Should You Be Taking Probiotics?

bacteriaProbiotics are hot in the fitness and health world right now. Like volcano hot! If you’ve tried probiotics, and discovered the benefits, then you know why they’re so popular. What are probiotics? Simply, they’re beneficial bacteria found in the human gut. Some of the most popular forms of probiotics include the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. They’re showing up in everything, from supplements, to yogurt, even in drinks!

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Yes they are alive, and yes they are bacteria. We generally think of bacteria as something bad for us, but in fact there are many bacteria in and on the human body that are necessary to good health. Have you ever felt sick to your stomach after taking antibiotics? This is because the antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria in the body. When the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is disturbed, digestive problems can arise. Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines,” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

What else do probiotics do?

1. Help support our immune system

Guandalini suspects that many gut ailments are do to our over use and antibiotics and antibacterial products. By killing off ALL the bacteria, we’re not allowing our selves to be exposed to beneficial bacteria. This weakens our immune system’s ability to protect us against harmful germs. In fact, he told WebMD,“In societies with very good hygiene, we’ve seen a sharp increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases.” In 2011, Yale University researched the effectiveness of probiotics in fighting ailments. They concluded that probiotics are most effective for:

  • Treating childhood diarrhea
  • Treating ulcerative colitis
  • Treating necrotizing enterocolitis, a type of infection and inflammation of the intestines mostly seen in infants
  • Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea
  • Preventing pouchitis, an inflammation of the intestines that can follow intestinal surgery
  • Treating and preventing eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy
  • Helping the immune system
  • The researchers at Yale also suggested that probiotics may be helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome, vaginitis, and Crohn’s disease but they cautioned that more research is needed. A study in 2010 also found that probiotics may lower the risk of ear infections, strep throat, and colds in children.

    2. Help fight obesity

    A 2008 study in animals found that variations in gut bacteria significantly changed the subjects ability to digest food and turn that food into calories and then weight. A study completed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that 12 individuals who took probiotic milk that contains Lactobacillus saw a 4.6% decrease in abdominal fat and even saw waist size decrease by 1.8%.


    Where to get probiotics

    You can find probiotics occurring naturally in food as well as in supplement powders, capsules, and food . Probiotics are an essential ingredient in fermented food such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, buttermilk, kimchi, miso, and tempeh. If you’re going to try a supplement instead, make sure contains enough organisms to grow in the intestines. Experts say the effective dose varies, from as little as 50 million to as many as 1 trillion live cells per dose.

    Specific strains of bacteria may be better for particular illnesses. The bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii have been shown to be helpful for infectious diarrhea in children, for example. However, there’s is no evidence to suggest that Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is used in many yogurts, has any effect on diarrhea. Check out this chart to help determine which type of probiotic may be best for you.


    The FDA does not regulate probiotics the same way it does prescription drugs as probiotics are considered a supplement. “For now, the best advice is to choose products from well-known companies, especially those that have been tested in research studies,” Guandalini says. Good products should say the exact name of the probiotics they contain as well as how many organisms are in one dose.

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