Probiotics are taking center stage these days. You’ll find them at the grocery store, health food store, and even in your doctor’s office. But what are those creatures in a spoonful of yogurt, or tiny capsule? Probiotics are a variety of microorganisms that help to maintain healthy bacteria in the gut. They help to “keep the peace” in our stomach and intestines by promoting the growth of good bacteria. This aids our digestion while protecting the lining of the gut from infection and damage. <!–split–>
Probiotics are commonly recommended when antibiotics are prescribed. They should be taken in conjunction with the medication, and can alleviate some of the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with antibiotic use. In fact, in a recent study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association, those individuals taking probiotics were found to have a significantly reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
If you think probiotics are only helpful for your GI tract, you may want to reconsider. These microorganisms have also shown benefit in individuals with chronic infections, allergies, eczema, and acne.
The healthy bacteria can be found in a variety of foods that undergo fermentation. Most popularly, these are foods like yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-drink), sourdough bread, and even pickles.
When deciding on a probiotic, it is important to take a few things into consideration. Take a look at how many colony-forming units or CFU’s your probiotic contains. Generally numbers in the billions (at least 10-20 billion) are a safe and effective amount. Additionally, look for the expiration date and potency of the product at the time of expiration, rather than the time of manufacturing. Many products are manufactured with billions of CFU, but by the time they actually reach your gut, many of these bacteria will not survive. You may only be ingesting a fraction of what is stated on the label.
Finally, ensure your probiotic contains Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. These are two bacterial strains that have been well studied and discussed in medical literature. Probiotics may also contain other organism strains in addition to these two, which is common and generally it is safe to take a supplement with more than one bacterial strain. When possible, aim to consume foods with high amounts of probiotics, such as yogurt, and sauerkraut. If you need to take a pill or supplement, there are capsules, gels, and liquids forms available.
Your Parish Nurse, Kara