Probiotics: Should You Be Taking Them?


It's undeniable that a diverse and healthy microbiome is a key component of lifelong health. Here, we'll give you an overview of probiotics and how they can fit into your nutrition program.


What are probiotics?

Probiotics are a combination of friendly bacteria and yeast. When consumed they take up residence in your gut and help support your overall health. The bacteria and yeast within probiotic supplements and probiotic rich foods are the same microbes that already naturally reside within your gut. As a whole these microbes create what is known as the microbiome. The most common strains of bacteria within probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, while the most common strain of yeast is saccharomyces boulardii. Some examples of probiotic rich foods include yogurt and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi.


What are the claimed benefits?

Probiotics are said to have the following health benefits:

  • Prevent and treat diarrhea

  • Reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)

  • Boost the immune system

  • Maintain heart health

  • Reduce symptoms of allergies and eczema

  • Assist with weight loss

  • Improve some mental health conditions


What the science says

There has been a substantial amount of research into the potential benefits of probiotics as well as exactly how they function. Thus far, the research suggests that probiotics may:

  • Decrease the risk of chronic diseases

  • Boost the immune system by reducing free radicals

  • Prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea

  • Prevent constipation -- In particular the bacterial strains Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum may be beneficial in this regard

  • Improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis

  • Improve ectopic dermatitis

  • Mitigate and improve symptoms of anxiety


Research has not been able to confirm benefit for the following conditions:

  • Diverticular disease

  • Diarrhea caused by cancer

  • Crohn’s disease

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Asthma

  • Allergies

  • Upper respiratory infections

  • Urinary tract infections

It should also be noted that we still don’t know the function of many of the bacterial strains included within probiotics. Although probiotics are generally considered safe, probiotics may be harmful to people with severe illnesses or compromised immune systems. Currently it is unadvised that premature infants and seriously ill hospital patients consume probiotics.


The Apeiron Life perspective

It is undeniable that a diverse and healthy microbiome is a key component of lifelong health. If you are generally healthy taking probiotics likely won’t hurt you and may be of some benefit. In particular, consuming foods naturally rich in probiotics is likely to be of greater benefit than taking a supplement. If however, taking probiotics is too tedious, expensive, or otherwise unenjoyable, a better way to nourish your microbiome is to simply eat a fiber rich diet. A fiber rich diet alone helps stimulate the proliferation of helpful bacteria while preventing the overgrowth of potentially harmful bacterial strains.


Will probiotics benefit you?

Possibly. For certain conditions, specifically those listed above, probiotic supplements and fermented foods containing probiotics may be beneficial. Both fermented foods and probiotic supplements have generally been recognized safe for those without compromised immune systems -- assuming, of course, that the fermentation was conducted carefully using high quality starters, uncontaminated food, and sterile tools. We recommend starting gradually with probiotic rich foods such as these:


Non-Dairy:

  • Fermented vegetables

  • Kimchi

  • Kombucha

  • Miso

  • Natto

  • Pickled vegetables (raw)

  • Sauerkraut

  • Tempeh

  • Yogurt (plain, no added sugar, active cultures)


Dairy:

  • Acidophilus milk

  • Aged cheese

  • Kefir

  • Yogurt (plain, no added sugar, active cultures)


Interested in taking a probiotic supplement?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I hope to gain from taking probiotics?

  • Will I be able to consistently take my probiotics? (probiotics need to be taken regularly to be of benefit)

  • Do I have a pre-existing condition and/or compromised immune system that would make the consumption of live bacteria dangerous?


If you would like to try a probiotic, work with your Client Advocate to find a quality product that has a high enough CFU (colony forming unit) dose to impart benefit. Generally, 10-50 billion CFU’s are needed daily, over the course of at least several months to start noticing a benefit. Keep in mind that different microbes will impact individuals differently. While there are some indications on which bacteria may benefit persons with certain conditions, research is not yet definitive. It is best to work with a nutritionally-informed doctor, Registered Dietitian or other healthcare professional to find a probiotic that’s right for you and your health goals.


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