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How to balance your gut flora to reduce your symptoms

Reviewed by , ND

Are you so overwhelmed by your digestive symptoms that you don’t know what to do?

Gastrointestinal distress is more than twice as common in women as men, and women often have it worse because of complicating factors like menstruation, fibromyalgia, migraines and heartburn.

9 signs and symptoms of gut flora imbalance

  • Cramps, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas
  • Gluten, dairy, other food sensitivity
  • Yeast infections, cold sores
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Stuffy nose, increased mucus
  • Joint aches
  • Rosacea, acne, skin problems
  • Chronic bad breath
Woman on couch with digestive issues

What are probiotics?

While diet is important to finding relief, there are simple, effective steps for rapid relief from your digestive issues, starting with probiotics. Probiotics are supplements of “good” bacteria that are found naturally in your body. They keep “bad” bacteria at bay, and support functions such as digestion, vitamin production and immune balance, and even weight regulation.

When there’s an imbalance, known as dysbiosis, usually caused by “good” bacteria decreasing, which then allows “bad” bacteria to increase — you can feel it. Poor digestion and deficiencies of beneficial microorganisms often lead to a wide range of symptoms, including gas, bloating, cramps, headaches, joint problems and more.

Unfortunately, there are many ways your natural gut flora balance can be thrown off, including stress, illness, prescription medications or what you eat. If your digestive system isn’t functioning well enough to break down food and allow for the absorption of the nutrients, your body won’t be able to get what it needs to keep you healthy, or even to function normally.

Fortunately, these “good” bugs can be added through probiotic supplementation to help create and maintain the ideal microbial balance in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

7 benefits of probiotics: weight loss, mood and more

Daily probiotic use is an effective preventive and therapeutic method that helps keep your intestinal flora tipped to the positive side, supporting healthy digestion and reducing symptoms. Probiotics also give you the following benefits:

  • Regulate fat storage and may help with weight loss
  • Affect how we react emotionally
  • Facilitate absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron
  • Manufacture Vitamin K and B vitamins
  • Strengthen the lining of the gut to help block dangerous pathogens, toxins and allergens
  • Balance the immune system
  • Metabolize and recycle hormones

Probiotics also support healthy digestion when you’re traveling or under lots of stress. The probiotics act as “placeholders” within your intestinal “real estate” as your native flora get reestablished, and can even have indirect effects on your mood.

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How to choose the best probiotic

If you are experiencing minor symptoms of gas and bloating after meals, or want to prevent bacterial imbalance due to antibiotics, stress or travel, here’s what to look for in a probiotic:

  • Find a supplement that contains two key species:

1. Lactobacillus species such as L. acidophilus. Lactobacilli strains break down nutrients and help ward off the bad bacteria and organisms that contribute to digestive and/or vaginal imbalance.

2. Bifidobacterium is one of the major genera of bacteria that reside in the body. It promotes colon health and enhances cellular immunity.

  • Choose a probiotic with multiple strains: Different strains have separate effects on your body. For example, S. thermophilus breaks down lactose, the sugar in milk that lactose-intolerant people can’t digest well, and promotes regularity. Our Super Biotic is a powerful blend of eight different strains of “friendly” microorganisms that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast, and calms specific symptoms, including bloating, gas and diarrhea.
  • Check the number of microorganisms per dose. The number should be in the billions. The number of colony-forming units (CFUs) should be listed on the label.
  • Ensure product purity, safety and quality. Look for a supplement made in a GMP-compliant facility that is certified by the NSF. (These acronyms should also appear on the packaging.)
  • Choose the best formulation for you. Probiotics come in a wide range of formulations, from encapsulated beads and powders to enteric-coated capsules and liquid functional foods.

What to eat, what to avoid for gut health

The food you eat, including its pH balance, glycemic load, fiber and essential fatty acid content, all affect the flora in your gut — for better or worse.

Good bacteria feast on healthy fiber from vegetables, legumes, fruits, seeds and whole grains. Foods like garlic, green tea and ginseng contain polyphenols, plant compounds that also foster friendly microbes. And to keep the bad bacteria out, include some real fermented or cultured foods in your daily diet, like miso, kim chi, sauerkraut, kefir, live-culture yogurt and any kind of homemade pickle.

Woman eating yogurt

You will also want to try to reduce your intake of sweets, refined flours, alcohol, butter and fatty meats, or avoid them altogether, at least for a while. Steer clear of processed foods and anything containing adulterants like preservatives.

Certain foods are rich in fiber molecules called prebiotics, factors that nourish friendly GI flora and set the stage for probiotic survival. Prebiotics help probiotics pass through the acidity of the stomach and small intestine, and foster their growth in the intestines and colon. Examples include fructooligosaccharides (FOS), guar gum, lactulose and inulin.

These natural sugar molecules are found primarily in all kinds of plant-based foods (bananas, artichoke, chicory root, burdock, onions, leeks, fruit, soybeans, sweet potatoes, asparagus, green tea), but also in honey and cultured foods (kefir, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, yogurt).

Research is showing that prebiotics may also help maintain optimal cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar, and decrease risk for osteoporosis, along with providing diverse additional health benefits.

The Women’s Health Network probiotic solution

Probiotics supply the flora, but you still need a solid foundation of nutrition for these powerful microorganisms to flourish and become established so you’ll be able to take advantage of their potential health benefits. That’s why for healthy digestion and overall wellness we recommend probiotics as part of a combination approach that includes lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as a daily, high-quality multivitamin/mineral.


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Last Updated: April 11, 2024
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