Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that create and maintain health and balance throughout the digestive tract. This is a strange concept for many because we have primarily been taught that bacteria are “bad” and must be killed, which is where antibiotics come in. There is no doubt that antibiotics have a place in medicine and have saved many lives, but as medicine advances we are learning more and more about how necessary it is to human health to have these good “bugs” on board.
Probiotics can be consumed as foods (fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and many more) or taken in the form of a powdered or encapsulated dietary supplement. The standard American diet (“SAD”) tends to lack enough fermented foods, nutrition and fiber to support beneficial bacteria growth and maintenance, so many people do benefit from taking probiotics. Aside from improving general health through improving absorption and utilization of nutrients, specific conditions that may benefit from probiotics include almost all digestive disorders (constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac disease, etc.) and many conditions that may be linked to a diminished digestive capacity (allergies, skin rashes, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.). There is also evidence that suggests taking probiotics can improve immune system function, decrease the chance of preterm labor in pregnancy and lessen the recurrence of ear infections in children.
Purchasing probiotics can be tricky. The first step is to find and stick to a reputable source. The company you are purchasing from should have in-house and/or third party testing showing that their products actually contain the organisms and quantities that they claim to contain. Health food stores may not have these fact sheets but by researching the company online (or speaking with your naturopathic doctor, health coach or other qualified professional) you should be able to find this out. Next, know what your intention for taking the product is. Probiotics contain different strains of organisms because they have been shown to accomplish different things (like decrease constipation in children or lower the likelihood of contracting an upper respiratory tract infection). A couple of simple guidelines that I suggest when buying probiotics, without having a specific product recommendation from your health care professional, are (1) buy something refrigerated, (2) do not buy “enteric coated” products (the “why” here is a long story that I, unfortunately, do not have the article space to expand upon), (3) look for something that contains at least three or four different organisms (examples would be L. acidophilus and B. lactis) and (4) go for 1 billion organisms or higher. As always, speak to your doctor or health care professional before starting any new supplementation regimen.
The information contained in this article is for information and education purposes only and is not medical advice. Do not use this information as an alternative to obtaining medical advice from your physician or other professional healthcare provider. Always consult with your physician or other professional healthcare provider about any medical conditions you are experiencing. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, contact your local emergency services for help.