What are the most common types of probiotics? Bifidobacterium may be helpful in treating IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and this bacteria can be found in certain dairy products. Another common probiotic that can be helpful for bowel symptoms is lactobacillus. It can be found in a number of fermented foods. Lastly, saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast, and bacillus coagulans, another bacteria, can also be helpful for digestive issues.
Why take probiotics? A diverse gastrointestinal flora (lots of different kinds of bacteria in your digestive tract) may help reduce irritable bowel symptoms, manage weight, improve diarrhea after antibiotics, increase immune function, bolster mental and heart health, and decrease the severity of allergy symptoms. That being said, research hasn’t been able to consistently show these benefits in all studies, and there is still a lot of research to be done.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t take probiotics? Anyone who has a suppressed immune system or serious health conditions should probably avoid taking these supplements, and pregnant women should also use caution. Remember, effective probiotics are live bacteria, and some bacteria can call illnesses. More common side effects are GI distress, although serious allergic reactions or infections can sometimes occur. Since probiotics are a nutritional supplement rather than a medication, the FDA guarantees neither the safety or efficacy of a probiotic supplement.
What is the best way to get probiotics? The simplest way to incorporate probiotics is often to supplement, but since these supplements aren’t FDA regulated, the quality can vary a lot from one supplement to the next. For instance, probiotics have to be both living and highly concentrated to be effective, so any process that either kills the bacteria or doesn’t adequately protect the bacteria from stomach acid isn’t going to allow proper supplementation. For a more natural way to add probiotics, look toward fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir milk, and some cheeses.
Another option to improve gastrointestinal health is to feed the bacteria already present in the intestines. Bacteria in the bowel thrives on fiber, so increasing daily intake of fruits and vegetables can be helpful in improving overall GI health by nurturing the good bacteria already present in the bowels. In fact, for the roughly half of people who have “resistant” gastrointestinal flora, this may be more effective than a probiotic supplement that will end up making for some expensive poop. Even for those whose GI tract welcomes the new probiotics, these bacteria are more likely to grow (and their hosts reap benefits) when fed a high fiber diet.
So, there you have it. Probiotics seem to have a lot of promise for helping with a variety of health conditions, but for now, the best way to incorporate them into the diet and who is most likely to benefit from them is still up for debate. In the meantime, it appears that an old-fashioned high fiber diet will still be a winner whether you plan to supplement or not 😊