Over 100 trillion microscopic bacteria live in each one of our digestive systems, according to Harvard Health, and researchers and nutritionists are learning more and more about their effects on overall health.

Of note, not all bacteria are considered “bad” or hurtful, which is why you may have heard about the importance of fostering good bacteria by getting probiotics through food or in a supplement form. If you’ve ever had an infection and needed to take antibiotics, then your doctor may have recommended that you take a probiotic to replenish the healthy bacteria into your body.

In fact, a study published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that probiotics can reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea and may also have additional benefits. Other studies indicate that probiotics may also have other health benefits that you might not necessarily associate with the gut.

For example, researchers set out to explore whether or not probiotics in yogurt and in capsule forms could have an impact on mental health. Their results, published in Nutritional Neuroscience, concluded that people who consumed probiotics either from the yogurt or capsules evaluated in the study showed an improvement in mental health parameters, such as general health, depression and anxiety.

Another study by researchers in Demark evaluated how fermented milk products might have a role in reducing cholesterol. The study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the product they evaluated led to a four percent reduction in total cholesterol.

In addition to probiotics, there has also been a recent focus on prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the body cannot digest, but they serve as food for the probiotics that are living in the body, according to Medical News Today. The Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center at Colorado State University lists 10 excellent food sources for prebiotics. They are: chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, raw garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, wheat bran, bananas and foods like soybeans and whole grains.

Along with helping to support overall digestive health, research has shown that prebiotics may also help with calcium absorption, according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. And while more studies are needed, there is also evidence that prebiotics can positively impact anxiety, according to research in the journal Nutrients and brain function, according to research in Current Nutrition Reports. 

So, if your gut feels like it might need some balancing, it might be worth talking to a medical professional to see if incorporating probiotics and prebiotics into your diet may be beneficial.