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Should I Take Probiotics?

30, October 2014 8:30 AM


Probiotics, or in yogurt-speak, "live active cultures", are the “good” bacteria that have a range of effects on the human body. The health benefits of probiotics range from supporting the immune system and helping to manage digestive symptoms. Probiotics can also help lactose-intolerant people by breaking down the lactose in milk products, making it easier to digest.There is good evidence that probiotics can improve your ability to fight off colds and reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea, unpleasantness everyone would prefer to avoid. While still being investigated, there are many diverse health benefits of probiotics.1

should I take probiotics - understand the health benefits and how to get probioticsDo I Need Probiotics?

Chances are, you’re already eating foods with probiotics in one form or another. Probiotics have been eaten for centuries in fermented foods around the world, from yogurt to sauerkraut to kimchee. Recent research on probiotics has shown an incredible range of positive effects. The grocery store has responded, food labels play up the health benefits of probiotics, they are lauded in yogurt commercials and food manufacturers include them in many everyday foods. They are also available in capsule form.

What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics? 

Everyone has trillions of bacteria in their digestive tract, on their skin and in other locations around the body. Different bacteria have different effects. Some can make us sick while others can fight off "bad" bacteria  to keep us healthy. Some “good” bacteria are also able to break down difficult-to-digest foods.

For someone who has chronic digestive issues, there may be health benefits to probiotics. Probiotics have been effective in treating diarrhea in infants as well as adults, and doctors often prescribe them for this reason. Hospitals often include yogurt on the trays of patients with stomach ailments.

For people who have recently taken a course of antibiotics, which wipe out both bad bacteria and the good bacteria, probiotics can help repopulate healthy bacteria populations in the gut. These good bacteria then go on to boost the immune system.

Studies have shown that obese people and lean people have differing gut bacteria populations. When bacteria from obese and lean people are put into mice, the “fat” bacteria mice are regularly heavier than those that received bacteria from lean people, even with the same amounts of food eaten.2

New research even shows that probiotics have a positive effect on the brain and mental health. One study found that probiotics can relieve anxiety and stress while another showed that two strains of probiotics, L. helveticus and B. Longum, reduced depression and anger while improving problem-solving ability. 3, 4 More research is needed to confirm these results, but it adds more evidence to the question, should I be taking probiotics?

What Foods Should You Eat to Get Probiotics?

Now that we’ve established some of the health benefits of probiotics, we have to ask, what are the best sources of probiotics? Probiotics can be found in pill form, which delivers several millions of live, active bacteria. Probiotic food sources, however, are usually packed with nutrients and those healthy bacteria, offering a big bang for your buck. Most food sources of probiotics, like fermented dairy and vegetables, are great sources of minerals, vitamins and macronutrients.

So when you next ask yourself, "do I need to take probiotics?” ask yourself another question: “What’s in my refrigerator?” If you have a good supply of things like yogurt, kefir, hard cheese, kimchee and sauerkraut, you’re probably on the right track.

Claire St. John, MPH, RDN

References

1. International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, Probiotics: A Consumer Guide for Making Smart Choices, February 28, 2014. 

2. Ridaura VK, et al. Cultured gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate adiposity and metabolic phenotypes in mice. Science 2013; 341: 1241214. 

 3. Bested AC, et al. Intestinal microbiota, probiotics and mental health: From Metchnikoff to modern advances: part III - convergence toward clinical trials. Gut Pathog. 2013 Mar 16;5(1):4. doi: 10.1186/1757-4749-5-4.

4. Messaoudi M, et al. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation in rats and human subjects Br J Nutr. 2011 Mar;105(5):755-64. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510004319. Epub 2010 Oct 26

For additional research and resources, see health benefits of probiotics.




Tags: Claire St John Healthy eating milk Probiotics

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