I’m not trying to talk you out of the hand sanitizer, but when it comes to good bacteria–like the kind that live in the human gut–sometimes more is more. Under normal circumstances, such “probiotics” live within our digestive system in symbiotic harmony. However, our modern diets and medications have been wiping them out, and leaving many people with a serious imbalance of good gut bacteria.
Why does this matter? Because we now know these live microorganisms are cancer-protective, immune-enhancing, and anti-inflammatory. Taking probiotic supplements can help restore the stomach’s natural micro-flora so you can reap these bacterial benefits—benefits such as:
Defending your gut from stress. As anyone with sensitive tummy knows, a bit of stress can throw the digestive system into a frenzy or stop it in its tracks. But probiotics may help to reduce stress-induced digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and constipation.
Chronic stress has also been implicated in the development of irritable bowel syndrome and in the worsening of symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. After all, your stomach isn’t called the “second brain” for nothing–where stress goes, it follows. Probiotics can help treat these issues as well.
Tightening up your waistline. It’s true! Research completed at the Department of Genomic Sciences at the University of Washington found increased fat storage in rats that lacked probiotics. The correct balance of intestinal flora seems to limit fat storage by repressing the expression of a protein called fasting-induced adipocyte factor.
In a 2012 Canadian study, probiotics were able to reduce overall body fat and deep, visceral fat (aka belly fat) as well. And a Finnish study presented at the 2009 European Congress on Obesity suggested that women taking probiotics during the first trimester of pregnancy are less likely to gain too much weight. Known as adiposity, this pregnancy-associated condition is one of the unhealthiest forms of obesity.
Revving up your immune system. If you have spent the bulk of the season fighting off colds and viruses, you may want to build up your immunity with probiotics. One group of researchers looked at probiotics and college students – a great group to pick since they are often sleep-deprived, stressed, living in close quarters and therefore particularly vulnerable to colds. The study found that while all students caught colds at roughly the same rate, the students who took the probiotic supplementation experienced: a duration of colds that was two days shorter (four days vs. six days); symptoms that were 34% less severe; and a higher quality of life that resulted in fewer missed school days. Take probiotics daily – versus seasonally – to keep your immune system running smoothly all year round.