4 Things You Need to Know About Probiotics

Jessica Penner, RDMiscellaneous, NutritionLeave a Comment

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Taking a probiotic is only useful if it actually provides a health benefit! Learn how to choose and take probiotics effectively to get the most out of them!

It wasn’t so long ago that the thought of ‘bacteria’ made us all cringe and think of gross microscopic creepy crawlies that make a person sick.

Nowadays, we ask the question “is it good bacteria or bad bacteria?”

Probiotics are the good bacteria that survive the digestive process and provide a health benefit to humans upon arrival to and colonization of the colon.

Did you read that and go “huh?”  Yeah, the technical definition is a bit much.

How’s this?

Probiotics are bacteria that live in the gut (at least for a little while) and offer a health benefit.

Evidence shows that these good bacteria can exert powerful effects on the body! But they’re expensive and sometimes when people take them, they don’t experience any health benefits. So they give up on them.

Here are four things you need to know in order to maximize your use of probiotics.

  • Specific strains produce specific benefits. Think of probiotics like dogs. From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, they’re all part of the same species but they look and behave very differently. Let’s say you need a dog to perform a specific task. You need a dog to retrieve your ducks when you go hunting. You go ahead and get a little toy Papillon but it turns out to be completely useless at retrieval. You need to get the right breed for the job. It’s the same with probiotics. If there’s a specific health benefit you want a probiotic to accomplish, look for one that has been shown in clinical studies to provide that benefit. Yes, others may work but they’re more of a gamble. If you were to get a new house built, would you hire just anyone? Or would you shop around and look at reviews first?
  • Multi-strain may not be any better. Unless a product containing several different species has been tested to work together, the combination could very well be useless. We don’t know how they behave together. Do they all get along and play nicely or are they busy battling out until there’s only one winner?
  • More does not mean better. Probiotics are measured in Colony Forming Units (CFU).  Some products will boast about the large number of CFU it contains. Let’s go back to the dog analogy.  If one dog will get the job done, you don’t need 100 more barking about and getting in the way.  You might be wasting your money on the extra CFU.
  • Some probiotic brands contain allergenic ingredients. If you have GI issues that could be caused by gluten or wheat, you avoid those in your diet. You’ve heard that probiotics can help your tummy troubles so you go out and buy a bottle. Little did you know that the probiotic contains gluten! If you have food sensitivities, it’s important to source a brand that states that it’s free of the food you need to avoid.

Choosing the Right Probiotic

If you’re thinking about taking a probiotic, know why you need to take one and choose a strain that is backed by research to show that it may actually help solve the problem!

Here are some health conditions that may be helped by choosing the right probiotic:

  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Constipation
  • Antibiotic associated diarrhea
  • H. Pylori
  • Prevention of traveler’s diarrhea
  • Oral health
  • Mental health (in combination with standard treatment)
  • Weight management
  • Bacterial vaginosis & vulvovaginal candidiasis
  • Childhood eczema
  • Colic

Check out the product websites or talk to a Registered Dietitian to find the product that’s right for you.

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