The New Generation of Probiotics
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At this point, the question isn't "Are you taking probiotics?" Rather, it's "What kind of probiotic are you taking?" After all, the purported perks are too many to name (though this primer makes a good start). And no one wants to miss out on the huge benefits a balanced microbiome has to offer.
Recently, it's become easier than ever to get a healthy dose of healthy bacteria. More and more companies are hopping on the bug bandwagon, offering a wide array of probiotic-laced products that go way beyond the standard yogurt you're used to seeing. We're talking probiotics in juices and ice creams, pills boasting super-targeted strains that claim to cure whatever ails you—even personal care products laced with the stuff.
Full disclosure: The world of probiotics pills and fortified foods and drinks is still a largely unregulated industry, so it's a pretty gray area when it comes to efficacy. "I recommend fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as lots of indigestible plant fiber from green veggies to feed your microbes," says Robynne Chutkan, M.D., a gastroenterologist and author of The Microbiome Solution and The Bloat Cure.
But if you can't stand the tang of kimchi and you're falling short on your daily greens, trying out some of the new forms of probiotics on the market may help give your GI system—and beyond—a little lift.
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Tropicana recently released their Tropicana Essentials Probiotics line ($3.22, at Walmart stores), with three flavors—strawberry banana, pineapple mango, and peach passion fruit—of probiotic-spiked thirst quenchers for people who prefer to sip their probiotics. If you prefer a lighter drink, there's also KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drink ($3, AmazonFresh), which uses their proprietary water kefir culture to make a thin, bubbly drink with flavors like roots beer and mojita lime mint coconut.
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For days when you're craving a salty snack rather than a yogurt, try Farmhouse Culture Kraut Krisps (about $4, grocery stores), which are actually made from the brand's sauerkraut, supplemented with corn kasa (and some extra bugs). Or if you're looking for something more substantial, check out Sweet Earth Natural Foods Get Cultured Burrito (about $72 for 12, amazon.com), a Korean-inspired breakfast burrito featuring fermented red pepper, edamame, and ginger.
Photo: Farmhouse Culture
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Follow up the chips and burrito with a probiotic-packed dessert—courtesy of brands like Attune Foods (about $2.50, sold at Whole Foods stores), which makes probiotic chocolate bars, and Thrive Ice Cream ($5, icecreamsource.com), which in addition to the four probiotic cultures it contains is also high in protein and natural fiber and sells no-sugar-added varieties to boot.
Photo: Thrive Ice Cream
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Probiotics are now targeting particular health problems and needs. Trusted probiotic giant Culturelle now sells strains specifically to support the immune system and to help with digestive health (from $17, target.com). Probiogen has an allergy-defense probiotic. There's even a supplement, ClearVia ($15, amazon.com), that claims to have bugs that help your liver metabolize alcohol, to help you sidestep a hangover.
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Some of the harder-to-wrap-your-mind-around probiotics come in the form of personal care products. But just like there are healthy bacteria in your gut, they also live on your skin and elsewhere in your body, where they help fight off bad, disease-causing bugs. Our obsession with showering and hand-washing, however, means we don't always have as many of these good bugs on our skin. Enter: probiotic personal care products. P2 Probiotic Power's iClean Every Inch ($15; p2probioticpower.com), for example, contains mild detergents to wash away dirt while also leaving behind organic probiotics meant to live on your skin and fight off that harder-to-reach bad bacteria on a microscopic level. The brand also has an iClean Your Teeth product ($15) that does the same thing for your mouth. Another option is Mother Dirt AO+ Mist ($40; shop.motherdirt.com), a probiotic spray you mist on anywhere you get sweaty after showering or working out, or before bed. It contains so-called "peacekeeper" bacteria that restore balance to the skin, fighting dryness, oiliness, and even odor.
Photo: P2 Probiotic Power
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Brands like BIOHM ($40, biohmhealth.com) are thinking outside the bug. Your gut contains good and bad fungi in addition to bacteria. But many probiotics ignore that fact, just containing beneficial bacteria. Not BIOHM. It contains good fungi as well as bacteria cultures, which could make it even better at restoring internal balance to your microbiome than bacteria-only pills.
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You may have heard of prebiotics before—they're basically substances that you can't digest, so they reach your stomach whole, where they act as food for your gut bugs. They're in foods like Jerusalem artichokes and raw chicory root (things you probably don't eat that much of, TBH). If you don't eat enough, your gut bacteria can end up malnourished—not a good thing. One solution: ISOThrive ($40, isothrive.com) is a naturally fermented prebiotic nectar that feeds your gut bugs to keep your GI tract in healthy shape.