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Should I Take Probiotics?

Updated on June 19, 2013
Probiotic Supplements
Probiotic Supplements | Source

The decision to take probiotics or not is somewhat confusing at this time. Hopefully, this article will make sense of the current state of research into the benefits of probiotics. This article will cover:

  • What are Probiotics?
  • What are Probiotics Used For?
  • What if I'm Already Healthy?
  • Foods that Contain Probiotics
  • Probiotic Supplements
  • What are Prebiotics?
  • Exciting New Research

Campylobacter bacteria are the number-one cause of food-related gastrointestinal illness in the United States.  Probiotics create an unwelcome atmosphere for unhealthy bacteria such as these.
Campylobacter bacteria are the number-one cause of food-related gastrointestinal illness in the United States. Probiotics create an unwelcome atmosphere for unhealthy bacteria such as these. | Source

What are Probiotics?

Our intestines contain trillions of both good and possibly harmful micro-organisms. Probiotics supply our body with the good bacteria that is essential for a healthy immune system. When our intestinal lining contains healthy, beneficial flora, unhealthy micro-organisms don't have enough space or nutrients to flourish.

What are Probiotics Used For?

Many people turn to probiotics when they develop diarrhea, gas, cramping, or yeast infections, often caused by taking antibiotics. The antibiotics, unfortunately, along with killing the bacteria that causes certain illnesses, also kills the good bacteria in our gut that keeps our immune system in balance. Taking probiotics helps replace the lost beneficial bacteria.

But, why wait until you're sick? I've found that a daily dose of broad-spectrum, high quality (not from the grocery store) probiotics not only helped cure me of some serious mold-related illnesses (see: Does my Home Contain Toxic Mold?), but has kept me from catching any illness for the year since I started taking them.

What if I'm Already Healthy?

Healthy people usually have a ratio of 85% good to 15% potentially harmful organisms in their intestinal tract. Sometimes, as a result of exposure to environmental toxins, like chlorinated water, can change that microbial balance. Probiotics not only maintain that balance, but also maximize the benefits of a healthy diet by facilitating absorption of the nutrients we consume.

Yogurt is a good source of 1-2 strains of probiotics.
Yogurt is a good source of 1-2 strains of probiotics. | Source

Foods that Contain Probiotics

The source of probiotics that most of us are aware of is from the lactobacillus orbifidobacteria found in yogurt. Just make sure the container says that it's made with "live and active cultures."

As is the case with yogurt, probiotics are found in foods that have been fermented, such as: sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), miso soup (fermented soybean paste), fermented soft cheeses (like Gouda), kefir (a drink similar to yogurt), sourdough bread, acidophilus milk and buttermilk, sour pickles (fermented in sea salt and water, not vinegar), and tempeh (fermented soybeans).

Even makers of some high-end dog foods are adding probiotics to ramp up pet immunity.

Probiotic Supplements

However, there is some debate about whether the beneficial bacteria from foods survives our stomach's natural acids (that are designed to kill bacteria), and are able to survive the further journey into our intestinal tract. Another consideration, foods such as yogurt often contain only one type of bacteria, and grocery store probiotic supplements often contain very few types of bacteria. The most beneficial, broad-spectrum source of probiotics that are most beneficial, and survive down into our gut, are challenging to find.

Here's what to look for:

  • Guarantee: Look for labels stating that the bateria are guaranteed active “through end of shelf life,” not just “at time of manufacture.”
  • Billions: Look for at least 3 or 4 billion units per probiotic supplement.
  • Multiple Strains: The more strains of bacteria included, the more likely the supplement will be effective. However, do your research to make sure each strain can co-exist without one killing the others.
  • The Right Strains: If you are looking for a probiotic supplement to treat a certain illness, again, do your research to make sure the supplement contains the specific type of bacteria you need.

Honey is an excellent prebiotic.
Honey is an excellent prebiotic. | Source

What About Prebiotics?

While probiotic-foods contain live bacteria, prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria already living in your digestive system. You can find prebiotics in foods like asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes. Consider eating prebiotic foods on their own or with probiotics to support keep the microflora healthy.

Exciting New Research

Preliminary research suggests that probiotics may actually change brain activity by muting signals to the brain caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.

"By changing what's going on inside of the gut, we hope we can change how the brain responds to the environment," says study head Kirsten Tillisch, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Who knows what other health benefits will be found in probiotics? But, from my experience, I recommend finding a high-quality, broad-spectrum, probiotic supplement for daily consumption.

Do you currently take probiotics?

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