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Your body is a hotbed of bacteria, much of it beneficial and essential. Most of these bacteria reside in the gut, outnumbering your body’s cells by 10 to one. According to Harvard Medical School, your bowels are home to an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms covering more than 500 species, including mostly bacteria, but also viruses and yeasts.

These microorganisms are found in your large intestine and play an important role in a number of body systems and functions. The microbiota manufactures vitamin K and some B vitamins, and it turns fibers into short-chain fats that feed the gut wall and perform a variety of metabolic functions, earning it the nickname “the forgotten organ” by scientists.

Imbalances in the gut flora are linked to diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, depression, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. It can also cause myriad digestive woes, including inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

A healthy balance of gut bacteria is linked to a wide range of health benefits, including improved digestion and immune function, healthier skin, weight loss, and a reduced risk of a number of diseases. Balancing the gut microbiota is largely a matter of ingesting probiotics.

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Probiotics 101

Probiotics are living microorganisms that often come in pill form and provide numerous benefits to your overall health. You can also get probiotics from eating fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any probiotic for preventing or treating any health problems, some probiotics have shown promise in a number of studies.

According to a large body of research, probiotic supplements can help antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and it can combat irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, reducing gas, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and other symptoms.

Some strains of probiotics have also been shown to aid in weight loss, according to a study published in The Lancet.

Most probiotics on the market are a mix of species and strains. The most commonly studied and consumed species of probiotics are Bifidobacteria, which supports immune function; limits the growth of harmful bacteria; and helps break down lactose into nutrients, and Lactobacillus, which produces lactic acid, serves as a fuel for muscles, and improves the body’s absorption of minerals.

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Common Strains of Probiotics

The most common strains of probiotics used in foods and supplements include:

B. animalis, which is found in some yogurt products and believed to aid digestion, boost immune function, and fight some bacteria.

B. breve, which lives in the digestive tract and the vagina and fights off infection-causing bacteria.

B. lactis, which is derived from raw milk and serves as a starter for buttermilk and some cheeses.

L. acidophilus, which is found in yogurt and fermented soy products and helps aid digestion and protect against vaginal bacteria.

L. reuteri, which aids the digestive system and decreases the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay.

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Choosing a Probiotic Supplement

In supplement form, Probiotics help keep your gut flora healthy. Look for a probiotic with multiple bacteria strains, which is generally more effective than taking just one strain. Look for probiotics with a large number of CFUs, or colony-forming units, ideally at least 40 billion is recommended.

Thrive Naturals Advanced Probiotic Complex contains 50 billion CFUs of 16 unique probiotic strains. It also contains a prebiotic fiber to feed the microflora.

Whether you’re experiencing digestive troubles or want to ensure your microbiota are healthy, a daily probiotic can help. Other ways to improve your gut flora include getting regular exercise and, as always, eating a nutritious diet.

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Sources:

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

http://patients.gi.org/topics/probiotics-for-the-treatment-of-adult-gastrointestinal-disorders/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1473309913701798