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Probiotics: Do You Really Need to Supplement?

Probiotics: Do You Really Need to Supplement?

Some people prefer probiotic supplements over foods, but Erica Mesirov notes that probiotic foods are a better choice.

Bacteria Bifidobacterium, gram-positive anaerobic rod-shaped bacteria which are part of the normal flora of human intestine are used as probiotics and in yogurt production. 3D illustration - Shutterstock Images

There’s a lot of buzz these days about probiotics. It seems we’re all lacking in these healthy bacteria.

So more of them can only be a good thing.

But is there any value in taking a supplement?

Well, the answer isn’t so easy.

But first, what are probiotics?

Probiotics are a form of bacteria that benefits your digestive system. There are two types of bacteria in our gut: the good kind and the bad kind. Everybody has both. But the balance of the two is what makes the difference.

Think of the kid’s game ‘cops and robbers’. Some of the bacteria are good guys. And some are bad guys. So the more of the good guys you have, the more they’re able to destroy the bad guys. And the good guys are what we call probiotics. A Study has also presented a document regarding ISAPP’s consensus meeting on the appropriate use and scope of the term “probiotic”.

Who benefits the most from probiotic supplements?

The people who benefit the most from probiotic supplements are those who have too many of the robbers – aka ‘the bad bacteria”. When there aren’t enough of the good guys, the bad guys run rampant through your digestive system.

How do you know you have too much bad bacteria?

Well, there are a few significant risk factors for which you want to be aware of. These increase your risk of a bacterial imbalance.

If you’ve taken multiple rounds of antibiotics in your lifetime, you’re at increased risk. This is also the case for women who’ve taken long-term hormonal birth control. And if you’ve eaten a standard Western processed and high-sugar diet, you may also have too many bad guys.

Are there any physical clues that you have an imbalance?

It would be impossible to write down every possible symptom. And symptoms can often mean more than one thing. But some symptoms hint to the fact you may benefit from probiotic supplements.

Here are a few of the symptoms you may experience when you have too much bad bacteria –

  • Diarrhea/ Constipation
  • Gas/Bloating
  • Acid Reflux
  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Brain Fog
  • Exhaustion
    • What foods are good sources of probiotics?

      Probiotics can be found in more than just supplements. They can be found in natural whole foods.

      What foods are good sources of probiotics?

      That would be any fermented food. Things like miso, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and tempeh. ISRN Nutrition has also cited the beneficial properties of Probiotics focusing on those available in food.

      There’s a current trend for food manufacturers to supplement other types of food with beneficial probiotics bacteria. So you’ll now see probiotics in foods that never had them before like ice cream and sports bars. These foods have been enriched with probiotics.

      But is getting these healthy bacteria from food enough? Or is taking it in pill form better?[1] Well that really depends on the amount of beneficial bacteria your digestive system needs.

      Beneficial bacteria in probiotic supplements

      Probiotic supplements offer beneficial bacteria in the billions. So a low dose probiotic may offer one or two billion CFUs. A high dose supplement can offer something like 50, 60, or 70 billion.

      Let’s compare that to what you find in fermented foods.[2]

      A cup of sauerkraut will contain a few billion CFUs. The same goes for yogurt and miso. You get the idea. We’re dealing with a relatively small dose, which is excellent for people who already have a healthy gut.

      But what if you need more?

      If you’ve spent good amounts of time on medications, especially antibiotics, the chance goes up that you have a significant bacteria imbalance and you need a higher dose. And this is when a probiotic supplement can be useful.

      We usually get bacterial imbalances from unnatural situations: things like high dose medications, high-sugar diets, and lots of stress. So finding everything you need just from whole foods might not work in this situation. This is when a supplement may be the answer.

      How do you know if you would benefit from probiotic supplements?

      Checking with your doctor or alternative health care provider is an excellent place to start. They can help you assess whether this would be a good option. And if you’ve had long-standing symptoms, you can always experiment with a supplement and see if it helps make things better.

      Just make sure not to self-diagnose if you’re experiencing new symptoms. Many of the symptoms I listed as possible indications of a bacterial imbalance have a multitude of causes. And while most of them are innocent, occasionally the onset of one of these symptoms could indicate something more serious. That’s why you want to see a doctor first.

      So do you need to take a probiotic supplement?

      Now you know that the answer depends on you. If you haven’t already start paying attention to your body’s signs and signals. And that will help you know whether supplementing with beneficial bacteria might be the answer.

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Erica Mesirov, MS

Erica Mesirov is a food coach, helping people optimize their health and lose weight to live fully and vibrantly. She specializes in hel...

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