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Should You Be Taking Probiotics?

Probiotics have been in the nutrition spotlight for quite some time, but many people are still confused about whether or not they need to take them. Probiotics are beneficial, live microorganisms that reside in our digestive tracts (1).

People take probiotics for a wide variety of reasons. Research is starting to show that having the right balance of healthy probiotics can boost the immune system, help with weight loss, improve gut health, and even affect mood (2).

Probiotics are most often taken to improve gastrointestinal (GI) health. Gut issues such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea are some of the most common reasons for doctor office visits and taking a probiotic may help improve GI symptoms (3).  

Yogurt is the most commonly consumed probiotic food. Many people also take probiotics in supplement form. But how do you know if your yogurt is a good source of probiotics or if the supplement you’re taking has actual live cultures? What about the kombucha or kefir you drink once a week?

Does taking a supplement or eating foods naturally containing probiotics alter our gut microbes? We know that our gut microbes are established at an early age, and it seems that for most people, their microbes stay fairly stable throughout their lives (4).

But studies are starting to show that our daily eating habits are what influence our gut microbes the most (5). What you eat on a day to day basis feeds either the healthy or unhealthy gut bacteria. High quality fiber from foods such as vegetables, fruits, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, and flax seeds can help increase the number of healthy probiotics in your gut (6).

Stomach acid can destroy some orally taken probiotics, and they never reach the colon. Make sure you take a high quality probiotic supplement and follow these rules when purchasing probiotics (7, 8):

  1. Brand Quality - look for reputable, established supplements

  2. High CFU (colony forming units) count - Purchase a probiotic brand that has a higher number of probiotics, from 15 billion to 100 billion

  3. Strain Diversity - Search for a probiotic supplement that has 10-30 different strains, unless you are looking for a specific strain on its own for a particular reason.

  4. Survivability - Look for strains like Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus Acidophilus DDS-1, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum, and other cultures or formulas that ensure probiotics make it to the gut and are able to colonize.

  5. Delayed slow release capsules - These types of capsules will help ensure that the probiotics make it past your stomach and into your intestine.

  6. Avoid chemicals and fillers in your probiotic supplements - Chemicals and fillers could interfere with absorption.

  7. Research - Do your homework and look for brands that have strains that support your specific needs.

Another way to obtain probiotics is through naturally fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, or kimchi. You can easily ferment these foods and drinks at home or find them at local health stores. Look for yogurts with at least five strains of probiotics and avoid yogurt with added sugars. It’s better to purchase plain yogurt and then add fresh fruit, such as berries.

To achieve the best results from probiotics, whether you’re taking a supplement or eating fermented foods, you need to consume them on a daily basis. Make probiotic supplements or fermented foods part of your daily routine.  

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