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Q: Should I take a probiotic supplement? 

A: The bacterial landscape of your digestive track is in a constant state of flux due to a variety of factors such as diet, stress, medication, and more, many of which we don’t fully appreciate. We are just starting to learn how much maintaining a healthy cohort of bacteria in our digestive tract can benefit our health and quality of life.

When people have digestive problems, they often turn to probiotic supplements to improve the landscape of their digestive tract to ease their discomfort. Even if you don’t have overt issues, taking steps to improve the trillion of organisms that live in your gut is worthwhile. These bacteria have incredible abilities; besides improving your digestive system, they can can impact your immune system, influence the foods you eat, improve blood sugar, and affect leptin sensitivity, a hormone that regulates your appetite and metabolic rate.

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Which Supplement Is Best?
It's important to remember that these beneficial bacteria are live organisms and won’t do you any good if they are dead. When buying a supplement...

1. Check the expiration date. You don’t want a supplement that has exceeded the lifespan of the organisms it contains.
2. Get enough CFU. Probiotic potency is measured in colony forming units. Look for a dose of 10 to 20 million CFUs, a common range in clinical trials.
3. Maintain proper care. To preserve their integrity, probiotics need to be kept in a cool, dry place away from air. This is why I prefer probiotics that are sold refrigerated and kept in your fridge at home. 
4. Be consistent. Your digestive tract is a volatile environment and daily probiotic use will ensure that you are doing your best to maintain its optimal state.

Interaction with Antibiotics
Even if you choose not to consistently take probiotics, I always strongly encourage my clients to do so when they’re on antibiotics. Antibiotics are effective at killing bacteria that’s causing your health problems, but the bacteria in your gut often ends up being collateral damage—the reason why a third of people who take antibiotics end up with a case of diarrhea. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewing clinical trials that involved probiotics and antibiotics found that probiotic supplementation can yield a 42-percent reduction in diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.

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Probiotics in Food
There are several foods that you can turn to on a regular basis to help keep your digestive tract full of beneficial bacteria. Fermented dairy products like kefir, yogurt or cottage cheese with live cultures, or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kim chi all contain “good” bacteria that you can use to improve your digestive health instead of taking supplements. And remember, as with probiotic supplements, consistency in eating these foods on a regular basis is key.

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