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Suffering from a stomachache, gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation? If you are prone to frequent or recurring stomach pain after eating, consider including probiotics in your diet or as a supplement.

Probiotics are live “good” microorganisms (primarily bacteria) that flourish in your gastrointestinal tract and help maintain a healthy digestive system.  Recent studies have shown that only certain strains can treat for certain types of GI tract issues.

However, taking a probiotic supplement can be beneficial even if you don’t have existing stomach woes. Read on for how this good bacteria helps resolve tummy troubles.

1. Helps with Digestion

Digestive issues plague millions of Americans, whether chronic or just the occasional episode. Bloating, heartburn and stomach cramps can be the result of your stomach struggling to digest.

An unhealthy diet, too much fiber, too little fiber and food intolerances can lead these lapses in smooth digestion. Probiotics helps reduce this type of GI distress by helping your body break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats more efficiently.

A more effective digestion system moves food out of your stomach more quickly, reducing the chance of heartburn.

2. Increase Ability to Assimilate Nutrients from Food

Probiotics not only help break down food to its components—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats (and water)—they also help with the absorption of nutrients. Several types of this good bacteria helps your body maximize the nutrition it receives from food.

For example, probiotic friendly Lactobacillus acidophilus helps in processing vitamin B, which helps metabolize fat, and vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. Vegetarians, vegans, and others on food-restricted diets can greatly benefit from probiotics.

Restricted diets due to allergies, intolerances, or health reasons sometimes rely on food sources that provide vitamins and minerals in a less bio-available format. Probiotics help maximize the nutrient uptake.

3. Soothes GI discomfort resulting from IBS

If you suffer from chronic gastrointestinal issues or have a diagnosed GI issue like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), friendly bacteria can reduce existing gut pain and discomfort. IBS is a difficult to treat condition with a range of intestinal symptoms, and no established cause.

IBS sufferers reported less severe symptoms abdominal pain and bloating when taking the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. L. plantarum DSM9843 may also alleviate GI distress like bloating and pain from IBS.

4. Prevents GI trouble

Don’t have any existing gastrointestinal issues, and looking to keep any at bay, especially while you’re traveling? Up to 50 percent of people traveling internationally develop intestinal issues while abroad.

A dramatic change in diet, less-than-sanitary water, different hygiene standards in food stalls and restaurants results in greater exposure to harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

However, a few studies show that taking probiotics (specifically, the S. cerevisiae boulardii strain) can reduce the likelihood of developing GI problems, and may even help resolve a bout of traveler’s diarrhea.

5. Keeps out harmful bacteria

The millions of “good” bacteria living in your GI tract inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria that can lead to illness. Probiotics promote the growth and add to the population of healthy bacteria in your gut.

When more good bacteria are present, the growth of bad bacteria is more inhibited because the good bacteria help to digest food that harmful bacteria need in order to spread.

While the actual mechanism of how “good” overpowers “bad,” is still unknown, the effect is substantial enough that doctors are recommending patients take probiotics when exposed to long-term antibiotic and birth control pill use.

Antibiotics and birth control pills indiscriminately kill all strains of bacteria, beneficial or harmful, thus greatly reducing the healthy flora in your gut. As a result, the friendly bacteria are no longer able to keep infectious microorganisms at bay, which weakens their immune system.

Probiotics help counter that loss, reinstating the necessary “good” bacteria to help battle off the bad. These are just a handful of the ways probiotics can help your GI system. Whether you get your probiotic through fermented food sources, like yogurt or kefir (look for a label that says “live, active cultures,” or via supplements, a probiotic can prevent and alleviate stomach woes.

Note from Sheila: I have experienced a lot of tummy troubles in my day, and one supplement that helped me tremendously in building up the good bacteria again was Dr. Ohhira's, Essential Formulas Probiotic. I also used raw whole milk regularly in my coffee and smoothies, but now don’t use it quite as often as my digestion is for the most part, awesome. We do currently use Green Vibrance daily, which has over 25 billion probiotics per dose (the highest I’ve been able to find) and have noticed immune system benefits from this as well.

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