Most of us have heard more about probiotics in the last couple of years than ever before. Ditto for our microbiome. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s increasingly clear that the types and number of bacteria that inhabit our bodies profoundly influence our health.
What is the Microbiome?
Our microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that populates the inside and outside of our bodies. These microorganisms are found on skin, and in the gut, mouth, vagina, and respiratory system.
Research in the field is booming, with much more to be discovered. But what we do know is this: “friendly” bacteria have an important role to play in keeping us healthy while “unfriendly” bacteria have been linked to a whole host of medical conditions.
And therein lies the rationale for adding a probiotic to our daily routine. Probiotics contain live, “friendly” bacteria that can help prevent or treat an unhealthy microbiome (a condition called dysbiosis). And avoiding dysbiosis makes a lot of sense given its association with health problems such as obesity, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Benefits of Taking a Probiotic
Gut & Digestive Health
Research has shown that taking probiotics can positively influence the composition of bacteria in our guts. Our microbiome can be less than optimal for several reasons including stress, poor diet, and antibiotic use. Thankfully, probiotics can help get our gut flora back on track.
Friendly bacteria help produce vitamin B12, vitamin K, and folate – all essential nutrients. These helpful bugs also keep our bowels functioning well, including making constipation and diarrhea less common. No surprise then that probiotics are commonly used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
Our weight isn’t just determined by what we eat and how much we exercise—it looks like the bacteria in our bodies may have a significant impact. Although the mechanism isn’t fully understood, there is a link between having ample friendly bacteria in the gut and a lower risk of being overweight. It could be that good bacteria influence the absorption of calories, produce chemicals that increase metabolism, or influence appetite. Whatever the explanation, maintaining a robust community of healthy bacteria may offer some protection against unwanted weight gain. And who doesn’t want that?
There are links between dysbiosis and several skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. And here again, probiotics may have something to offer. Probiotics can improve hair quality, reduce sun damage, and improve physical characteristics of the skin. In other words, probiotics may be a “from the inside out” route to glowing skin.
Healthy bacteria in the vagina is one line of defense against yeast infections. And vaginal bacteria is influenced by the bacteria in the gut. Keeping our intestinal flora in working order helps keep our vaginal bacteria in the “good” rather than “bad” category. Probiotics can contribute to keeping the level of vaginal lactobacilli (a “good” bacteria) at a healthy level. There is even evidence that having a collection of “friendly” vaginal bacteria improves certain pregnancy and birth outcomes.
Pregnancy & Lactation
For many women, optimizing their health takes on a particular significance during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The stakes can seem that much higher when the health of a little one is involved.
Common prenatal vitamins like folate are familiar to most people. But far fewer people realize that probiotics may also have something to offer during pregnancy (and lactation). There is evidence that using probiotics during pregnancy can enhance baby’s immune system. And the use of probiotics during pregnancy and lactation reduces the risk of atopic eczema in infants.
Part of an infant’s microbiome establishes as the baby passes through the vaginal canal. Healthy vaginal bacteria helps ensure that a baby’s microbiome gets off to a good start. And that’s important because dysbiosis in infants is thought to increase the risk of all sorts of health conditions later in life, including asthma, celiac disease, and type I diabetes.
Once breastfeeding starts, a baby will be at the receiving end of the bacteria found in the breastmilk. Developing the right mix of bacteria from the time a baby is born helps establish an immune system that is effective for years to come. Knowing that, it makes sense to ensure that the bacteria in breastmilk is healthy and friendly.
Have you heard of the gut-brain axis? Many people haven’t, but it’s important when it comes to our emotional health. It turns out that the gut and brain communicate back and forth and that intestinal bacteria play a role in that communication. Unfriendly bacteria in the gut can contribute to less than optimal brain health, including anxiety or depression. It’s unsurprising then that some studies suggest that probiotics reduce depressive symptoms. Just one more reason to invest in keeping our gut health in balance.
Chronic inflammation and loss of friendly bacteria are both associated with aging, so the potential for probiotics to help keep our gut microflora “young” is a hot topic right now. Probiotics may be one of the ways we can resist age-related changes in our intestinal bacteria.
What about Prebiotics?
Working hand-in-hand with probiotics, prebiotics encourage the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotics are to friendly bacteria what fertilizer is to plants. Unfortunately, a typical North American diet doesn’t always include a significant amount of prebiotics. And that’s why combining prebiotics and probiotics in a single product can have advantages.
Getting and staying healthy is influenced by the many small steps we take (or don’t take) on a daily basis. An extra five minutes spent walking, a power nap on a lazy Sunday, or a sprinkle of hemp on our cereal can help nudge our physical and mental functioning in the right direction.
Adding a probiotic is another simple way to nudge ourselves towards better health. If you’re ready to add a probiotic to your health regime, the following protocol is a good starting point.
- Start with the Ultra Strength Plus+ 100 billion. Take 1 capsule a day for 2 to 3 months. The goal is to quickly increase the types and number of good bacteria in your gut.
- Next, the focus is on keeping your gut in its healthy state. Taking 1-3 capsules of Nova Probiotic Feminine 27 (or the vegan option) per day can help you maintain a healthy gut and was specifically designed for women’s unique needs. It includes multiple strains of friendly bacteria—a definitive plus according to experts in the field—as well as a prebiotic derived from the chicory plant.
- If you have a sensitive gut, the dose increase may need to be more gradual. Feel free to take your time moving up from 1 to 3 capsules.
- These probiotics work no matter when you take them. However, some people like to take them at bedtime as a logical complement to the natural detoxification that occurs overnight. Just remember, the quality of your probiotic is far more important than what time of day you take it.
Our microbiome is here to stay – but the number and types of bacteria in our bodies aren’t set in stone. Probiotics are one way of ensuring that our intestinal flora is a force for good when it comes to keeping us healthy and happy.
Written by Michele Natvik
Michele Natvik currently put her degrees in nutrition and healthcare to good use while seeing clients at her local university. At home, she spends a good chunk of her time trying to optimize her family’s microbiome, believing that friendly bacteria have a lot to offer. When she’s not immersed in nutrition, Michele pursues her love of running, freelance writing, and chocolate chip cookies (in moderation, of course!).
Behind NOVA Probiotics, stands a team of health experts passionate about human and animal health. In order to reveal the best of what probiotic supplements can do for human health, NOVA has chosen probiotic strains that cover the entire intestinal tract. This means, each one of their strains is meant to work in a targeted part of it, whether the small intestine, the large intestine or the colon. Due to microencapsulation, all NOVA Probiotics products are shelf-stable and approved by Health Canada.