Probiotics are live bacteria that can be found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and aged cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar. Prebiotics feed the “good” bacteria and help maintain a healthy microbial balance. They can be found in whole grains, bananas, blueberries, onions, garlic, leeks, honey, artichokes, asparagus, flaxseed, chia, dark chocolate, and agave.
The two main strains of bacteria that have been highlighted specifically as beneficial for intestinal health are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus Acidophilus are lactic acid producing bacteria that work in the small intestine and is the strain you find in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help people who can’t digest lactose. Bifidobacterium Bifidum live in the large intestine and can be found is some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of IBS and other conditions.
Not all probiotics are created equal. A probiotic supplement should contain several strains of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. To be effective, the bacteria must pass through the stomach and arrive in the intestinal tract intact. Furthermore, the type of probiotic supplement to take depends on the reason for which you are taking it.
The following are some potential benefits of probiotics:
Increase the number of friendly bacteria thereby addressing an imbalance of microorganisms
Aid overall efficiency of nutrient digestion, absorption, and assimilation
Enhance bowel function.
Helps treat diarrhea especially following antibiotic use
Helps reduce cholesterol by inhibiting absorption into the bloodstream
Modestly helps to control high blood pressure
Helps strengthen the immune system
Protects the intestinal wall from prescription drug use
Helps with liver detox
Produces vitamins and enzymes that breakdown and utilize the energy and nutrition in food
Assists with PMS symptoms and anxiety
Decreases the level of pathogenic bacteria in his nasal passage thereby reducing congestion
Enhances the effects of phytonutrients
Promotes good health
Beneficial for skin problems and allergies
Prevents and treats vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
Speeds treatment of certain intestinal infections
Prevents or reduces the severity of colds and flu
Helps protect against weight gain and plays a role in weight loss
Help with IBS, IBD, infectious diarrhea caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites
The FDA regulates probiotics like foods, not like medications, and therefore the supplement manufacturers do not have to show that their products are safe or that they work. Look for a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. Follow label instructions, but general guidelines suggest 2-3 times daily roughly 30 minutes before meals. For a sign of quality control, choose products that list probiotics by genus, species and strain. For example, Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. Avoid supplements that use the term “proprietary blend” instead of a list. Select a reputable brand, rather than a generic or store brand.
Probiotics are generally safe, however people who have immune system problems or serious health conditions are advised against taking them. In some cases, mild side effects might include upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, and bloating for the first couple of days after you start them. They may also trigger allergic reactions.
Important: some brands claim to be gluten free but the Celiac Disease Foundations says that these claims may be false.
When shopping for yogurt, look for products that contain “Live and Active Cultures”.