Probiotics for gut health: What you should know
It's no secret that gut health is incredibly buzzy in the health world. And something that's almost always a part of that conversation is probiotics. Take a walk through any health store or pharmacy, and you're likely to see rows and rows of different kinds of probiotic supplements promising to improve digestion and your overall health.
Probiotics that contain live bacteria meant to help populate "good" bacteria in your gut microbiome. The idea behind probiotics is that a healthy gut microbiome can be conducive to better overall health and may help specific conditions like Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even vaginal yeast infections. The science behind these bugs is quite controversial, and many studies are still underway to understand how they work entirely.
What do probiotics do?
When it comes to probiotics, it's essential to understand that many different probiotics strains can all have potentially other effects on your body. So even though it is difficult to explain how each strain works, the concept behind the popular probiotics on the market is similar -- to populate healthy bacteria in your gut.
The theory with probiotics is that they mimic the effects of our intact microbiota. In other words, just like our healthy gut microbes, these probiotics should optimize our immune system, reduce inflammation, inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, correct leaky gut and restore gut barrier integrity, reestablish intestinal motility, even improve mood.
You can purchase probiotics in supplement form, but they are also found naturally in food, mainly fermented food. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut.
Since you can get probiotics from food, you might be curious about why you would even want to take a supplement. Besides the convenience factor, one benefit of probiotic supplements is choosing products with targeted strains for specific issues with a supplement. On the other hand, if you eat fermented foods, you can still get probiotics, but you may not know which strains or how much.
So if you're looking into probiotics for a specific reason (i.e. IBS or constipation), you may benefit from looking into particular strains of bacteria that can help with that. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a probiotic strain that researchers found particularly helpful for diarrhea. Eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt each day can do the trick for the general benefits.
Who should or shouldn't take probiotics?
Although technically anyone can take them, certain groups of people can benefit the most from probiotics. For example, they have been studied for the potential to help with a wide variety of ailments like diarrhea, and urinary tract infections (UTIs), to name a few. And they are considered relatively safe for most people.
Probiotics have been used widely for decades now by the general population, and the safety record has been excellent in both health and disease.
There are also certain groups of people who could be vulnerable to issues or complications from taking probiotics, which is why you should always consult your doctor before starting any supplement, including probiotics. Some studies found an increased risk of complications for people with severe acute pancreatitis who took probiotics. Some people with motility disorders had issues with intense brain fog, gas and bloating.
It may sound scary, but consider the millions of people taking a probiotic daily for decades now and that these possibilities are at the most extremely rare.
Are probiotics worth buying?
The science on probiotics is promising at best, but there's just a lot that we don't know yet. For example, scientists don't know which specific probiotics are most helpful and how much you have to take to see benefits. There are not many in-depth or detailed studies on probiotic safety.
Even though probiotic use is widespread and relatively safe, it is uncertain that most supplements do what they claim.
The bottom line is that you want and should expect results from your probiotic. Unfortunately, many do not get results and are left confused and frustrated that they spent so much money. To increase the odds of success with a probiotic, you should opt for the strain and quantity that has been proven in studies to work for whatever medical condition you are trying to address.
The best way to do that is to consult with your doctor and or a dietician or nutritionist to determine which strains of bacteria may be beneficial to you. That way, you aren't wasting precious time and money taking supplements that may not even target the issue you are hoping to improve.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.