Probiotics and prebiotics are getting more and more popular by the day. Have you heard of them? Do you know what they actually are? Should you start taking them? If you’ve already started, should you continue? This article will answer questions and review how safe and effective pro and prebiotics really are.
First, let’s learn a little something about the gut. Believe it or not, our gut, also known as our gastrointestinal system, is full of bacteria. Some are good and friendly bacteria, and some are bad and harmful. Having an adequate amount of the good kind is essential because digestive health problems or other health issues can arise when the level of the good and bad bacteria is not in a healthy balance. This can be caused by certain situations like taking antibiotics, having an infection, or eating a diet high in processed foods or refined sugar and grains.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms. Yes, that’s right! They’re the good bacteria, and we already have lots of them naturally in our digestive system. However, for better gut health, or when the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut is off, getting in some extra probiotics can be really helpful.
We can get probiotics naturally from foods, but probiotic supplements are available too for those who perhaps don’t eat enough foods that contain probiotics. These supplements can come in the form of tablets or powders.
Health benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are generally promoted for their health benefits, which are said to include better immune system and digestive health. Different strains of probiotics may provide different advantages. A common benefit is the reduction of diarrhea symptoms caused by antibiotics, but it’s also suggested that probiotics may help treat or prevent certain health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
There seems to be a lot of beneficial aspects to probiotics. But what about the downside? Some people may notice loose stools in the first few days of consuming a probiotic. However, this side effect should go away after a while. Others may experience gas and bloating, and some may suffer from more severe side effects. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting to take anything.
Tips for choosing probiotics
There are two ways you can increase your consumption of probiotics: by either eating foods rich in them or taking a supplement. If you do plan to start taking probiotic supplements, there are a few things you should keep in mind...
Check with your doctor
Like with any supplement, you should check with your doctor before starting to take probiotic supplements, especially if you have any health conditions. Since there are specific strains of probiotics related to different areas of health, be sure to check with a healthcare professional in order to choose the right probiotic with the benefits you’re looking for.
Who needs to be concerned?
Some people’s bodies may not tolerate probiotics, and for certain groups of people, it’s actually recommended to avoid them. Probiotics are generally not recommended for those who have severe illnesses, a weak immune system, or are at risk of infections. Be sure to consult with your doctor to find out if probiotics are safe for you.
Trial and error
When it comes to probiotic supplements, as mentioned, different strains of probiotics may promote various benefits. A strain that works for one condition may not work effectively for another, and it may take some trial and error to find the right probiotics for you. Try your probiotics for several weeks. If after that time you don’t notice any benefits, try a different strain of bacteria.
Know the FDA regulations
In the United States, probiotics are considered as a drug, a dietary supplement, or a food ingredient, depending on the intended use. Like many other supplements, probiotics are not strictly regulated by the FDA. Supplement manufacturers don’t need to get approval from the FDA before making claims about their products or putting them on the market, so when it comes to choosing supplements, try to pick ones that have been through third-party testing, such as those with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or National Sanitation Foundation International(NSF) logo.
Getting probiotics from food
If you’re concerned about the lack of regulations on probiotic supplements, try opting for foods that are naturally rich in probiotics instead.
These include products such as yogurt, kefir products, some yogurt drinks, aged cheeses, miso, tempeh, kombucha, and fermented vegetables like kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut. Incorporating foods like this into your diet can improve your gut health, so stock up on some fermented foods!
Probiotics seem pretty useful, but what about prebiotics? These are the food for the probiotics. They are plant fibers that occur in foods that we can’t digest, but the probiotics in our gut can. They’re found in certain plant foods such as asparagus, bananas, beans, leeks, onions, and whole grain products. Having more prebiotics in your diet can help support the growth of good bacteria and build a healthier gut.
What truly matters?
Probiotics do sound promising, especially when it comes to promoting digestive health. However, more research needs to be done on the effectiveness of different strains and the recommended doses. For now, keep in mind that your overall health is not only based on whether you consume probiotics or prebiotics, but rather, on living an active lifestyle and making healthy food choices. Be sure to include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grain products, and unprocessed foods in your diet, and choose foods that are low in saturated fats and added sugars for an overall healthier lifestyle.
Liz is passionate about helping people improve their health and wellness through lifestyle and nutrition changes, and she is especially interested in diabetes prevention and management. Liz enjoys working with clients to find individualized strategies to improve their health in ways that last. Outside of work, you will likely find her rock climbing, biking, or spending time with her family.Main Photo Credit: Rimma Bondarenko/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Deemwave/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: RomarioIen/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Nina Firsova/shutterstock.com