The Benefits of Probiotics For Your Gut and Overall Health
Over the last decade, probiotics entered the mainstream media as well as supermarket and drugstore shelves. They’re available in many forms, appearing as additives to beverages, in chewable tablets, in dairy products, and more. As more manufacturers and retailers have jumped on the bandwagon, it can be difficult for consumers to sort out the proliferation of information and make informed decisions for themselves. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics—living, cultured bacterial strains—are intended to have health benefits by cultivating in the intestinal tract and replenishing the healthy flora that may be depleted due to poor diet, illness, stress, or the use of antibiotics. Some bacterial strains, such as Bifidobacterium bifidum and L. Acidophilus, are known for improving immune and digestive system functions and are used in a number of probiotic products.
Although bacteria may often be considered harmful, our bodies depend on a number of healthy microorganisms for a range of functions, including proper digestion, producing vitamins, and more. According to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies.”
How Probiotics Support Good Health
Probiotics multiply in the intestines and form colonies that work to crowd out some harmful bacteria, which may move on and out of the intestine or die off.
More needs to be learned, but initial evidence shows that some probiotics can help improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and prevent diarrhea that’s caused by antibiotics or infections. Studies are ongoing into probiotics’ abilities to treat or prevent health problems such as allergic disorders of the skin and respiratory system; oral health issues, including tooth decay; liver disease; common colds; and colic and enterocolitis in infants.
There are probiotic formulations on the market made specifically for infants, children, teens, adults, and the elderly.
For those who enjoy good health in general, probiotics may cause only mild side effects, such as gas. People with potentially serious underlying medical issues, however, may be at greater risk of severe side effects. Anyone considering incorporating probiotics into their diet or nutrition plan should consult his or her healthcare professional before using them with the goal of improving digestive health or strengthening immune response. Keep in mind that most of the knowledge available about probiotic safety comes from research into Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, so reliable information about other probiotic bacterial strains may be difficult to find.
Choosing A Probiotic Product
As you would when shopping for any food or supplement product, start by reading the label. Look for “contains probiotics” or “contains live active cultures” when buying dairy foods such as yogurt. If you’re looking for a supplement, remember that while the FDA does regulate these products, their manufacturers do not have to prove that their products are effective or safe in order to put them on the market.
Talk To Our Nutrition Department Associates
Do you have questions about the probiotic products we carry? Our friendly, knowledgeable Nutrition Department staff members are always happy to consult with you on your needs.