I must say, the amount of supplements that are marketed with promising results is ridiculous. Some work, some don’t, and maybe you could benefit, and maybe you won’t. So, what about probiotics?
There has been a lot of hype in the last year or so when it comes to probiotics. Almost any person I converse with (client or not), feels like they should be taking a probiotic or currently takes one. This could be because they are trying to be as healthy as possible and feel like they’re missing out, or because they have an existing condition (gas, bloating, diagnosed IBS, diarrhea, constipation, and the list goes).
What are Probiotics?
When we think of bacteria… we tend to think of the gross stuff that appears when food goes bad, or causes an infection (like in our lungs). However, good bacteria reside in our gut and keep us healthy. They live in our large intestine and help metabolize items like non-digestible carbohydrates so that we can pass them (yes, poop). Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that are beneficial to gut bacteria. We can purchase probiotics in a supplement form or in food form (kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, for example).
The type of bacteria that reside in our gut are so different from person to person, that they could be considered a fingerprint. In fact, there has been genetic mapping done with gut bacteria! Our gut bacteria can play a big role in our health, even so much as fat loss. There have been fecal microbiotia transplants (FMTs) studies that have shown fat loss in obese populations when they have received fecal transplant from a lean population…. Crazy, isn’t it?
Which brings me to the topic of debate… if our guts are so different and we can’t actually “see” what bacteria we have, how can we know which probiotic to take?
Well, I’m here to give you some great information… you can’t.
Who needs to take a probiotic?
If you are a healthy person, and have not gone through a round of antibiotics, you don’t need to be taking a probiotic supplement. Period.
The way we (health care) prescribe probiotics is based on an individual’s condition. There is no way for us to know “which” bacteria reside in your gut, so we cannot use that as a diagnostic tool to “fill the gaps” of what bacteria you’re “missing”.
By using health conditions as a tool to properly recommend probiotics, we have a better understanding of what recommendations will be most effective in treatment.
So, let’s use Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as an example. IBS seems to becoming more and more prevalent due to physicians being able and more confident in it’s diagnosis. The tricky thing with IBS is that it is diagnosed by exclusion criteria. That means, physicians will exclude any other diagnosis (celiac, crohn’s, colitis, etc.) to make a diagnosis. By taking a random probiotic to help with bloating, gas, constipation, etc… you could be actually making your symptoms worse. Furthermore, if you are on the low FODMAP diet, your diet is restrictive and should be managed properly with the guidance of a dietitian. Probiotics that have shown effectiveness in reducing symptoms of IBS are Align and Ultraflora Intensive Care which contain strains of B.longum and L. Plantarum. Probiotics may alleviate the symptoms known in IBS populations in more than one way. Not only can they add more benficial bacteria that is low, but it can also alter fermentation patterns, change gut motility, and reduce visceral hypersensitivity.
If you are an overall healthy individual, you don’t need to be spending money on expensive probiotic supplements. Foods have probiotics in them as well, and you can keep them in a regularly balanced diet. If you are experiencing a change in your health and you are wondering if a probiotic should be included, speak with a registered dietitian or your GP to discover which and for how long you should be taking the supplement. By taking a probiotic specific to your health condition, we can have a more promising result. Now, I want to be clear that a probiotic will not CURE your gastrointestinal problems, but they can reduce the symptoms you experience.
Until next time,
Jessica Roy RD