How Probiotics Can Ease Your Depression—And 4 Other Benefits That Have Nothing To Do With Digestion

Five ways probiotics can benefit your health, from a positive outlook to lower cholesterol.

January 3, 2017
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While we typically think of bacteria as a bad thing, certain microorganisms, in the right doses, may actually help keep us healthy. For years doctors have been suggesting probiotics as a way to help an irregular gut, but thanks to a growing body of newer research, it now looks like they can do much more than settle an upset stomach. 

"The microbes that colonize our body really do have an impact on health, and that impact seems to extend far beyond the gut," says Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, executive science officer for the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.

Those far-reaching benefits differ depending on which strain of probiotic you take. If you're taking them to address a specific health concern, like stomach issues or allergies, choose supplements with the specific kind of probiotic that has been shown to help with that issue. If you're healthy but looking for a way to bolster your microbiomeincorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet such as yogurt, fermented vegetables, or kombucha should do the trick, Sanders says. Regardless of how you get yours, read on to see the amazing benefits of these miniscule bacteria. 

This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.com.

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Reduce Anxiety

In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that zebrafish, who—believe it or not—have similar brain processes to humans, displayed less anxiety-related behavior when given supplements containing the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum, commonly found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and sourdough bread. While more research will need to be done in humans, this could eventually lead to probiotic anxiety treatments, the researchers write. 

Related: This Is What It's Like To Live With Anxiety

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Boost immune system

It's widely understood that some exposure to microbes helps your immune system function well. This is true for bacteria that you encounter every day, Sanders says. "These microbes basically program the immune system to respond correctly and robustly to protect you," she says. In one study, researchers found active people who took probiotics had 40% fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections than those who took a placebo.

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Prevent allergic and inflammatory reactions

While an underactive immune system can cause serious health problems, so can an overactive one. Your immune system's main role is to find the middle ground, and overreactions can lead to both allergies and inflammatory diseases, Sanders says. Researchers are studying the idea that probiotics could keep these overreactions under control. In a 2015 study in children who were genetically predisposed to develop eczema, the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduced their risk of the skin disease. 

Another 2015 study of people with the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis found that taking a probiotic helped to keep individuals in remission longer than those who took a placebo. 

Related: 7 Food Pairings That Fight Inflammation

 

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Lower cholesterol

In a 2012 study, researchers found that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri reduced people's levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol by 11.6% and total cholesterol by 9% compared to people taking a placebo. "The probiotics that have been shown to have an impact in decreasing LDL have a specific enzyme that may intervene with the reabsorption of cholesterol from the gut to keep those levels slightly lower," Sanders says.

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Protect your teeth and gums

Not to be gross, but because the human mouth is teeming with bacteria already, researchers are looking to probiotics as a natural way to fight gum disease. In a pair of older studiesL. reuteri reduced gingivitis and plaque when compared to both a placebo and another probiotic, and yogurt containing L. reuteri significantly decreased growth of a specific bacterium called streptococcus mutans, a known contributor to tooth decay. In a small 2013 study, researchers used lactic acid bacteria, which occur naturally in humans, and found that they fought off "bad" bacteria in the mouth, potentially paving the way for a natural way to improve oral health.

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