If you’re struggling with gas, constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you may benefit from opting for a more gut-friendly diet. There are several foods that are known to be quite soothing and friendly to the digestive system, and one of the most well-known is yogurt.
Some yogurts are known as “live” yogurts, which means that they are a natural source of probiotics, friendly bacteria that live in the gut and promote digestion of certain foods, including fibers that the human body is unable to extract nutrients from itself.1
Health Benefits of Yogurt
Yogurt is made from milk, and as such, it is rich in animal protein, containing about nine grams of protein per six-ounce serving. It is also rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and some B-vitamins.2 This makes it a good choice for energy, healthy teeth and bones, and muscle repair. However, the aspect of yogurt that is attracting so much attention these days are the digestive benefits of probiotic yogurt.
How Probiotic Yogurt Could Help the Digestive System
The digestive tract contains trillions of living bacteria, and these bacteria are important to overall health.3 The presence of these bacteria helps break down foods that humans would not be able to digest otherwise, and it helps ward off the growth of other harmful bacteria.
The food that you eat can influence the growth of bacteria in the gut because different bacteria thrive on different foods. Consuming probiotics—such as milk, fermented milk products, and yogurt—could also help increase the presence of certain beneficial microbes in the gut.4
What to Look for in Probiotic Yogurts
There are many different kinds of bacteria that are found in probiotics, and each one has different benefits. Some of the most important ones to look out for include:
Lactobacillus acidophilus can improve digestion in the small intestine.5 These bacteria also produce vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin which helps with blood clotting. Additionally, they aid with lactose digestion, so they can be helpful for those who are lactose intolerant.
This is another bacterium that is found in probiotic yogurts and is thought to be particularly helpful for people who are suffering from IBS.6 Supplementation with this yogurt may also help prevent certain chronic intestinal diseases.
When people hear “strep” they immediately assume “a sore throat,” but not all streptococcus bacteria are bad. Streptococcus thermophilus is a bacterium that can fight lactic acid bacterium, which is a “bad” type of bacterium that can impede digestion. Streptococcus thermophilus can also help soothe the stomach and reduce upset stomachs and lactose intolerance symptoms.7 It can also help reduce abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea.
Using Yogurt to Improve Digestive Health
The idea of using yogurt to improve digestive health is a controversial one since it is hard to control the dosage of probiotics taken orally and since the gut microbiome varies between individuals.
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Some recent studies do suggest that probiotic yogurts can be beneficial for people who are trying to improve their gut flora, however. One study involved feeding 20 healthy study participants with a commercial brand of probiotic yogurt. Bacteria from those yogurts were found in the stool of the participants, which suggests that the bacteria can survive and pass through the gastrointestinal tract.8
If you are planning on taking a probiotic-enriched product in order to get the potential health benefits, then you’ll need to be patient and take it consistently to provide the bacteria enough time to take hold in your gut. A single dose of a probiotic is not enough to have a noticeable impact on your existing gut flora. It can take weeks of daily doses in order to see the results.9
Another factor that can impact the effectiveness of probiotics on the digestive system is whether or not the bacteria are even still alive and healthy before you take them. If you buy probiotic yogurts, be sure to store them correctly (most will need to be kept in the fridge).
You may be wondering if it is worth spending money on probiotics, especially if you feel like your digestive health is generally good. These supplement foods are often marketed towards people who are lactose intolerant or who have IBS, but they can offer benefits for other people as well.
If you usually eat a yogurt for breakfast anyway, why not try swapping your sugar and flavoring-filled brand for a probiotic one to see if it helps you. It could be that you have been bloated and sluggish for so long that it feels normal to you now and that with a few changes to your diet you’ll be able to feel significantly better.
Having a healthy gut microbiome provide a range of health benefits, even going so far as helping reduce cravings for sweets and junk food.10 It can take a long time to alter your gut flora, and researchers still do not fully understand how different bacteria can affect these microbes, but research has shown that a balance of bacteria is important and fermented foods can offer significant benefits to the performance of the digestive system.
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