of your body.

 Crazy, right?

A healthy person generally has more than 100 trillion microbes in their intestines, with a ratio of about 5:1 good bacteria to bad bacteria. This balance of bacteria is called your ‘microbiome’. All these microbes work together to keep you healthy.

Unfortunately, the modern day diet and lifestyle is NOT conducive to a healthy gut. We are exposed to and ingest a dizzying array of processed foods, chemicals, medications, and other substances that kill bacteria and/or feed bad bacteria.

In years past, we were exposed to plenty of probiotics in our diets, simply from eating fresh foods grown in healthy soil. We also used to eat far more fermented foods, which also contain good-for-you bacteria.

These days, most diets consist of processed foods that contain very few probiotics. When we do eat fresh fruits and veggies, most of these have been sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, gases, or soaked in chlorine.

If that weren’t problem enough, many of our meats contain traces of antibiotics given to the livestock. Whatever your views on organic foods, the reality is that most of our food, by the time it arrives on our plates, has at best been stripped clean of probiotics. At worst, they kill off the good bacteria we do have.

We Have a Gut Problem in the USA

Approximately 60-70 Million Americans are affected by digestive disease. An average of $100 billion is spent annually on digestive diseases and disorders in the US. [2]

 As a nation, our guts have some serious problems.

Top Probiotic Killers

  • Overuse of prescription antibiotics
  • Sugar
  • GMO foods
  • Inflammatory foods, such as gluten
  • Stress
  • Over the counter and prescription medications
  • Most forms of alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Over-sanitation
  • Smoking
  • Inadequate sleep habits
  • Chlorinated or fluoridated water

Many health issues, including thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, pain (especially joint pain), depression, and autism have been connected to gut health. And these are a mere handful of examples.

Because the gut is such a complex system, linked to nearly every function of your body, the possible health ramifications are extensive. It is an incredibly complex system. The human microbiome contains 360 times more protein-coding genes that human genes contain. In fact, the microbiome is so complex and containing such a wide variety of bacteria and pathogens, that our understanding of the gut remains pretty limited. If you want to learn more about this, here is a pretty amazing article on it.

One of the most important areas of concern for the gut is the risk of developing Leaky Gut, or ‘intestinal hyperpermeability’. A healthy gut keeps large materials, pathogens, and other compounds in the intestines from permeating the intestinal wall. The condition of leaky gut is exactly what it sounds like — the digestive system is disrupted, allowing the intestinal lining to ‘leak’ things into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there.

Leaky gut is linked to inflammation, the root cause of most diseases. Autoimmune diseases, intestinal diseases (such as inflammatory bowel syndrome) hormonal dysfunction, nutrient deficiency due to malabsorption, and mental health problems can result.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

The health benefits of good bacteria levels in our guts can have long-reaching effects, from a stronger immune system to better digestion, a better complexion, and deeper sleep. Here are the top most sought-after results of probiotics:

Improve Digestion

It probably isn’t a shock that at the top of our list probiotic benefits is improving digestive health. Probiotics (both in food and in supplement form) may provide protection again inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. [3]

Probiotics can also balance your bowel movements, easing both diarrhea and constipation. It can also work to reduce stomach pains, and help the intestines heal up after taking medications, an injury or inflammatory disease, and after a surgery. They work to increase the number of immunoglobulin cells and cytokine-producing cells in the intestine, which is a fancy way of saying they boost your immune system and help you heal more quickly.

Probiotics also help our intestines actually absorb nutrients as well. They convert starches, fiber, and sugar in food into nutrients and energy, and help us absorb minerals. They also metabolize and break down body waste material.

Boost the Immune System

The cleaning staff of your intestinal immune system are your good bacteria. They damage and crowd out bad bacteria in your gut, such as Candida and yeast. These little bacterial soldiers even partner up with your immune cells to protect your intestines from pathogens and invaders.

 Good bacteria can be a huge support for immune stressors as well. These include emotional stress, rigorous athletic training, repeated exposure to viruses and diseases (parents and teachers, this is you!), and reactivity to allergens. Healthy bacteria can even train your immune system to distinguish between non-harmful allergens and harmful allergens, to reduce unnecessary allergic responses!

Probably the most important way probiotics support your immune system is by their anti-inflammatory power. Probiotics may prevent a wide-scope of immunity-related diseases thanks to their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Because chronic inflammation is the root of so many chronic health conditions and pain, this is crucial for our wellness.

Improve or Support Mental Illness

The gut plays such a role in mental illness, that scientists have referred to it as the ‘second brain’. Both are nervous systems, made from the same type of tissue and connected by your vagus nerve. There are some intensely complex interactions between the digestive system and the brain. [5]

 “…interactions seem to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated, such as mood disorder, autism-spectrum disorders, attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder, multiple sclerosis, and obesity.” [6]

Dr. Mercola says this in regard to gut-to-brain health;

“Because of this profound interrelationship, whenever you’re dealing with any type of learning disability or neurological or psychiatric concern, I suggest you look closely at your gut health. Sometimes, supporting your emotional and psychological health can be as simple as healing and sealing your gut lining.”

Many mental health conditions have been linked to high levels of inflammation, such as anxiety and depression. One of the conditions that has garnered the most attention has been autism.

The connection between autism and gut health has been discussed for some years and grew largely out of the fact that many people who suffer from autistic spectrum disorders also struggle with a variety of digestive problems. After years of nothing but anecdotes from parents struggling with autistic children, research now supports the idea that balancing the microbiome of the gut through probiotics may improve intestinal health, as well as the abnormal behaviors of autism.

Healthy Skin and Clear Complexions

The connection between our gut and the appearance of our skin is well-studied, though not thoroughly understood. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial for the skin, especially for children. Probiotic supplements can help to prevent pediatric atopic dermatitis and infant eczema. [7]

 Gut bacteria is also connected to acne. Probiotics have been seen to reduce inflammation and research strongly suggests that a balanced gut greatly benefits the skin. [8]

Other Benefits of Probiotics:

  • Bacteria produces vital nutrients, such as vitamin B12, butyrate, and vitamin K2
  • Reduces the population of bad bacteria connected to poor health and disease
  • Creates enzymes that help to destroy harmful bacteria
  • Stimulate the secretion of cells that support immune function — IgA and T-cells

Do I need a probiotic supplement?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, a probiotic is probably a good choice for you. *

  • Do you need support in any of the areas mentioned above in Benefits of Probiotics?
  • Are you routinely exposed to synthetic flavors, additives, preservatives, and/or other non-natural ingredients in your food? (Aka, do you eat processed foods often?)
  • Do you eat lots of foods that contain sugar? Meats that are not antibiotic free?
  • Do you consume alcohol or smoke tobacco products?
  • Do you ever suffer from any digestive issues, such as bloating, cramping, stomach pain following meals, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, or other digestive health issues?
  • Do you suffer from chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation, chronic pain, or any other related illnesses?Have you used antibiotics within the last several years?
  • Do you frequently (twice a month or more) take prescription or over the counter medications?
  • Do you regularly fail to get adequate rest?
  • Do you get sick frequently or seem to have a depressed immune system?
  • Do you regularly drink chlorinated or fluoridated water?
  • Do you use heartburn medication?

Types of Probiotics

Here is where things get a little overwhelming. There are thousands of types of probiotic bacteria that you play host to. Getting all these strains of probiotic from one food or one supplement is obviously not easy. However, there are a few more common, general strains to choose.

When looking into the best type of probiotic to choose, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Strain Diversity. Look for probiotic supplements that have a variety of strains in the formula to ensure that you’re providing your gut with as many types of bacteria as possible. You should have a minimum of 10-12 strains. Common strains include;

  • Bacillus coagulans
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Bacillus clausii
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Bifidobacterium longum

Your brand of choice may include all or only a few of these.

 The exception to the rule of diversity is if you’re seeking to balance a specific type of bacteria. An example of this is Saccharomyces boulardii. Specific species can target particular issues. Additionally, if you find that broad-spectrum probiotic supplements bother your stomach, you can choose to supplement with a variety of single strain probiotics that do not.

High Probiotic Count: You’ll want to choose a probiotic that has a count of 25 billion or greater. Yes, this seems like a lot, but this 25 bil is a low dose — our recommendation for general health is between 30-50 billion and for acute issues as high as 150 billion.

Delayed Release Capsules: Delayed-release allows more probiotics to get through your stomach acid and into your small and large intestines, which is where they need to be to do their work. Without delayed-release, up to 70% can be destroyed before they ever make it to the small intestine!

Choose a Quality Brand: As always with your supplements, choose a trustworthy, established brand. If you choose cheap, poor-quality products, you’re just throwing your money away — or worse. All of the probiotic brands we carry in our Madison supplement stores were chosen because we feel that they live up to the brand standards we expect and require for our customers.

For probiotics, these standards include:

  • Proper storing, shipping, and cooling of probiotics. (Many types of probiotics can die in the heat.) This is necessary to preserve the potency of the product.

  • Good quality supplementary ingredients. (These are needed for the probiotics to grow). Probiotics should contain both prebiotics and supplementary ingredients.

  • Does not contain sugar. Sugar is sometimes added as a food source for probiotics, but this is NOT ideal.

  • Living cultures are required. The label should indicate the product contains live and active cultures, not simply state that it has been made with live and active cultures. If a product made with live cultures has been heat-treated, the bacteria will have been killed.

Probiotics Side Effects

Starting probiotics for the first time? Don’t worry — probiotics have remarkably few side effects.

However, when you initially start probiotics, it’s important to prepare yourself for possible initial discomfort. Probiotics can trigger an intestinal ‘detox’. As your intestines rebalance the flora, mild flu-like symptoms can occur. These can include loose stool, headache, and fatigue. If this happens, back off on your dose until the symptoms subside. Unless your response was severe, this is nothing to worry about.

Some people are sensitive to some forms of probiotic. You’ll generally know right away if this is you, because you’ll have a quick and uncomfortable response. Diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain and nausea are possible signs that you have a strain that doesn’t sit well. You can switch up your product choice to include different strains, choose a single strain product, and/or choose to rely more heavily on probiotics in food form instead.

Where can I find probiotics in food?

There are plenty of foods that contain probiotics.

  • Fermented veggies, such as kimchi or sauerkraut
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kombucha
  • Miso soup
  • Kefir or natural yogurts (natural, unsweetened options are best)
  • Add more fiber to your diet
  • Organic fresh fruits and veggies

Find Your Healthy Place with Probiotics at Apple Wellness

Probiotics are part of our Foundational Five lineup, so you know we’re passionate about making sure that our customers are taking this vital supplement regularly. How could we not? Probiotics can build up your immune system, increase enzyme and vitamin production, and strengthen your digestive system, all in one supplement!

If you have questions on whether probiotics are a good choice for you or would like to talk through any health concerns, we’re here to help. Stop in one of our stores or fill out our contact form to speak to our Wellness Consultants.

Let’s Find Your Healthy Place!

The Healthy Place Team


Rynn Jacobson is a content writer living in Seattle, WA. She's passionate about educating people on natural and alternative health and wellness options. Her favorite way to stay healthy is drinking herbal tea and hiking in the mountains.

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