The Importance of Gut Health
Researchers continue to uncover just how important gut health is to overall health. The bacteria in the gut are now known to be predictors of overall health and specific issues ranging from obesity to allergies and depression. There is a huge network of neurotransmitters in the gut, functioning almost like a second brain. Cultivating a healthy gut may be the No. 1 thing you can do for disease prevention, and probiotics -- basically live bacteria and yeasts for your gut -- can help. "Taking a 'good' daily probiotic ... can help keep your good bacteria in balance, which is what you need," says registered dietitian Jill Nussinow, aka The Veggie Queen, who has years of experience working with gut health and probiotics.
Choosing a Probiotic
"People want the answer to this question badly, but there is not likely one best probiotic for everyone," says Nussinow. She advises taking a "look at the number and type of bacteria that the supplements contain." Certain types of bacteria are thought to target different areas of the body, so if you are able to pinpoint where you need some assistance, it may help guide your choice of supplement. Nussinow cautions against opting for standard probiotics that many traditional Western doctors are keen to suggest and encourages people to do their own research, or consult an integrative-medicine practitioner.
When choosing my probiotic, I opted for convenience first with an inexpensive (just under $19) shelf-stable supplement that does not require refrigeration, which is far more common than it used to be. The vegan-suitable supplement containing 5 billion cells of Saccharomyces boulardii per serving is designed to survive passage through the stomach and provide benefits to the intestinal tract. I found that one pill per day was the right dose for me, with or without food, and with plenty of water.
I Had Better Elimination
As someone who has a sensitive stomach, I'm used to irregular bowel movements. After four days of taking a daily probiotic, my elimination began to regulate itself. I gradually started having bowel movements at the same time every day. The elimination was also more satisfying. It felt easier to pass a larger amount of waste, leaving me feeling lighter and healthier. Probiotics are known to help ease constipation, so I was concerned about possible diarrhea, but the effect was not that of a laxative. Rather, it felt balancing. In fact, this particular strain of probiotic is thought to protect against diarrhea.
My Cravings Decreased
Like many Americans, I can be a slave to my cravings at times. From sugary treats and empty-carb-loaded pastries to salty fried foods, I am no stranger to the sugar-fat-salt cycle of cravings. After one week, I noticed that my cravings were less frequent and less strong. As a food and beverage professional and writer living in New York City, there are always temptations, but I no longer felt an urgency to eat something sugary on a daily basis. There is some evidence to suggest that the bacteria in the gut dictate cravings, which is pretty creepy.
No More Indigestion
Stomach aches and acid reflux are two forms of indigestion that I had become accustomed to as a part of regular life. The stomach aches were the first to go. Within one week of a daily probiotic, I had a 90 percent decrease in any abdominal discomfort, including painful bloating from gas. My acid reflux, which was mild to moderate to begin with, completely vanished.
I Slept Better At Night
I had never considered that my insomnia was linked to gut health, beyond the few times an upset stomach kept me awake. It took me nearly two weeks to realize that since I had been supplementing daily, I was falling asleep easily and mostly sleeping through the night. As a vivid dreamer, I sometimes get nightmares, which I noticed occurred far less frequently during the time I was taking probiotics. While a link has been noticed between dreams and activity in the gut, it's a controversial point as people have had opposite reactions.
My Mood Was More Stable
I first attributed a greater sense of well-being to the side benefits from the probiotics, like sleeping better and not having indigestion. But after almost two weeks, I reflected on my moods and realized that I still felt the same range of emotions, I was just better able to control my response to them. I was surprised to learn about the intimate connection between emotional well-being and gut bacteria. Even considering all of the physical benefits, this psychological asset was one of the most valuable aspects of daily probiotic use.