Are Probiotic Supplements the Way to Go?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Probiotics are still as popular as ever, and it’s no wonder since 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. are affected by a digestive disorders and are willing to try anything to relieve their symptoms. In addition to helping with a variety of digestive issues, probiotics are also through to help boost immunity and brain strength- so who wouldn’t be intrigued? You can find probiotics in tablets, powder form or added to foods like granola bars, cereals and beverages. But is taking a probiotic supplement necessary or can you just rely on our body to maintain a healthy gut?

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your gut that can help maintain healthy digestion and boost your immune system. And the more strains (or varieties) you have, the better. While your digestive tract naturally produces good bacteria on its own, you can also increase levels by eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut or by taking a supplement.

What are the health benefits?
The healthy bacteria that live in your gut can help digest food and keep your immune system running efficiently. The good bacteria can also help your body fight off the bad bacteria and any pathogens that can enter into your digestive system. Studies have shown different strains of probiotics provide different health benefits so it’s important to take in a variety of strains.

Occasionally the balance between good and bad bacteria can be thrown off, leaving you with unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea and a supplement could help restore balance.  Some folks also find that taking a daily probiotic supplement is especially helpful during cold and flu season to fend off illness or to shorten the duration of it. Some studies have suggested that taking a probiotic supplement while on antibiotics can help prevent diarrhea, since antibiotics not only kill off the bad bacteria, but the good as well.

The research supporting the benefits that probiotics can have to the gastrointestinal system is pretty solid, but further research still needs to be done to determine whether or not they can help with conditions such as weight loss, diabetes and depression.

Bottom line
Supplements can be helpful in some cases, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you choose to take a probiotic supplement, know that the FDA does not monitor them, so as with any supplement be sure to do your research to insure you are purchasing a high-quality product.

Also, there are no standard amounts of microbes required in food or supplements so read the label to know just how much you’re getting. A label containing a probiotic should also list the full name, including the genus, species and then the strain (such as S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus). You will also find a “use by” date on probiotics supplements since they contain live organisms and have a limited shelf life so be sure to take note of it.

Some people find they experience gas and bloating during the first few days of use, but most report these symptoms subsiding after the first 2-3 days. And as always, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first before taking anything new. Anyone with a weakened immune system or currently undergoing chemotherapy is advised to avoid taking probiotic supplements. And a healthy gut is not achieved just by taking a probiotic supplement alone. It’s also important to have a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and find ways to manage stress levels to keep your digestive system in tip-top shape.

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