Think it’s just “you” in your body? Think again. Your body, especially your digestive system, is home not only to your cells but also to trillions of microorganisms like bacteria. This collection of little critters is called your microbiome.1 So exactly what are probiotics and how do they factor in?
Good vs. Bad Bacteria
Typically, when we think about bacteria we think about “bad” germs that make us sick. But many bacteria in our microbiome actually work to keep us well. They help to digest our food, produce essential vitamins, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and regulate our immune systems. 2,3 Probiotics are made up of these “good” guys. They are live bacteria that can help to keep your microbiome harmonious.
Probiotics are found in foods or in supplements like Florajen. They contain microorganisms that are the same as or similar to those naturally living in our bodies and help your microbiome to replace what may have been lost due to illness or taking antibiotics (which kill bacteria that are both harmful and useful to your body.)
Probiotics stimulate the growth of microrganisms that are good or helpful.
Antibiotics destroy or limit the growth of microrganisms that cause harm.
Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi. It often difficult, however, to achieve adequate probiotic levels through foods alone, which is where supplements can come in. The type of probiotic supplement that may be right for you will depend on the health issue you are concerned about. To help you decide, discuss your situation with your physician, pharmacist, or registered dietitian.
The Importance of Balance
If your microbiome becomes unbalanced with disrupted levels of certain bacteria, probiotics may be able to help to set it right again.
Studies have shown, for example, that if you take a probiotic while taking an antibiotic, you’re less likely to experience diarrhea. In fact, according to Scientific American, analyses of dozens of studies have concluded that probiotics may help prevent certain side effects of antibiotic treatment. Other research indicates that probiotics may be able to limit how many colds you catch each year and reduce gas, bloating and constipation.3,4
In the case of irritable bowel syndrome, a review of more than 30 studies, determined that probiotics can help some patients find relief from abdominal discomfort, frequent diarrhea, and more.5
Choose the Right Probiotic
Probiotics can contain a variety of different microorganisms in different concentrations. This is important because research has shown that, to be effective, probiotic supplements must contain billions of live cells, most commonly in bacteria groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
How does this translate to what you read on a package? Well, Florajen Digestion, for instance, includes Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum with a total cell count per capsule of over 15 billion live cultures.
As you consider probiotics, look at the labels and do research. Ask knowledgeable doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare providers about which probiotic to choose depending on your situation and goals.
Talk to a health professional before initiating a probiotic plan and keep in mind that there are certain instances in which taking a probiotic may not be a good idea, such if you have a medical condition or are on a type of therapy that weakens your immune system, or if you are pregnant or nursing. The elderly or anyone considering using probiotics in young children should also first consult a healthcare provider.
Ready to learn more? Explore the benefits of probiotics.
- Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome. University of Washington website https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf. Accessed May 14, 2018.
- Probiotics: In Depth. National Institutes of Health (NIH) website https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm. Accessed May 14, 2018.
- Should I take probiotics? Harvard Medical School website https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-take-probiotics. Accessed May 14, 2018.
- Do Probiotics Really Work? Scientific American website https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-probiotics-really-work/. Accessed May 14, 2018.
- Ford AC, Quigley EM, Lacy BE, Lembo AJ, et al. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Oct;109(10):1547-61; doi: 10.1038/ajg.2014.202.