Are probiotics another diet fad? 5 things you need to know.
Quick answer: absolutely no.
Defined by the World Health Organization, probiotics are
"live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host".
Basically, probiotics are live bacteria that can be ingested in a pill, powder or liquid form in order to help with the composition of your microbiome (gut flora).
The composition of our microbiome affects everything from our brain chemistry, mental health, weight, mood, emotions, personalities and overall health.
So how can we benefit from ingesting probiotics?
Bacteria in our guts perform a number of important functions such as:
digest food, produce digestive enzymes, help with absorption of nutrients
help control the body's inflammatory pathways (high inflammation = high risk for virtually any chronic disease);
create a physical barrier against potential invaders such as bad bacteria, viruses, and parasites;
convert sugars to short-chain fatty acids for energy;
act as a detoxification machine by preventing infections - can even be viewed as a second liver (when you decrease the good gut bacteria, you increase the workload on your liver);
neutralize cancer-causing compounds;
metabolize drugs, modulate genes, synthesize hormones, neurotransmitters and vitamins;
keep pH balanced,
train the immune system to distinguish friends from foes.
If you suspect that your own gut bacteria is not sufficient (you can read more about it here) or you have been recently taking antibiotics, it may be a good idea to start taking probiotics.
I remember even as I kid, doctors in Poland would always prescribe probiotics with antibiotics but in the US I see this as not so common practice and honestly I'm very surprised.
But before you buy and start taking probiotics it's important to know these 5 things:
1. Get your gut tested.
Find out what's really going on in your gut. If you have any issues with digestion, bloating, overall GI function, immune function, skin problems, depression, anxiety, acid reflux, weight loss issues, fatigue, brain fog, etc. ask your physician to order a gut test. There is a growing number of research that shows that most disease start in the gut.
If you don't have any symptoms but still want to find out what's going on, you can order a home kit from company called ubiome. That's what I did. The results listed the exact bacteria species colonizing my gut and what that could mean for my health. The report also included recommendations on what I could do to improve my flora.
2. Probiotics are not one size fits all.
If your gut health is compromised taking probiotics may actually make you feel worse. That's why it's so important to test before you start taking anything. While most people don't experience any problems while taking probiotics, it doesn't mean that you won't. If you have a diagnosed medical condition and/or take medications, consult with your doctor prior to buying any supplements, including probiotics.
3. Probiotics should be taken daily.
Probiotics don't necessarily colonize the intestine and a lot of the bacteria simply pass through and are excreted. Fully half of your stool is made up of discarded bacteria. You may need to take probiotics indefinitely to experience continued benefits.
4. In order to thrive, probiotics need to eat.
Probiotics that you ingest feed on prebiotics - non-digestible foods or ingredients that promote the growth of benefits microorganisms in the intestines.
If you are consuming probiotics without sufficient prebiotics in your diet you are starving your good gut bacteria, and probably feeding your bad gut bacteria (which feeds on junk we eat).
Foods acting as prebiotics are:
green banana flour,
uncooked rolled oats,
raw dandelion greens,
raw and cooked onions,
If you are looking at this list thinking that you've never heard about half of those things, don't fret. Good news is that there are probiotics on the market you can buy that include some prebiotics in them already.
Additionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, pickles serve as synbiotics - combination of prebiotics and probiotics. So not only they are good for your gut bacteria, they also provide a significant amounts of live bacteria themselves. In order to get full benefits of ingesting these foods, make sure you always buy raw & lacto-fermented varieties.
5. Probiotics should never be taken with hot liquids or chlorinated water.
They will get killed before they even get to your intestines.
Additionally, choose a probiotics with enteric coating to protect the bacteria from being destroyed by stomach acid.
If you are interested in learning more about the gut health I wrote three articles that can help:
Hope you enjoyed this article. Do you have any questions or feedback? Shoot me an e-mail.