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Go with Your Gut – Support Your Immune System with Probiotics

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about probiotics. They’ve been front and center of the health industry for the last few years and their popularity continues to grow, especially for immunity. Chances are, they could be right for you too. Here we explain everything you need to know about probiotics, their benefits, food sources and more.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are good-for-you bacteria that benefit your health and especially your digestive tract. Your body contains both good and bad bacteria which can become unbalanced due to certain medications or health issues, leading to bloat, gas and digestive upset. Probiotics are live microorganisms that rebalance or restore gut flora.  Probiotics, which are the same or similar to microorganisms found naturally in our bodies, can be found in foods, supplements, and even beauty products.

Probiotic benefits

Since 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, if you keep your GI tract healthy, it will bolster immunity and overall health too. Well-known benefits include:

  • Eases gas and bloat
  • Relieves occasional constipation and diarrhea
  • Helps your body absorb nutrients
  • Promotes urinary and vaginal health
  • Fosters clearer, smoother skin
  • Enhances overall digestive function
  • Fosters positive mood
  • Supports healthy weight loss
  • Promotes oral health

The best probiotic food and drink

Getting probiotics through food and drink is probably most beneficial, but if extra support is needed, you can use a supplement. Here are some of the best probiotic foods.

Yogurt – Look for whole fat, organic or grass-fed yogurt with live, active cultures. These are loaded with good bacteria, mainly lactic acid and a strain called bifidobacteria. Avoid the sugary kinds which have little to no benefit.

Kefir – Helps ease bloating and gas caused by dairy. It’s made by adding kefir grains, which are cultures of lactic acid bacteria and yeast, to milk.

Tempeh – This high-protein, meat-like soybean product promotes mineral absorption. It also delivers B-12.

Kimchi – Usually made from cabbage, this Korean side dish supports GI health due to its Lactobacillus kimchi content.  

Sauerkraut – This finely shredded, fermented cabbage is chock-full of bacteria to boost immune system and gut flora. It’s also high in fiber and Vitamins B, C, and K. Look for unpasteurized sauerkraut with live, active bacteria available online.

Kombucha – Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that may help combat overproduction of candida yeast in the gut while promoting digestion and good bacteria.

Miso – This Japanese seasoning made with soybeans, salt and a type of fungus, stimulates the digestive system and supports immune system health.

Traditional buttermilk – Not to be confused with the cultured buttermilk commonly found in American grocery stores, traditional buttermilk delivers a range of probiotics along with Vitamin B-12, calcium and more.

Fermented cheeses – Only certain types of cheese contain good bacteria including gouda, cheddar, cottage, swiss and parmesan. Cheese is also nutritious and benefits bone health as well.

Probiotic supplements and strains

If probiotic foods and drinks don’t appeal to you, you may be interested in taking a probiotic supplement.

There are two main strains of probiotics, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. They are often abbreviated as B. and L. respectively. A combination of various strains is usually more effective than a single strain and more colonies is better than fewer. These colonies are referred to in units called CFUs.

Here are the most popular types of probiotics:

L.acidophilus – Commonly found in foods and supplements, this strain helps you digest dairy, supports the immune system and promotes female health.

B. longum – Helps restore intestinal balance. B. longum lives in your gastrointestinal tract. It helps break down carbohydrates and can act as an antioxidant.

L.casei – Helps propagate good bacteria.

B.bifidum – In newborns, its quantities are huge as it protects from germs. B. bifidum adheres to the GI lining to combat unfriendly bacteria while promoting overall digestion and nutrient absorption. It also sticks to the walls of the vagina for healthy pH levels.

B. breve – This strain helps ease bloating and mild diarrhea and constipation. Popular for its ability to combat exceptionally large amounts of harmful bacteria.

L. helveticus – Found in certain cheeses, this helps break down dairy and aids in digestion

B. animalis – Exists in the large intestines and works to maintain digestive balance by multiplying in great numbers, leaving little to no room for harmful bacteria to grow. In so doing, it also boosts your immune system.

L. reuteri – Naturally found in the intestines and mouth, it supports oral health and teeth, eases plaque buildup, gas and stomach upset.

As always, if you’re thinking of adding probiotics to your diet, talk with your doctor to make sure they’re right for you.  If you do proceed, look for live cultures and check expiration dates. You might also want to keep a probiotics diary to note any changes you observe.

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