Probiotics can help you stay on the right tract and mayeven do wonders for your skin.

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Your digestive tract contains more than 500 different types of bacteria and an estimated 100 trillion individual bacteria, most of which are beneficial. In fact, you have 10 times more bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract than you have cells in your entire body.

A healthy balance of “friendly” gut bacteria reduces inflammation and helps to protect against infections, allergies, digestive problems, skin conditions, food cravings, weight gain and autoimmune diseases. Probiotic food and supplements can provide that important bacteria balance. If you haven’t already, isn’t it time that you added probiotics to your diet?

Probiotic supplements contain some of these bacterial species and many health benefits. Intestinal bacteria contribute to your health in many ways, and probiotic supplements support their work. Probiotics help you digest food and also make small amounts of certain vitamins. Probiotic supplements protect against infectious bacteria, in large part by crowding them out. These friendly bugs secrete peptides (protein-like substances) that help maintain your immune system.

Almost every cultural group eats probiotic foods. Germans eat sauerkraut, Japanese eat miso and natto, and Koreans eat kimchee. Live-culture yogurt is popular throughout the world. Additional probiotic foods are kombucha, kefir, raw cheese, apple cider vinegar and tempeh. If you don’t eat these foods each day, consider taking a probiotic supplement.

Probiotic supplementation can help infants, children and adults because these good bacteria secrete their own types of antibiotics, which fight infection-causing germs. Probiotic supplements are a traveler’s best friend. Anyone visiting a foreign county or simply eating and drinking different food and water than at home can benefit from the protection probiotics provide. Pathogenic bacteria can cause inflammation, damage the gut wall, and may even contribute to food allergies and gluten intolerance.

Because gut bacteria play a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system, they affect many aspects of physical function, above and beyond digestion. Studies suggest that probiotic supplements can balance metabolism and aid in weight loss.

If you take antibiotic drugs to fight a bacterial infection, the antibiotics kill both pathogens and friendly intestinal bacteria. The consequence is what doctors call a “microbial vacuum,” which is sometimes filled by opportunistic disease-causing bacteria. Probiotic supplements fight the bad bacteria and restore normal gut health. It’s important to continue taking probiotic supplements for at least a month after stopping antibiotics. The reason is that the microbial imbalance caused by antibiotics can linger for years.

Studies show that probiotic supplements, yogurt or other fermented foods can lower blood pressure. The most effective supplements in these studies contained multiple strains of probiotics. An effective daily dose was at least 100 billion colony-forming units (CFUs).

When athletes experience nausea, cramps, bloating, diarrhea and respiratory infections during or after long, exhausting events, the balance of gut bacteria has been disrupted, according to a review of studies published in the European Journal of Sport Science. Research shows that replenishing beneficial bacteria with probiotic supplements may improve the body’s ability to withstand athletic competition and to help fitness enthusiasts recover from intense exercise.

Those same friendly bacteria that are good for a healthy digestive tract are also good for your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology named probiotics a beauty breakthrough after research showed that oral and topical probiotics could significantly benefit skin conditions, including acne, rosacea and eczema.

Oral probiotics may ease skin issues by introducing healthy bacteria into the digestive system, whether as live active cultures found in some yogurts, kefir and fermented fruits, or as daily supplements. They can prevent the system-wide inflammation that’s thought to lead to acne and rosacea. The most effective probiotic strains include Lactobacillus, L. acidophilus and B. bifudum.

Recent research shows topical probiotics found in creams, cleansers, masks and skin treatments can protect and calm redness and irritation. Some probiotics even kill germs.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, topical probiotics can cause “bacterial interference” by obstructing bacteria and parasites that can cause inflammation, redness or bumps.

Researchers continue testing probiotics to determine which ones make substances that have antimicrobial properties and can actually kill bad bacteria.

The anti-aging bonus: by calming inflammation and acting as a barrier that forms a protective shield for the skin’s surface, probiotics can also help hydrate aging skin, reduce wrinkles and improve skin’s elasticity.