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I am sure you have heard that you should be consuming probiotics daily, either through
supplements or through whole foods such as greek yogurt and kombucha. Probiotics have
developed a gleaming halo due to many health professionals recommending them for a variety of reasons and health benefits. We all know they are good for you, but what’s the deal? What are they? How do they work? Who should be taking them? Are all probiotics made the same? Let’s dive in.
To understand how probiotics do their job and their importance, we have to first
recognize the significance of gut health. It has been found that the microbiome (bacteria makeup) in our gut (large intestines) is a large determinate of our overall health as human beings. “It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being.” (Bischoff, 2011) Not only does our gut microbiome play a role in immunity but there have also been studies revealing that there may be a link between gut health and brain function (crazy right? There is a lot more to be said about that, but we will stay on topic) Although we have uncovered substantial information, scientists have not developed a way in which to clearly define or measure gut health, however, we have found ways to improve it. Maintaining a healthy gut is a key objective in preventative medicine today. So how do we do that exactly?
Beyond a well balanced diet, fiber (prebiotic), and physical activity, probiotics are a
major way in which one can maintain a healthy gut microbiome. The word “probiotic” is derived from the greek language meaning “life.” Today, probiotics can be defined as, “‘A live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance” (Fuller, 1992). Probiotics are strains of “good” bacteria that will, in a sense, crowd out the “bad” bacteria. There are have been many postulated ideas of how exactly probiotics do their desired job. Some of which are: promoting a gut barrier, enhancement of the immunological barrier and reducing inflammation. “Data shows that probiotics can be used as innovative tools to alleviate intestinal inflammation, normalize gut mucosal dysfunction, and down-regulate hypersensitivity reactions.” (Salminem, 2001) Basically, it keeps your GI tract in check. So, does that mean everyone should be taking them?
YES, take them! Probiotics are a great way for every individual to maintain a healthy gut.
Some individuals may benefit from probiotics more due to an illness such as those with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), chronic diarrhea, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There has not been any negative side effects reported due to probiotic supplement intake. Whether you intake probiotics from supplements or foods, they are a good addition to your everyday. So are all probiotic supplements created equal?
Nope! If you search for a probiotic supplement, you may find that they can be quite
pricey and diverse. Some labels will read something like this: “3 billion cells,” “10 billion active cultures,” and “Bifidobacterium lactis.”...um what? Let me explain. The amount of living bacteria in the product are measured in CFU/ml or colony forming units. All you really need to know is, the higher the CFU’s, the higher the amount of living bacteria. This can be the major determinant when comparing prices. Take the amount of CFUs into account, this may sway your decision towards the pricier option after all. Some supplement brands may indicate the live bacteria with total weight or by the number of CFUs at time of production as opposed to the actual number in the supplement when you consume it, two very different numbers. I would just stick to the easy clear, CFU/ml in the probiotic supplement in your hand. No need to overcomplicate things. Remember you can get probiotics from some yummy greek yogurt as well.
The next crucial aspect of purchasing probiotics is the species in the product. Never buy a probiotic that does not tell you the bacteria composition, where’s the assurance in that? The most common bacteria you will find on a probiotic label are: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus thermophilus. Unless you have a condition that requires a certain strain of bacteria, I wouldn’t worry too much about these names. Also, be aware of fillers in the supplement (AKA things like glucose, wheat, or soy.) This goes for any supplement. If you have an allergy, stay clear.
There are many more things to be discussed circulating this topic such as prebiotics (food
for probiotics), shelf life, storage, and expiration. But we will end it there. I highly recommend taking probiotics daily! I hope this blog can help you take a step in the right direction.
Roy Fuller. (1992). History and Development of Probiotics. Retrieved from
Seppo Salminem. (2001). Probiotics: effects on immunity. Retrieved from
Stephan C Bischoff. (2011, March 14). 'Gut health': A new objective in medicine? Retrieved