How to Improve Your Immune System: Best Probiotic Foods and Supplements

Probiotic Power

A Healthy Gut May Lead to a Healthy Mind

Your intestines house about ¾ of your total immune system.  That means if we want our bodies to be healthy, we need to keep the friendly bacteria in our guts happy by eating lots of fiber and adding probiotics foods (foods containing active bacteria) or probiotic supplements to our diets.

Beyond the benefits a healthy gut offers our body, new research is showing that it may also lead to a healthy mind.  A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that women who consumed a fermented milk product with added probiotics twice a day for four weeks showed significant changes in their processing of emotions and sensations.  This small study randomly assigned 36 women to one of three groups.  The first group consumed yogurt with added probiotics, the second consumed a non-fermented dairy product, and the third had no intervention at all.  All women underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) prior to and at the conclusion of the study.  The women who consumed the yogurt with probiotics showed a marked decrease in anxiety and stress. (Tillisch, June 2013)

This study follows previous research conducted with rodents in which microbes in the intestines of timid mice were replaced with bacteria from the intestines of fearless mice, and vice versa.  The mice in both groups began to exhibit the behavior of the other group when their gut bacteria was switched.  This is thought to be due to the direct communication of the GI tract to the brain via the vagus nerve.  Particular bacteria appear to be associated with anxiety and fear, while others appear to be associated with courage and a more out-going attitude.  (Stein, 2013)

This “microbiome” research is still in its infancy, but the implications are that a healthy gut may improve mood and give us the ability to better cope with the stresses of daily life.

You can support your gut’s healthy microflora by eating healthy pre-biotic foods, like onions, garlic, and cabbage.  These foods feed the healthy bacteria and help them flourish, while discouraging the growth of harmful organisms.  You can also add probiotics to your diet as discussed above by eating naturally occurring active cultures of bacteria in yogurt, miso, kefir, kimchi, and other fermented foods.  Probiotics also come in supplement form.  Look for a supplement from a reputable manufacturer that contains several strains of beneficial bacteria.

Probiotics are becoming quite popular in the food and supplement industry these days. Probiotics are bacteria that are used to help maintain healthy microorganisms in the intestine.  Humans naturally have between 500 and 1,000 different strains of bacteria in their bodies.

These microorganisms support the body for optimal digestion and to aid immune function.  Only certain types of bacteria or yeast have been shown to work in the digestive tract.  Other strains have been studied for their abilities to enhance immune function.  Many other strains used in probiotic supplements have not been studied effectively to understand their effects.

Antibiotics

Many people use probiotics to help with digestive symptoms caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness.  Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria and also help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotic use.

Probiotic food products

Yogurt

Probably the most popular and well-known probiotic food product is yogurt.  Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with certain probiotic strains, creating yogurt’s characteristic tangy flavor.  Yogurt can have different types of probiotic strains, although Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two types most commonly used in products.

When choosing yogurt for probiotic benefits, your best bet is to make sure that the product has “live and active cultures” on the label.  The ideal yogurt choices are organic (antibiotics used in cows can decrease probiotic content), plain, and made without added sugars.  Wallaby Organic, Straus Family Creamery, Stonyfield Farm, and Nancy’s Cultured Organic are all good organic yogurt options.

Kefir

Although yogurt is still the king in terms of being the most well-known of probiotic foods, kefir is quickly gaining in popularity on grocery store shelves in the United States.  Kefir is a drink popular in Eastern and Northern Europe.  This fermented dairy product contains many major strains of bacteria and beneficial yeasts that are not present in yogurt.  Kefir is typically made from fermented cow milk, but it may also be made by fermenting coconut milk, sweetened water, coconut water, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk.

Kefir packs a more powerful probiotic punch than yogurt, due to the sheer potency and number of different Lactobacillus strains.  Kefir is also a good source of calcium, B vitamins, vitamin D, and vitamin K.  When choosing a good kefir product, the best options are those products with minimal additives and sweeteners.  Plain organic kefir varieties are ideal.  Some good organic kefir choices include products by Lifeway, Green Valley and Helio’s.

Kombucha tea

Kombucha is a fermented tea that has probiotics such as Bifidus bacteria.  Kombucha tea is available in health food stores and many larger grocery stores.  The tea available in stores can often have a lot of added sugars.  Although kombucha can be a fun way to add probiotics to the diet, many experts agree that yogurt, kefir and naturally fermented foods are better choices for the best benefit.

Fermented foods

Probiotics are naturally found in small amounts in fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and tempeh.  Adding fermented foods to your meals daily is an expensive way you can help improve the quality of your gut bacteria naturally.

Probiotic supplements

There are many different types of probiotic supplements on the market today.  Probiotic supplements come in many forms-gelcaps, liquids, powders and tablets.  Most experts agree that the best probiotics have multiple strains in their formula.  Different probiotic supplements are marketed for targeting different bacteria within the body.  Some of the most popular supplements are used to improve the health of the digestive tract, the vaginal tract, or to boost overall immune function.  When choosing a probiotic, make sure to read the label carefully to ensure you are getting the appropriate strain desired to support your specific health condition.  For the best probiotic supplement recommendation to support your health, take our Vitamin Advisor questionnaire or speak with your nutritionist or other health care provider.

Multi-Strain Probiotics

Multi-Strain Probiotics that deliver a blend of 15 billion beneficial bacterial microorganisms are a massively successful way to dial in the health of your gut, treat bladder and vaginal infections and to delay the development of allergies in children. Scientific trials utilizing Multi-Strain Probiotics have provided the medical community with exceptional statistics reflecting their healing properties and, in many instances, such as that of irritable bowel disorder, superiority to conventional treatments. This has resulted in an increasing percentage of in-home self-dosing pro-biotic therapy and an increased recommendation of usage as prescribed by physicians, naturopaths, and other wellness providers.  Multi-strain probiotics are commonly prescribed as a first line of defense in the treatment of and for the prevention of relapse for individuals suffering from Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Disease.

Most recently, multi-strain probiotics have been correlated to an increased success in weight-loss and for the maintenance of a healthy weight. An argument has been made that those who take multi-strain probiotic supplements have an increased intestinal microbiota balance, which, in turn, promotes a healthy weight.  Women, as reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, who were trying to lose weight and who were given supplemental probiotic support, reported decreased hunger and were shown to have diminished levels of the hunger hormone leptin.

Vitamin Packs offers an amazing multi-strain probiotic that contains the optimal blend of 15 billion beneficial bacteria including L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, B. Lactis, B. Longum, B. bifidum, L. gasseri, S. thermophiles and a proprietary blend of fructooligosaccharides and Ulmus fulva bark.  This is a gluten free product that is suitable for individuals practicing a paleo based diet and for those allergic to yeast, wheat, soy, and corn.  There is nothing artificial used in this product and this product has been rigorously tested for purity and dose accuracy.

If dialing in your digestive health is what you desire, or if you just want to make an intelligent choice in the care of your health, a multi-strain probiotic is a smart start.

Source

  1. Stein, R. (2013, November 18). Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of Our Minds. Retrieved from NPR.org: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/11/18/244526773/gut-bacteria-might-guide-the-workings-of-our-minds
  2. Tillisch, K. e. (June 2013). Consumption of Fermented Milk Product with Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity. Gastroenterology, 1394-1401.
  3. Today’s Dietitian. Friendly Bug Invasion. September 2013.
  4. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 110 / Issue 09 / November 2013, pp 1696-1703
  5. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0905c.shtml

 

 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.
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