Probiotics benefit the body far beyond digestion! The gut microbiome affects so many other aspects of health and wellness too, from heart health, inflammation, and immune function to mental health and vaginal pH (hey, ladies!).
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When was the last time you gave all that bacteria in your belly some TLC?
Our guts are home to trillions (yes, trillions!) of bacteria. In fact, the number of bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by 10 to 1.
Now before you get the heebie-jeebies, know that these bacteria are much smaller than our own cells, and so collectively only weigh around five pounds. And much more importantly, these bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with our bodies. That is, they really help us out!
By now, you probably know that probiotics aid digestion and the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. But it doesn’t stop there.
The health benefits of probiotics extend far beyond digestion.
In recent years, more and more science has emerged connecting the bacteria living in our gut microbiome to so many other aspects of health and wellness — from heart health and immune function to inflammation and mental health.
And it. Is. Fascinating.
I’m totally convinced that fostering digestive health and a robust gut microbiome is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Plus, certain probiotic strains have been shown to have very specific effects, which cutting-edge companies like Life Extension are harnessing in their products.
So let’s take a look at some of the ways in which a healthy, robust gut microbiome is vital for our overall health and wellness, some of these specific probiotic strands with targeted benefits, and how we can better our bodies by getting them into our guts!
6 Health Benefits of Probiotics Beyond Digestion
1. Vitamin Synthesis
Not only does the gut microbiome help the body absorb nutrients from digested foods, but it also synthesizes key vitamins and fatty acids that the body needs to thrive, including:
- Vitamin K2: Absolutely key for a healthy heart since it moves calcium where it belongs, like the bones and teeth, and supports healthy arteries
- Butyrate: A short-chain fatty acid that nourishes the colon, supports healthy cell function, and helps support a healthy inflammatory response
- Thiamine (vitamin B1): Necessary for energy metabolism and to maintain proper heart and nerve function
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Acts as an antioxidant and is key for maintaining healthy blood cells, energy levels, and a healthy metabolism
- Biotin (vitamin B7): Key for energy metabolism and building healthy tissues
- Cobalamin (vitamin B12): Plays a key role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and DNA production
Pretty amazing, huh?
By nourishing the gut microbiome with probiotic supplements, we enhance its ability to synthesize these nutrients.
2. Immune Function
The gut is actually home to 70% of the tissue that makes up the immune system (called “gut associated lymphatic tissue” or GALT). Probiotics not only suppress the growth of harmful bacteria in the GI tract, but also direct the activity of immune cells. In other words, the beneficial bacteria housed in the guts give the GALT instructions! Specific probiotic strains have been specifically been shown to increase GALT’s production of IgA antibodies — which fight bacteria, viruses, and toxins — by up to 45%.
Just as important, the gut acts as a barrier between your body and the outside world. Though it may seem counterintuitive, anything inside your GI tract is actually outside the body, with several lines of defense between whatever it is in there and the bloodstream. The gut microbiome strengthens this barrier and prevents “leaky gut”, which is when the small intestines become semipermeable and bacteria (as well as other toxins and undigested food particles) are able to enter the bloodstream.
Maintaining healthy digestion and nourishing the gut microbiome with probiotics can help to ensure the immune system is operating at top speed. To really give your immune system a boost, LifeExtension’s FLORASSIST® Immune Health contains those specific probiotic strains that help promote healthy IgA levels.
3. Mood and Mental Health
The GI system and the brain are much more intimately connected than you may think. In fact, “the gut-brain axis” has been well-studied and found to be a key aspect of mental health.
Many hormones and neurotransmitters are produced in gut, which actually has its own nervous system. Fun fact: the small intestine alone has as many neurons as your spinal cord and the gut contains more neurotransmitters than the brain! The gut also produces 95% of the body’s serotonin — a.k.a. “the happy hormone” — which helps regulate mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire.
The gut microbiome plays an especially important role in mood and mental health. Researchers have stated:
“Dysbiosis [an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut] and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, which are prevalent in society today. Probiotics have the ability to restore normal microbial balance, and therefore have a potential role in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression.” (source)
One review of 15 human studies found that supplementing with the bifidobacterium and lacto
Life Extension’s FLORASSIST® Mood contains lactobacillus helveticus strain R0052 and bifidobacterium longum strain R0175. Human clinical studies have found that the combination of these two strains improved mood, reduced perceived stress, and promoted relaxation.
4. Heart Health
Yes, probiotics even help to keep your ticker in tip-top shape!
Numerous studies have found that probiotics promote healthy cholesterol levels and can lower blood pressure. Probiotics also promote a healthy inflammatory response, which is key to a healthy heart since inflammation is one of the primary factors behind heart disease. Lactobacillus reuteri 30242 (the all-star inLifeExtension’s FLORASSIST® Heart Health Probiotic) has been shown to support healthy levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and gauge of cardiovascular health. This strain also supports healthy cholesterol and fibrinogen levels, an important contributor to blood clotting that increase in response to cardiovascular stress.
5. Oral Health
We tend to think that all bacteria in the mouth is bad — that it all needs to be scrubbed away or killed with harsh, alcohol-based mouthwashes. But as with the gut microbiome, the oral microbiome has both “good” and “bad” bacteria, with the “good” helping to keep the “bad” in check and maintain healthy gums and teeth.
The importance of oral health extends far beyond fresh breath and an attractive smile: gum (periodontal) disease can lead to heart problems, cancer, Alzheimer’s, lung and kidney disorders, and more. And since nearly half of adults aged 30 and over have gum disease, this is something we should all take very seriously!
Scientists have identified two strains of good bacteria that help fight gum disease by maintaining a balanced oral microbiome: the lactobacillus plantarum strain L-137 boosts oral immune function and promotes healing while S. salivarius M18 kills harmful bacteria that live in the mouth. Life Extension’s FLORASSIST® Oral Hygiene lozenge probiotic supplement contains both of these strains.
6. Vaginal Health
Last but not least, an added benefit for the ladies!
Like the gut, the vagina has its own microbiome. And like the gut microbiome, the bacteria in the vaginal microbiome help to keep pathogens in check.
So how can oral probiotics impact the vaginal microbiome? Well the vagina has a particular pH range at which it is healthiest: 3.8 to 4.5, which is acidic. When the pH of the vagina is more neutral, unhealthy pathogens and yeasts are allowed to flourish while the beneficial bacteria are reduced — this is one of the primary causes of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, and can open the door to urinary tract infections as well. Certain lactobacilli species have been shown to help maintain vaginal pH by producing H2O2 (a.k.a. hydrogen peroxide) and lactic acid, which acidify the vagina. This helps promote normal vaginal flora and a healthy microbial environment.