Topping the list of New Year’s resolutions year after year is eating healthier, but by the middle of January many of these good intentions have already derailed. Those who are successful are the ones who change their focus from “I won’t” to “I will.” For some, that means selecting better snacks, others may consider trying probiotics to supplement a healthy diet.
“A healthy gut is a big part of a healthy body and mind,” says Dr. Ying-Chieh Tsai, gut-microbiome expert and chief scientist at Bened Life. “In some cases, an unhealthy gut may even be a contributor to poor physical and/or mental health that you’re trying to address in 2023. Taking a probiotic is an easy and inexpensive way to add an extra dimension to the changes you’re already making to your diet and mental self-care at this time of year.”
For more information on gut-brain probiotics, check out BenedLife.com.
Improve Mental Well-Being & Immune Health
Taking a probiotic can help you maintain a balanced gut microbiome between “good” and “bad” bacteria and yeasts. As Dr. Tsai explains, adding a dose of “good” bacteria to your diet via a probiotic supplement may make your gut a less hospitable place for “bad” bacteria. This in turn can help the “good” microorganisms that are naturally occurring in your gut to flourish, improving health.
While decreasing the duration and severity of diarrhea is a well-known benefit of probiotics, when your gut microbiome is balanced you also may experience better mental health and improved immune health.
“Many studies show a benefit of taking probiotics on aspects of mental health, such as anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Tsai. “And the gut microbiome appears to influence the lung microbiome and may help to reduce inflammation associated with allergies and asthma.”
A healthy gut supports overall brain function, as well, since the brain and gastrointestinal systems are intimately connected.
“Gut inflammation due to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria or yeasts can have wide-ranging effects on the gut, and even brain function,” says Dr. Tsai. “For example, scientists believe that Parkinson’s disease may begin in the gut for some people, with pathogenic proteins traveling to the brain via the vagus nerve.”
Pick out Probiotics and Fermented Foods
Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread and miso, can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut as well as provide myriad other health benefits. For a person who experiences only occasional digestive issues, eating foods containing live cultures, such as yogurt, kimchi and kefir, may help to maintain healthy intestinal function.
“Others may need a more focused approach to probiotics and they will need to test different probiotic supplements containing different strains to find one that serves them best,” says Dr. Tsai. “For example, someone who has ongoing digestive issues may be better served by a higher dose of beneficial bacteria than fermented foods can provide. For gut-brain health, only certain strains of probiotic species may have the desired benefit, and fermented foods generally will not contain these.”
“The main difference between a probiotic and a fermented food is that a probiotic is a supplement with a defined composition and a requirement that it provides a health benefit, while a fermented food is not,” explains Dr. Tsai.
Fermented foods derive unique flavors and nutrient profiles from the activity of the microorganisms that ferment them, but the exact microorganism content and dose in the food at the time that you eat it is not typically optimized for your health benefit..
Each person’s microbiome is different, so Dr. Tsai cautions that the supplement that helps your friend may not be the best one for you, so you need to experiment to find the best probiotic option.
“For day-to-day well-being and long-term good health, it’s important to eat a healthy diet, move your body, take care of your mental health, and keep your gut microbiome balanced,” comments Dr. Tsai. “Taking a probiotic can potentially help with the last two, which can make the first two easier to do!”