The term digestive probiotics has been bandied about a lot lately, from commercials for yogurt snacks to supplement ads. But what are probiotics and why are they important? Read more to find out how these like microbes affect your health and digestion. And then, find out how to take advantage of them to improve your overall health.

Recently, researchers have made groundbreaking discoveries about how our gut microbiome affect our overall medical and mental condition. It’s not just about digestion anymore. Our intestinal flora affects our wellbeing in a number of ways. Maintaining healthy and vital gut bacteria influences our mental state, our weight, and our immune system.

What Are Digestive Probiotics?

“Probiotics” is the polite, public relations term for the live bacteria and yeasts that live in your digestive system. They live in your intestines and help you digest your food and absorb nutrients.

We find probiotics in many foods we eat every day. Here are a few you might have heard about:

Lactobacillus acidophilus

Commonly found in yogurt, this bacterium helps many who are lactose intolerant. It resides mostly in the small intestine and helps to ensure proper absorption of nutrients

Lactobacillus fermentum

Found in sourdough bread and kimchi (pickled vegetables). It assists in the production of antioxidants that fight toxins in the digestive system and inhibits food-borne pathogens.

Lactobacillus paracasei

This bacterium resides in the small intestine and supports liver function.

Bifidobacterium longum

Also found in dairy products, this bacterium can aid those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s used in the digestion of carbohydrate foods — sugar and starches — and may help the body excrete excess metals.

Bifidobacterium bifidum

This strain is one of the first bacteria that colonizes the digestive tract after birth. Found mostly in the large intestine, it prevents the growth of bad bacteria, yeasts, and molds. It aids in the digestions of macronutrients and produces enzymes that help break them down for absorption.

These are just a few, but they’re some of the more important ones you’ll find when searching for Digestive Probiotics for your health.

Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that provides a digestive advantage when it comes to gut flora.

Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that provides a digestive advantage when it comes to gut flora.
Image: CC0 Creative Commons by BluewindJ, via Pixabay

How Digestive Probiotics Can Ease Abdominal Disorders

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure exactly how they work, probiotics affect the nerves that control your guts and how they move to process food. Although you can’t usually feel it — if you’re fortunate– your stomach has to push the food you consume into your intestines. From there, the contents work their way down as nutrients are absorbed and the remains are excreted.

Many researchers and doctors recommend certain probiotics for a variety of abdominal or digestive disorders. These include

  • IBS
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diarrhea from infections
  • Diarrhea from antibiotic use.

Which is the Best Digestive Probiotic?

If you’re thinking of taking a digestive probiotic supplement, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Take a broad spectrum probiotic supplement unless you know you’re specifically deficient or aim to treat a particular complaint.

Note the colony-forming units (CFU) on the bottle label. This is the number of active bacteria per recommended dose. If you’re not sure which dosage to take for a particular health issue, ask your doctor. The gold standard for CFU is over 1 billion bacteria cultures per serving.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics, on the other hand, become probiotics in your digestive system. The fiber in these foods ferments when they reach the large colon. Once they do, they feed the existing enzymes in your gut, helping them to proliferate.

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics

You may have also run across natural health practitioners who recommend digestive enzymes. Enzymes aren’t the same things as probiotics, although they’re both necessary for good digestive health.

Digestive probiotics and enzymes perform different and very specific tasks, and they are composed very differently. Enzymes are manufactured by and throughout the body to carry out specific jobs.

Digestive enzymes are proteins that help digest your food. Our bodies create most of the enzymes we need, though they’re often consumed in our foods. Enzymes break down the chemical bonds to render macronutrients smaller for adsorption. That means, they break down bigger nutrients to make them easier for your body to use.

(Consequently, metabolic enzymes put molecules together to construct cells and perform other functions. Our bodies manufacture these enzymes, and they can’t be supplemented.)

Probiotics, on the other hand, must be consumed in food (or supplements), and they’ll set up shop only in your digestive tract. A healthy array of digestive probiotics can assist your body when it needs to make enzymes.

People with food sensitivities may find that adding enzyme-rich food can reduce reactions to specific foods. And since they are very different things that work in conjunction, they can be taken together.

Are Probiotics for Women Different than Those for Men

Of all the physiological differences between men and women, digestion seems to be an unlikely suspect. However, it’s curious to note that products for each line the shelves. Marketing for yogurt products with probiotics seems aimed at women, specifically. So, what’s behind this unexpected gender bias?

One lies in the fact that it’s not just what’s in the digestive system, but what lays outside. Women’s digestive system gets less room, and digestive probiotics deal with its movement. Also, gut bacteria react to different hormonal levels.

For example, a 2015 study involving the use of probiotics for Salmonella treatment found that women suffered faster and more violent clearance symptoms related to the illness.

Another good reason for emphasizing the importance of probiotics in women’s health is that the gut microbiome also affects pH levels. An essential factor in vaginal health. For example, researchers found that Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus fermentum reduced inflammation caused by common vaginal infections bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis (yeast infections). Both can by very distressing, irritating and painful conditions, so that is a good thing.

A January 2018 study found that digestive probiotics supplements beneficially improved hormonal profiles for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

That same month, Swedish OB-GYN researchers announced that consumption of “probiotic milk” during pregnancy reduced the rate of preeclampsia when consumed late in pregnancy. When consumed in early pregnancy, the rate of preterm deliveries dropped.

Studies in probiotics for women have shown improved outcomes during childbirth.

Studies in probiotics for women have shown improved outcomes during childbirth.
Image: CC0 Creative Commons, by Sylbohec, via Pixabay

How to Leverage What You Know for a Digestive Advantage

Now that you know a little bit more about digestive probiotics, as well as digestive enzymes and prebiotics, don’t hesitate to take advantage. Nurturing your gut microbiome may be the smartest — and easiest — thing you can do for your health right now.

Add nature made digestive probiotics to your diet with fermented foods

Fermented foods contain live bacteria — digestive probiotics. Fermented foods are natural remedies for digestive problems, and most of them taste pretty darn good. Probiotic-rich floods include:

  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh
  • Pickles
  • Brined Olives
  • Miso
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

You can also find a vast selection of Probiotic supplements that offer both targeted cultures or a broad spectrum of strains.

Increase foods that contain natural digestive enzymes

There are a few things you can add to your daily diet that will improve your digestion with added enzymes. And that doesn’t mean eating all raw foods all the time. That could send you the other way, as some raw foods are not the best for health or digestions. For example, those with sluggish thyroids should never eat cruciferous vegetables raw. (Cruciferous vegetables include rutabagas, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips.)

However, fresh fruits and vegetables contain essential enzymes. We manufacture many of the enzymes we need to absorb nutrients, but our diet provides the rest. Adding the following raw foods is often suggested for improving digestion naturally.

  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Carrots
  • Grapefruit
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

Add fresh foods with prebiotic fiber to your daily diet

  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Apples (skin)
  • Beans
  • Dandelion greens
  • Leeks

Remember, cooking can destroy a lot of the fiber in these foods, so eat them fresh and raw when possible.

Separate food groups to allow digestive probiotics and enzymes to work properly

One popular digestive remedy you can try is called “food combining.” You may find some relief by merely avoiding eating different kinds of foods at the same time.

The theory is pretty simple. Because we’re omnivores that can eat different kinds of foods, we make a wide selection of enzymes and gut bacteria for digesting them. Unfortunately, though, some of these can work against each other. After all, primitive man didn’t have a three-course meal with all the food groups every time he sat down at the fire. When fruit was in season, he gorged on fruit. If the hunt was successful, everyone had steak. If they found some wild tubers, early humans just dug them up, feasted, and perhaps dried some for later.

Early humans were nomadic, following the herds. They foraged as they went, harvesting whatever tasty fruits and vegetables were ripe along the way.

A quick breakdown of food combining is:

  • Eat fruit by itself
  • Don’t eat grains/starches/tubers with proteins
  • Eat plenty of fresh vegetables that grow aboveground with either
  • Avoid dairy

Food combining or a short fast can give your system a break and allow your natural digestive enzymes and microbes room to flourish.

In conclusion

Science is finally really discovering how much our digestive system really affects every aspect of our health.

Recently, the association between mental health disorders and poor gut flora was drawn with a broad-tip, permanent marker.  Certain bacteria in our digestive system can make or break our diet efforts, as shown in a recent study from researchers in Taiwan.  And they’re still looking for more ties between our digestive system and our overall all health.

So, take what you now know to ensure you have a healthy, thriving colony of the most beneficial bacteria for supporting digestive health.


Featured Image: CC by 0, by Einladung_zum_Essen, via Pixabay