Probiotics may improve gut health more than you think

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Suppose you are taking probiotics now or using natural products that contain probiotics such as kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, or certain kinds of yogurt, for example. In that case, you may understand what benefits probiotics can offer. If you aren’t taking probiotics, you may be perfectly healthy and not need them, or you don’t know what they do.

Probiotics are yeasts or bacteria that live in the large intestine and benefit health. When probiotics hit the market, most of us didn’t understand the significance of keeping gut bacteria (or gut biome) healthy. The first thing that doctors and pharmacists noticed was that probiotics could shorten the duration of diarrhea.

Because probiotics are dietary supplements, fermented foods, or food additives, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate them. As the buyer, this means that you must do your due diligence regarding the quality of what you buy.

Many studies done in the past show a healthy gut biome is critical to health. Probiotics are beneficial in treating GI disorders such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, IBS, and diarrhea. Probiotics are helpful for oral health, respiratory infections, bladder infections, eczema, and vaginal infections. Even more remarkable is that probiotics can benefit psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

If you buy probiotic capsules, what are you purchasing, and how do you know how much to take? The strains of bacteria in the probiotic are generally not the same as the bacteria in the gut. The probiotic-introduced strains typically do not adhere to the intestinal mucosal areas and colonize. The bottom line is that the probiotic benefits are short-lived. Therefore, the probiotic must be ingested continually to continue to receive the benefits.

Your gut bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship with your body. They don’t hurt us, and in most cases, they benefit us by breaking down food that our digestive system cannot. The gut bacteria provide us with vitamins and minerals. In turn, we provide the fiber that the bacteria can utilize as food. Unfortunately, fiber is a minimal part of the standard American Diet. The result of low dietary fiber can be a disruption in the gut microbiome.

Our food also contains antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified proteins that can alter the gut environment and result in a disproportional mix of harmful vs. good bacteria. Suppose you have ever taken an antibiotic for an infection. In that case, you may have noticed that you end up with diarrhea or a yeast infection because the antibiotic dramatically altered your gut bacteria.

When reading the ingredient label of a probiotic, you will notice that the bacteria are documented as “colony forming units” (CFUs) which means the number of live strains per dose. Getting the correct amount and strain is essential if you are looking for a specific outcome. A recent study demonstrated that a probiotic drink with lactobacillus casei, lactobacillus fermentium, and lactobacillus paracasei taken for 12 weeks resulted in significantly fewer upper respiratory infections and flu-like symptoms when compared to a placebo. Another study from 2011, involving people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who took probiotics with saccharomyces boulardii for four weeks, noticed significant improvements in IBS symptoms compared to the control (placebo) group.

Probiotics may not work for the following reasons:

1. The dose is wrong (too few CFUs).

2. You aren’t taking the probiotic correctly. Follow the label instructions regarding taking with food or on an empty stomach.

3. You are taking the wrong strain for the symptoms you are treating. Find the right match based on proven studies.

4. The product quality is poor. Get advice from your pharmacist, your doctor, or other trusted sources.

5. The product was stored improperly. Some products require refrigeration. Generally, humidity, heat, and light can negatively affect probiotics.

Remember, gut health is not just taking probiotics. You need to eat a healthy diet that includes adequate fiber, and you need some healthy exercise. Drinking sufficient amounts of water is also essential for health.